Front Page Titles (by Subject) Gewirth: Is Virtue Knowledge? - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Gewirth: Is Virtue Knowledge? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Gewirth: Is Virtue Knowledge?
“Gewirth’s Rationalism: Who is a Moral Agent?” Ethics 89(January 1979):179–90.
Alan Gewirth has argued in a series of articles (and in Reason and Morality) that there is a supreme moral principle, the “principle of generic consistency”, (PGC) which every rational agent must accept on pain of self-contradiction. The principle of generic consistency is: apply to the recipients of your action the same generic features of action that you apply to yourself. According to Gewirth, (1) generic features of action (the features all actions have in common) are voluntariness and purposiveness; (2) every agent, (that is, any creature who can unforcedly control his behavior with a view to achieving his purposes) necessarily and implicitly makes an evaluative judgment about the goodness of his purposes and hence of the necessary goodness of the necessary features of action, namely freedom and well-being; (3) every agent must implicity claim he has a right to these features, i.e., freedom and well-being; and so (4) every agent must grant the same rights to every other agent.
Cohen is not concerned with the derivation of the PGC. What disturbs him is what Gewirth must say about behavior that is in violation of the PGC.
Gewirth believes that anyone who can voluntarily behave so as to achieve some ends reveals that he is thereby disposed to accept the canons of deductive and inductive logic. It is in this sense that Gewirth thinks any agent is at least minimally rational. Thus, if a person violates the PGC (says Cohen) there are only two responses open to Gewirth: (1) The behavior was not an instance of the disposition to behave in a minimally rational manner; (2) The behavior was an incorrect instance of this exercise of this disposition.
The first approach entails that anyone who violates the PGC is not a moral agent, and therefore cannot be morally condemned (though his action can be considered morally bad). Thus, anyone who engages in immoral behavior according to the criteria of the PGC can never be justifiably condemned.
The second approach entails that all moral errors are solely intellectual errors. If the person is an agent, i.e., is minimally rational in that he accepts the canons of deductive and inductive logic, then his anti-PGC activities can only be explained by a failure to reason correctly. Gewirth responds to this by pointing out that there is a difference between moral errors and other errors, for the former have to do with the realm of action. Cohen counterargues that all Gewirth’s response shows is that moral deductions differ from non-moral ones in terms of the contents of their deductions; it does not deny that the errors are of the same sort, namely errors of reasoning. Cohen concludes by noting that if Gewirth’s view is right, then our usual notions of immoral behavior and judgments must be radically revised. Such behavior or judgments must be due either to the fact that the person is not a moral agent or that he reasons incorrectly.