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Borderline Personality Disorder and the Boundaries of Virtue

Abstract

Individuals with conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience chronic, pervasive impairments that interfere with moral functioning. Even in recovery these individuals are plagued by residual symptoms, requiring diligence and management. First, I stipulate that some individuals who recover from BPD (and similar conditions) act morally. I argue that by acting morally while managing residual symptoms these individuals expand the boundaries of traditional Aristotelian virtue. Individuals who recover from BPD are simultaneously virtuous and outside the boundaries of traditional Aristotelian virtue if they meet the following conditions: (1) they experience marked, unchangeable morally-relevant difference(s) in moral faculties; (2) act morally at approximately the same rate or better than other moral agents; and (3) act morally for the right reasons. These individuals challenge the boundaries of traditional Aristotelian virtue by demonstrating that many views of temperance and virtue are too restrictive. I evaluate multiple interpretations of McDowell’s [1] silencing view and call for a more inclusive virtue ethics that embraces continence in the vein of Foot’s [2] corrective view.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to my dissertation committee at Washington University in St. Louis, especially John Doris and Anne Margaret Baxley who reviewed early drafts of this paper. Thank you to my colleagues at Boston College who gave substantive feedback on a presentation of this project. I am especially grateful to Lee Birdwhistell for helping me finalize the paper for publication.

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Correspondence to Katie Harster.

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Harster, K. Borderline Personality Disorder and the Boundaries of Virtue. Neuroethics 14, 479–490 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-021-09467-7

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Keywords

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Temperance
  • Aristotelian virtue
  • Silencing
  • Continence