Thoreau’s Virtue Ethics in Walden

Cafaro, Philip
The Concord Saunterer (Journal of the Thoreau Society) 8 (2000), pages 23-47

I believe the time has come to appreciate Thoreau as an ethical philosopher. Two recent changes within academic philosophy should pave the way for such an appreciation. First, the rise of environmental ethics; second, the recent rise of virtue ethics as an alternative or supplement to mainstream Kantianism and utilitarianism. Today, the ethical issues Thoreau’s writings address have finally been recognized as real philosophical issues. Because he wrestled with fundamental problems and linked particular ethical judgments to a plausible general framework, philosophers can recognize Thoreau as one of their own. Because he lived his ethical truths and demanded that we live ours, professional philosophers and general readers are equally challenged by his words.