Virtue Ethics

What are virtue ethics concerned with?
Virtue Ethics are concerned with the character-development of a person, rather than the rules of how they behave or the consequences of their actions.
What did Aristotle say?
That all people have a purpose or function, which he called ‘telos’. That purpose, Aristotle argued, was for the person to fully realize their potential and to achieve their ultimate goal. That goal, in Aristotle’s view, was for a human being to become ‘good’ and lead a good life.
What does agent-centered mean?
Virtue ethics is an agent-centred morality means it asks ‘what sort of person ought I be?’ rather than ‘how ought I act?’
Where did Aristotle believe that virtue was found?
Aristotle believed that virtue was not found in what people do, but in what kind of person they are. He said that, whilst it was easy to do good things, that did not make someone a good or virtuous person. Goodness is about character and this is developed over a long period of time.
What was the most important virtue?
Eudaimonia
How can people achieve eudaimonia?
Through leading the good life in their community and through friendships and interaction with others because the society in which a person lives helps them to develop their characters.
What did Aristotle emphasize about acting virtuously?
He emphasized the point that acting virtuously was not to be used as a means to an end. A person does not act virtuously to achieve something, because this is a ‘subordinate aim’. Instead, a person acts virtuously because happiness, goodness and virtue are ‘superior aims’ because they are important to that person and to the community and society in which they live.
Explain the doctrine of the mean
Aristotle said that the right way to act is to follow the ‘golden mean’. It means to act in the mid-point between extremes of excess, on the one hand, and deficiency on the other. Every virtue has a corresponding vice at either end of the spectrum – for instance, the mid-point between cowardice and foolhardiness (which are both vices), is courage, which is, therefore, the ‘golden mean’. Aristotle said that people discover what the golden mean for a particular virtue is and how to act according to it by watching and learning from good role models and by habit.
4 strengths of the doctrine of the mean
By applying the doctrine of the mean we will be able to cultivate virtues which will enable us to become a good person, e.g. courageous.
Isn’t someone who helps the poor out of compassion morally superior to someone who acts out of duty?
Philipa Foot states that virtues help develop a ‘good’ character as they help them to correct harmful human passions and temptations.
Bad people can perform good deeds, so being able to apply the doctrine of the mean is a more accurate indication of a person’s good character.
4 weaknesses of the doctrine of the mean
The golden mean is not easy to apply to all virtues so, therefore, it cannot be a good judge of character. For example, how do you judge the mean of compassion?
If there is a mean, how can we identify when courage becomes foolhardiness?
Sometimes two virtues conflict, how does a person make a decision then and how do you judge their good character by their choice?
Some may argue that it is easier to judge a person’s good character by their actions or mo-tive via a deontological approach.
What did Aristotle say that the key concepts of virtue ethics are?
Aristotle said that the key concepts for virtue ethics are ‘arete’ (virtue or moral excellence) and ‘phronesis’ (moral and practical wisdom).
What are the 5 ‘excellencies of character’?
Being of ‘great soul’
Being Just and Fair
Having practical wisdom in leadership
Being a good friend
Having the nobility (kalokagathia) of a gentleman
What are the 4 cardinal virtues?
Temperance
Courage
Wisdom
Justice
What are the 8 intellectual virtues?
Sophia – theoretical wisdom
Phronesis – practical wisdom
Practical skill
Common Sense
Intuition
Resourcefulness
Understanding
Judgement
Cleverness
What are the 7 moral virtues?
Kindness
Generosity
Patience
Truthfulness
Friendliness
Fortitude
Liberality
5 ways virtue ethics is linked to christianity
Virtue ethics have a very close link to religious morality. For example, not only is Jesus Christ regarded by Christians as the perfect example of a virtuous person, his teachings offer a virtuous ethical system based on universal well-being for the individual and the community and are applicable in everyday life: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…’ – Luke 6:27.
Indeed, not only does the Christian Church accept the Four cardinal Virtues, it has added three ‘theological virtues’ of its own- faith, hope and love.
These three, together with the Cardinal Virtues, have become known as the ‘heavenly virtues’. In addition, the Church supports the so-called ‘contrary virtues’ which a person must follow in order to avoid the so-called ‘seven deadly sins.
Religious teachings do appear to be concerned with personal development e.g. St Paul re-ferred to both ‘virtues’ and ‘vices’ in his letters.
Religious leaders also appear to show a similar concern e.g. the beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) appear to show concern for the ‘internal’ qualities of human action.
5 ways virtue ethics isn’t linked to christianity
Richard Taylor argued that a system of morality which is based on divine commands can discourage people from achieving their potential. He claimed that Christianity places too much emphasis on human equality and does not encourage individuals to strive to be virtuous.
Virtue Ethics is not interested in keeping God’s commands, eternal laws or following the guidance of any sacred text.
It does not contain any reference to God or wanting to do God’s will as Aristotle’s theory is a secular one. Christians believe that you get closer to or reach your ultimate goal beyond this earthly life whereas Aristotelian ethics does not entertain the idea of continuing growth after death or of a telos beyond this world.
Religions appear to cultivate ‘altruism’ (selflessness) whereas Virtue Ethics appears to cultivate self-centredness.
Some religious traditions have a closer link to acting out of a sense of duty than developing virtues (link to natural law).
4 strengths of virtue ethics
Motivates us to work on morality (unlike other theories, that simply state what to do when in an ethical dilemma)
Deontological ethics like Kant’s deny emotions and Freud considered emotions to be important for human development. Virtue ethics does pay attention to one’s emotions and lets reason cultivate the whole person, which includes their emotions.
Good to be partial (when it concerns family for instance, it we are naturally inclined to mak-ing biased decisions. Virtue ethics acknowledges this.
Doesn’t rely on a theory: self-improvement. Focuses on the individual and building ourselves into better people, more focus on individuality and aforementioned development of moral reasoning
6 weaknesses of virtue ethics
How do we decide which virtues are the most important to develop?
Some virtues are more highly regarded than others in different cultures and societies – for example, some societies regard physical courage as the most important, whilst others prefer intellectual prowess.
Some virtues can become vices – for example, showing courage in an oppressive war.
Virtue ethics do not help people to decide what sort of actions to take to resolve a dilemma.
Too much emphasis is given to personal development and not enough to practical guidance.
A value judgment still has to be made as to which virtues are most desirable, and it is possible that even the most self-evidently virtuous person might not be considered by everyone to be the best role model.
What 5 things did Macintyre state?
Modern ethical reasoning in western culture is a mixture of inherited traditions. As a result of this, it is not surprising that individuals have no clear moral outlook.
He stated that too much stress was placed on reason, and too little emphasis on people and the contexts in which they live their lives.
MacIntyre says that, instead of looking for moral excellence in a series of tasks that human beings should or should not perform, the time has come to return to examine the Virtues. Moral excellence, he claims, is to be found in leading a virtuous life.
A virtuous life comes, MacIntyre believes, when a person belongs to a moral tradition which allows people to work towards achieving their goal in life. MacIntyre’s claim is that the virtues can only develop in certain types of society where an integrated life is a possibility.
Finally, MacIntyre highlighted how virtues have changed – from earliest times, where small communities needed to defend themselves and the most important values were the masculine ones of strength and courage, to the later times of Aristotle and the city-states, where the main virtues became wisdom, justice and temperance.
What 4 things did Anscombe say?
Ethical codes such as deontology that are based on moral absolutes and laws from God are out-of-date in a society where there is no longer a widespread religious belief. She believed that it was important for society to return to a moral system which is based on human development and personal growth -what she called ‘human flourishing’ .
Modern moral philosophy should be ‘laid aside’ until an adequate understanding of the psychology of moral reasoning was attained.
The concepts of ‘moral obligation and moral duty’ should be abandoned until psychology has done its work. She rejected the whole idea of moral duty, particularly the Kantian sort of approach which saw duty as a Categorical Imperative.
Modern moral philosophers are all equally misconceived as to the true nature of ethical reasoning or moral theorising. She said that society should return to the problematic issues of human flourishing and the development of human virtues, rather than focusing on the issue of ‘are my actions good or bad?’
What 2 things did Foot argue?
She argued that the wise person directs their will to what is good and this ‘good’ is both intrinsically and extrinsically good, as both motives and actions are important. Goodness should be seen as the flourishing of life – virtues are beneficial to the individual as well as to the community as they contribute to the good life.
She also argued that virtues and skills are different things. We may make a deliberate mistake with a skill but not damage our character or reputation, but someone deliberately acting in a non-virtuous way will damage both.
4 ways virtue ethics is useless for making ethical decisions
The virtues valued by Aristotle are almost 2500 years old and are from an age of ‘master and servant’.
They are also mainly masculine based virtues associated with the battlefield, such as cour-age.
Virtue Ethics does not provide answers to specific problems such as euthanasia, nor does it give a list of good or bad actions or consider situations and outcomes.
It is not clear what we should do when virtues conflict and other theories provide clearer guidance e.g. Natural Law with its use of the primary precepts.
5 ways virtue ethics isn’t useless for making ethical decisions
If you act virtuously you will do what is right also taking into account your needs and desires as well as those of society.
In recent years there have been a number of people who appeared to have adopted a virtuous lifestyle such as Ghandi.
Virtue ethics is still taught and used within parts of the medical profession and the military as a means of making moral decisions.
Virtue ethics promotes a more ‘spiritual’ approach to ethics in that is asks you to stop and consider your motives, dispositions, feeling, etc. and to control your emotions.
Maclntyre, Foot, Anscombe and Williams have all suggested that while Aristotle’s virtues might be outdated they could be updated and be relative within different cultures, e.g. in some cultures, the man is head of the family and the female obedience to men would be a virtue.
4 reasons that it is more important to be a good person than to carry out good acts.
An agent-centred approach allows people to consider their situation/or context.
You cannot separate what a person does from the sort of person they are.
An agent-centred approach allows people to develop a morality based on love or compas-sion.
An agent-centred approach allows people to develop their own sense of morality whereas universal moral norms are impossible to develop in a multi-cultural society.
3 reasons that it isn’t more important to be a good person than to carry out good acts.
An act-centred approach provides the basis for universal moral norms.
An act-centred approach provides moral clarity whereas an agent-centred approach is am-biguous.
An act-centred approach provides greater scope for absolute moral principles based on text or doctrine.