‘Some blind spots we take as adequate grounds for denying any virtue at all, notwithstanding the fact that some people with such blind spots may do things that, coming from others, we should hail as the mark of virtue. Other blind spots that we can assign to a person as the result of their socialization and think that only someone exceptional might have seen past can be accommodated by suitably qualified ascriptions of virtue; some people with such blind spots can be fairly or even exceptionally V, given the society they live in. But, thereby, not perfectly virtuous; hence, without ascribing hypocrisy to them, we can still say that they are not morally motivated, do not act because they think it’s right or from duty, to the extent that the perfectly or even thoroughly virtuous do.

Blind spots are far from always being explicable in such terms. Who does not number, amongst their family and friends, people they will readily describe as pretty generous, considerate, just, compassionate, honest, but whose exercise of these virtues is patchy, in some incomprehensible way? We are sure that they are, in general, to be described as people who regularly and reliably act ‘because they think it is right’; as people of moderately high principle, as people who are morally motivated, perhaps, in general rather better than ourselves—and yet, oh dear, they will do this. How can they? I am not thinking of seriously vicious acts, but at least of ones that, if you know the person well, and love them, you find distressing. Someone may lie about their forebears, but nothing else; someone may characteristically be unjust in minor ways to women they do not know well; someone may lavish some money (not a big proportion of their income but a significant sum) on things you think are decadent; someone may go in for sexual activity you think is exploitative in a minor way. Or, more trivially, someone who is the most lavishly generous and considerate of hosts is typically quite horrid to you if you tip half a cup of cold coffee down the sink and (they say angrily) ‘waste it!!’. Maybe you can often get them to admit that they shouldn’t have done what they did, (or said what they said or reacted the way they did)—but on the next occasion, there they are, cheerfully doing it or saying it or reacting the same way again. Or maybe you can’t get them to agree; you always make the same objections, and they always make the same replies, and the argument always trickles away.

Sometimes we might be ashamed to quiz them at all about their blind spots because, despite the fact that they have them and frequently do things that we find mildly repellent, or shocking, or flawed, we know them well enough to know that whenever anything serious is at issue, they always come up trumps, doing startlingly better than anyone else we know. Do they have principles (which they act on when they act well) or don’t they? When they act well do they act ‘because they think it’s right’ or don’t they? On the one hand we want to say ‘Yes’ and on the other we want to say ‘No’.

On the account of moral motivation given, there is no clear cut solution to these puzzles, and that seems to be a point in its favour rather than one that counts against it. According to the account given, all that we can say to ourselves, about these people we love and respect is, ‘Well, they are, in general, quite honest, just, generous, temperate … but they do have this blind spot, namely, … ’, or, in the last case, ‘Well, they are fundamentally virtuous, you can rely on them totally in a serious crisis, but oh dear, you have to be prepared to put up with them doing such- and-such.’ And saying this should remind us that it is unlikely that many of the people nearest and dearest to us should have such blind spots while we had none.’

p. 115-116, On Virtue Ethics, Rosalind Hursthouse, 1999.