Virtue ethics

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  • Virtue ethics
    • Virtue ethics attempts to create a fresh approach to ethics which has only become popular recently but is an ancient theory stemming back to Plato and Aristotle and aretaic ethics, which is derived from the word ‘arete’ meaning virtuous or excellence.
    • Agent-centered morality
      • Unlike Situation ethics + Natural law which concentrate on moral actions, Virtue ethics concentrates on person/agent performing the actions. It = not concerned with the motive /consequence of an action but rather the person and thus resists a teleological/deontological classification.
    • Eudamonia
      • Everyone aims for ARISTOTLES Eudaimonia. This = highest good cos we desire it for its own sake = intrinsically good, unlike desire for Justice which leads good living.
    • Happiness
      • ARISTOTLE said there are three main forms of happiness:1) In living a life of enjoyment2) In being a free member of society3) In being a philosopher. Eudaimonia involves a combination of all three
    • To achieve eudamonia
      • To achieve Eudaimonia one must develop and exercise virtuous qualities that are most productive for living in society. Extremes of behaviour – a vice of deficiency or a vice of excess are unhelpful to society. A virtue is found in the golden mean.
      • For Aristotle, there are 12 moral virtues each of which fall between the vices of deficiency and excess: VICE OF DIFFICIENCY - cowardness, GOLDEN MEAN - Courage and VICE OF EXCESS - Rashness
    • Two types of virtue
      • Intellectual Virtue: Developed by training/education
      • Moral Virtue: Acquired by habit
    • Acquiring moral virtues
      • We are not born with moral virtues; we become develop virtues from habits.
      • HURTHOUSE - we can observe that there are some young mathematical geniuses; however it is rare to hear of a young moral genius. Virtuous people are more common amongst adults because virtues are to be acquired through habit and aspiring to other virtuous people.
      • AQUINAS - ‘What you do is what you are’
      • Virtue is acquired by aspiring to virtuous people such as Jesus, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
      • Good action - A good action is as much about the desire as the action, for example to be a good action, giving to the poor would have to be done for the right motive.
      • Anscombe’s book contributed to revival of aretaic. 
      • She said the concept of moral laws = flawed unless people believe in God, a judge who will punish bad behaviour. 
      • All absolutist approaches that don’t accept the existence of God = incoherent. The way forward = ‘human flourishing,’ Eudaimonia -  doesn’t depend on the concept of a God.
    • FOOT
      • The publication of P. Foot’s book also helped the revival of aretaic thinking. Anscombe discussed the need for new direction; Philippa Foot argued that although virtue ethics doesn’t guarantee happiness, it can often be a part of achieving it.
      • Criticised meta-ethics by saying ‘we have been left in a moral vacuum.’ MacIntyre reasoned that instead of debating right and wrong, morality should be approached historically.
      • He also commented on:Intuitionism – ‘The introduction of the word intuitionism indicates that something has gone wrong with the argument.’Ethical Naturalism – Morality cannot be based on preferences
      • Virtue ethics can fit a variety of different beliefs, from a humanist view for example or a Christian belief.
      • It is pragmatic, can be readily understood and simple applied
      • may be idealistic but it is aiming to achieve something people genuinely want – Eudaimonia.
      • not a golden mean for every virtue e.g. compassion
      • Some would argue it has a very self-centred approach to morality because it puts oneself before anyone else
      • When faced with a realistic situation virtue ethics doesn’t really help you.  E.g if woman discovers during pregnancy that the baby will be born if severe disabilities – how is she to know what a virtuous person would do when there are conflicting virtues?
        • HURSTHOUSE -  responded - it = difficult in theories to decide what to do when faced with a real situation. 
          • Virtue Ethics requires wisdom. It = not about weighing up virtues - you = not showing a virtuous response by looking at the biological components of the situation or adding up who has the most rights – you have to respond to a situation with all of yourself.


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