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Responses to Virtue Ethics
What do people think of Aristotle's virtue ethics?
Virtue ethics seeks the happiness of the individual the benefits for society appear to be incidental. i
work for the benefit of society. I do this simply so that I am less likely to have my car stolen by some
There appears to be no room for selfish activity (altruism). Any `selfless' act appears to be ultimately
down to self-interest. Even the apparently selfless act of making a donation to charity is
accompanied by that self-righteous glow of satisfaction.
Many people believe that Aristotle was a racist, sexist bigot. They believe that his belief that only
men could access the virtues discredits the whole theory. Aristotle's views of women, slaves and
foreigners can be understood in the context of the times in which he lived. His ideas in virtue ethics,
when seen in this light, can still stand.
Modern versions of virtue ethics
MacIntyre argued for practical ethics, rooted in the `real world'. He claimed that human communities
should be at the centre of ethical life. Society's ideas of appropriate behaviour allow `good' to be
realised. Personal virtuous behaviour within society's structures allows everyone to benefit the
community is the context for this moral life.
Can a virtuous person behave badly?
Can virtuous intentions lead to vicious behaviour?
Are the virtues culturally-defined (i.e. subjective) or are they universal (i.e. absolute)?
Foot uses the concept of value a wise person places appropriate value in certain goals.
Some goals are `good in themselves', while others are `good for the sake of something else'. A
friendship based on the premise `what's in this for me?' will be shallow, while a friendship based on
trust, loyalty and companionship will be fruitful.
Foot also notes that people can `learn' virtuous behaviour through experience.
She distinguishes between `degrees of virtuousness' is a person resisting terrible temptation being
more virtuous than a person who is never tempted, and who never considers doing anything wrong?
Anscombe notes the way that actions have become important in judging a person's moral character.
This leads to a preoccupation with rules, and attempts to read the future to work out possible