OK, some first thoughts on a psychological approach to virtue theory. Basically, our approach will borrow from the "deductive psychology" I discuss here
As "choosing beings", we have some degree of freedom to thwart, flaunt, disregard, overthrow, etc. our natural impulses. I suggest that the degree of this freedom we enjoy is one of the things that makes us uniquely human vis-a-vis other organisms. Nevertheless, we are not completely free from our biological impulses - imagine trying to stab a screwdriver into your eyeball... not gonna happen, is it?
Insofar as we are free enough to thwart our natural impulses, however, I believe that these impulses can fight back and "afflict" us to the degree that our underlying biology views our choices as being against our own interests. For example, fasting may lead to hunger. But your underlying biology may not understand you are about to undergo a life-saving medical procedure that requires you to fast beforehand. Nevertheless, your body will afflict you with hunger pangs.
But it's also a two-way battle. Not only are we afflicted when one part of our being believes we are acting against our own, true interests, but we can take measures to suppress these afflictions. You can take a headache-pill for a headache, you can drink to suppress or numb feelings of sadness, you can divert yourself to put troublesome thoughts out of your mind. In this way, your awake, alert consciousness - which I will term the "ego" even though I'm not using it in the strictly Freudian sense - can fight back against the other parts of your being which automatically or semi-automatically afflict you in response to choices you make in conjunction with your circumstances.
Following Epicurus, I will define the highest pleasure as the absence of suffering. Epicurus states: "Bodily pleasure does not increase when the pain of want has been removed; after that it only admits of variation. The limit of mental pleasure, however, is reached when we reflect on these bodily pleasures and their related emotions, which used to cause the mind the greatest alarms." (PD 18
) Since our natural impulses are a constant source of suffering, we must either satisfy our natural impulses or we must organize the suppression of their attacks upon the ego's peace.
Now, there is a tendency - probably as the result of the pervasiveness of mind-body duality - to think of the "mind" as the ego, and everything else as essentially "mindless bodily functions." I think this is a serious mistake. As I describe in the linked thread above, the mind is actually composite and the composite units of the mind actually calculate
, just like the ego does. They actually plot against the ego and work to overthrow it whenever they believe the ego is working against the organism's true interests. I suspect that this plotting is sophisticated enough that it is adaptive... as your ego changes its behavior, your "subselves" change their behavior in response. So, this is why suppression of certain behaviors can repeatedly fail despite repeated modification of one's behavior.
The ego's interests are not supreme within the organism, even though it feels like they are. It feels like your choices are final... your awake consciousness has "the last word" on what you will or will not do. This is an illusion meant to disarm the ego. The fact is that your choices are subservient to your genetic design.
The reason we know this is true is so simple, it's embarrassing to state it: you will die. In other words, you are merely an "instance" of the human genome... that genome encodes your life-cycle to suit its own purposes. You start as a child, grow into an adult, enter old-age and perish... because that's what your genome has programmed you to do. At every stage in the human life-cycle, you will behave in the age-appropriate manner ... because that is what your genome has programmed you to do. And then you will die.
As a result, when we ask "what is the most pressing natural impulse?", we have to answer it not from the point-of-view of the ego... but from the point-of-view of the genome. Thus, we arrive to our first assertion: The most pressing natural impulse is the reproductive impulse.
You might object that hunger pangs or the need to breath are even more pressing... if cut off from food or oxygen, you will experience extreme suffering. It is true that these impulses are very intense but this is not an indication of their rank in the overall order of impulses, it is merely an indication of the time-order on which these impulses operate... failure to breathe will result in death within a matter of minutes. But I'm going to assert that the "default" ranking of the impulses (how they are "normally" ranked) must be measured in terms of which impulses serve which other impulses. That is, they must be ranked in terms of means and ends. Which impulses are a means to the ends of other impulses?
So, this leads us to the next assertion: The ego's peace is not the most important natural impulse and is, in fact, subservient to the reproductive impulse which we have already asserted is the highest impulse. All other impulses are means to the highest natural impulse, which is the reproductive impulse, including the impulse to have peace-of-mind (ataraxia).
A point of clarification regarding the reproductive impulse is in order. First of all, the individual's relation to this impulse is not the same at every stage in life. As a pre-pubescent child, the relation is developmental... as a post-pubescent adult, the relation is participatory (initiating pregnancy), and in later stages of adult life where fertility begins to decline and disappear, the relation is supplemental (support, guidance, encouragement, etc.) Second, even the adult individual's relation to the reproductive impulse is not exclusively connected to one's own procreation - encouraging brothers and sisters to have nieces and nephews... and providing care for them, and so on, are just as much a part of appeasing the reproductive impulse as procreation itself is. In fact, we should organize all these specific behavioral impulses - procreation, family support and encouragement, etc. - as secondary means to the end of the reproductive impulse, which is the supreme impulse.
Hence, a fixation on "sex" in regards to analysis of human satisfaction (the ego's peace) is gravely mistaken. First of all, sex is not even necessarily a fulfillment of the reproductive impulse. Second, even insofar as sex does pacify the reproductive impulse, it is only one of many aspects that go into pacifying the supreme impulse.
Now, I want to talk about general orientations towards reproductivity. What about nuns? What about homosexuals? What about hermits and old maids? Etc. Note that I have already pointed out that having children of your own (procreation) is not the only aspect of pacifying the reproductive impulse. Helping others to do so (for example, a nun who works in a hospital's natal unit), providing support to one's family (for example, the gay man who is "the world's greatest uncle" and provides massive emotional and material support to his neices/nephews), and so on are all examples of how people who choose not to procreate still do things to pacify the supreme impulse.
However, there is one modern phenomenon I'd like to discuss to illustrate a fad that encourages people - I believe at their peril - to flaunt the supreme impulse: the so-called DINKs... Dual-Income No Kids. Many people are getting married and vowing never to have children, or even getting snipped to make sure they can't. Orgel's Second Rule states: "Evolution is cleverer than you are." You might think you've found the secret formula to supreme material happiness in life... two people working a job, enjoying hot sex, nice cars, big house, travelling the globe and so on... but my view on this is that you probably haven't. You're almost certainly going to pay for it and then some in the long run... especially if you're not making up for flaunting the supreme impulse in regard to procreation by taking other steps to pacify it. This must be the case according to Orgel's Second Rule.
Now, we take headache pills for headaches and drink to drown our sorrows and play video games to banish our anxieties. Can't we just take on the supreme impulse in the same way? My opinion is that you can't... for the simple reason I already pointed out that even your own peace-of-mind is merely a means to satisfying the supreme impulse
. In the case of anxiety or hunger pangs or general sorrow... these are impulses that are often themselves subservient to the ego... their purpose is merely to serve as "background helpers" to the ego and to chastise the ego when it goes off the tracks in this way or that way.
In other words, your genome has already coded your very being in such a way that it will nuke the very possibility of peace-of-mind or happiness and satisfaction should you attempt to actively thwart the supreme impulse. And because evolution is smarter than you are, my contention is that whatever strategy you think you've found to get around this... will fail sooner or later. In fact, I will state it even more strongly: I'm not convinced that your lifespan itself is independent of your pacification of the reproductive impulse. I suspect that absolute repudiation of the reproductive impulse may even result in reduced lifespan. I can even think of some empirical methods to test this assertion.
We've gone a long way afield of virtue theory. To apply these thoughts to virtue theory, I will make the following assertion: The single most important consideration in virtue theory
is how your choices affect the pacification of the supreme impulse. This is not the only consideration, of course. But it is the single most important because all other considerations are subsidiary to this supreme consideration.
This is why I believe that family is a good deal more important to libertarian social order (or any social order) than libertarians are wont to suppose. The family structure - as screwed up as it is - has emerged because, in whatever screwed-up way, it serves the ends of the supreme impulse. That doesn't mean that there are no possible improvements but it does suggest caution at proposals that purport to improve society by fundamentally revamping the family structure. It is doubtful that Nature is very far off the mark, here, and, furthermore, there may be structural forces holding the family structure in place that are so powerful that they simply cannot be thwarted for trying. Thus, any attempt to do so is doomed to only one outcome: multiplication of human misery.
OK, that's all for now.