During a discussion that is primarily concerned with developing a reading of Aristotle’s conception of virtue and practical wisdom, John McDowell makes a suggestion, in passing, about a connection between practical wisdom and appetite. McDowell’s central aim is to develop an account of virtue on which possession of a virtue can silence for one features of one’s situation that might otherwise figure in one’s decision-making. That is, the virtuous person is not merely someone who balances considerations in favour of acting virtuously against considerations against so behaving in such a way that they end up behaving virtuously. Rather, the truly virtuous person acknowledges only reasons in favour of acting virtuously. They do not even acknowledge as relevant any counter considerations. McDowell writes:
“Consider a situation that calls for the most striking sort of exercise of temperance—abstaining from an available but excessive bodily pleasure. That the pleasure is available is a fact about the situation, at the disposal of the temperate person no less than anyone else. Such facts can engage a motivational susceptibility that is one of the standing concerns of a virtuous person. (Too little interest in the pleasures of appetite is a defect of character: see Nicomachean Ethics 3.11.) But on this occasion what matters about the situation, as the practically wise person correctly sees it, is not the opportunity for pleasure but, say, the fact that this would be his fifth doughnut at one sitting. The practically wise person registers, but counts as irrelevant to the question what to do, an instance of a kind of consideration (that pleasure is available) that does bear on that question in other circumstances.” (McDowell, “Some Issues in Aristotle’s Moral Psychology”: 46–47.)
One question that McDowell’s discussion raises is the following. Would it be incompatible with virtue, in a situation in which one has already scoffed an adequate number of doughnuts, to take it to be a relevant consideration, in one’s practical reasoning, that further doughnuts are available? Presumably, the answer will depend on the answers to further specific questions about the circumstances: are doughnuts, or other foodstuffs, likely to be available in the near future; would eating further doughnuts deprive others of the opportunity, and so forth? McDowell’s proposal is that, modulo answers to those further questions, the answer might well be that the availability of more doughnuts should not figure. A more specific question we might also consider is this. What is the maximum number of doughnuts that a virtuous person can down before the potential charms of further doughnuts are silenced? The suggestion is that the answer will be different—and typically lower—than that for the corresponding question asked about the non-virtuous person, one for whom the doughnuts’ charms are silenced by the operations of a merely biological mechanism. It is part of McDowell’s larger project to defend the view that one might have to be virtuous, or on one’s way to becoming virtuous, in order properly to address such questions.