The Final Piece of the KineSophy Puzzle

In previous KineSophy articles, I have discussed three ethical precepts of human movement, explored the complementary relationship between physical fitness and other scalable, secondary virtues, and derived secondary virtues, including those related to fitness, from the non-scalable, primary ethical virtue of human inviolability. To complete the KineSophy puzzle and the picture of ethics I sketched at the end of 2013, I now need to answer the question of how secondary virtues, and physical fitness in particular, work to support the primary virtue.

I begin with the theory of action I described in my June 2014 article. According to that argument, virtuous actions are intentional. One must intend to act in a virtuous manner in order for the action to count as virtuous. Virtuous actions are also performed in recognition of some value. Using my example from that article, my action to save the old woman from oncoming traffic counts as virtuous because I act with some value in mind, whether it be value for her life or value for my own self-esteem or moral worth. An agent who performs a virtuous action must also have a notion of self, a notion of control over the situation and a notion of value. The agent must believe that he is the one performing the action, that he is capable of performing the action and that he is acting with an end that he views as important. [1]

This action theory applies to all secondary virtues, including physical fitness:

“When an individual attempts her first handstand or goes for a personal best in a race or a maximum effort deadlift, she has a notion of self, a notion of control over the situation and a notion of value. She understands that she is the being that makes the effort, that her physical capabilities and strength of will determine the success or failure of that effort, and that her effort is worthwhile, in that it will make her more coordinated, faster, stronger and healthier. She assumes responsibility for her chosen task and executes it because it offers her some value.” [2]

A similar mindset holds for other non-moral (self-directed) virtues like intelligence and courage, which are essentially exercises in self-improvement. An individual who wants to learn calculus must recognize that he is the agent who will learn, that he is capable of so learning, and that an understanding of calculus is important to him for some reason, and will improve him in some essential manner.

The Final Piece of the KineSophy PuzzleA nearly identical description holds for moral (other-directed) secondary virtues. When I tell the truth to another person, I recognize that I am the one who refrains from falsehood and that I am capable of avoiding the temptation to lie when it might seem advantageous. In this case, the notion of value depends on the particular ethical theory the agent holds. An adherent of altruism tells the truth out of the recognition that the person who hears her words has value in his own humanity and does not deserve falsehood, while an egoist tells the truth in hope of some commendation for her action that will boost her own self-esteem, which she values above the worth of others.

From this framework for virtuous action, we can move to the claim that practicing secondary virtues leads to the recognition of the value of human life, whether in one’s own person, or in that of others. An agent who practices secondary virtues necessarily realizes that at least one person’s existence is worthwhile. The practice of secondary virtues also encompasses desire. I act virtuously because I see some value in the ends my action, and I desire to achieve the value of those ends. Since the ends of my desires are valuable, I do not want to see those desires frustrated. From here we can return to January’s argument. Given that I do not want my desires frustrated, and I recognize the existence of other human beings like myself, I must believe that others have desires they do not want frustrated. This conclusion leads to the previously derived primary virtue of human inviolability.

When I act in accordance with a secondary virtue, whether improving my physical capabilities, becoming more courageous or telling the truth, I act according to some value. I act from the desire to achieve that value, and not to have my desire frustrated or my personhood harmed (which would frustrate my desire). I am inviolable to myself, and since all humans are equally alike, other human beings are inviolable to themselves. No human has the right to violate another’s personhood. Thus, the practice of secondary virtues directly supports the primary virtue of human inviolability.


  1. The nature of value in this context will depend on the ethical theory employed. For example, under egoism, an agent can act virtuously in saving another’s life for the purposes of achieving the praise of others and boosting the agent’s self-esteem.
  2. Hickey, Greg. “An Action Theory of Moral Virtue and Physical Fitness.” KineSophy. 1 June 2014. Online. 13 Feb. 2015.