Virtue Ethics

  • Created by: KMuir
  • Created on: 05-09-13 12:20

Virtue Ethics


  • Avoids having to use a formula to work out what we ought to do and focuses instead on the kind of person we ought to be.
  • Understands the need to distinguish good people from legalists. (just because you follow the rules does not make you a good person)
  • Stresses: the importance of motivating people to want to be good, the importance of education to show that good actions are their own reward and shows how we acquire and learn virtues through imitating others.
  • It looks at what makes life worthwhile rather than looking at what is right or wrong in a particular situation.
  • Encourages people to think of friends and family before yourself.
  • It is a logical theory, as it focuses on our practical reasoning and attributes that will help society prosper.
  • It does not reject our emotions but includes them, and so it is more in tune with how people naturally react to an ethical dilemma.


  • Virtues can be culturally relative so identifying them can be difficult.
  • Robert Louden raised the issue that virtue ethics does not help people facing a crisis, because it does not give any clear rules for action. It only advises people to use practical wisdom. (phronesis)
  • Some immoral actions can be excused if the virtue being portrayed is seen as good e.g. soldiers fighting unjust wars may be courageous but that does not make them morally good.)
  • Louden also points out that It is difficult to decide who is virtuous when virtues clash. Acts which appear virtuous on the outside may not necessarily have good motives and vice versa.
  • Virtue ethics has no basic concepts to abide by and so can be seen as incapable of dealing with big issues, it does not always have a view about what makes an act right or wrong.
  • Susan Wolf claims that if everyone is virtuous there will be no variety or excitement in the world. We need the negative traits to admire the positive ones.


In conclusion, virtue ethics is an admirable theory as it looks at how we can improve ourselves as individuals by doing more virtuous acts and as a result this promotes human flourishing and better quality of life for the individual and those around them. However, in practice it is a impractical theory for decision making as no clear guidelines given for when virtues are conflicting or for when we are unsure which virtue is most important.


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