Virtue Ethics

  • Created by: KatieWall
  • Created on: 11-01-17 09:07

Virtue Ethics

  • Virtue ethics is person rather than action based: it looks at the virtue or moral character of the person carrying out an action, rather than at ethical duties and rules, or the consequences of particular actions.
  • Virtue ethics not only deals with the rightness or wrongness of individual actions, it provides guidance as to the sort of characteristics and behaviours a good person will seek to achieve.
  • In that way, virtue ethics is concerned with the whole of a person's life, rather than particular episodes or actions.
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Virtue Ethics

It's a useful theory since human beings are often more interested in assessing the character of another person than they are in assessing the goodness or badness of a particular action.

This suggests that the way to build a good society is to help its members to be good people, rather than to use laws and punishments to prevent or deter bad actions.

But it wouldn't be helpful if a person had to be a saint to count as virtuous. For virtue theory to be really useful it needs to suggest only a minimum set of characteristics that a person needs to possess in order to be regarded as virtuous.

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Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics teaches:

  • An action is only right if it is an action that a virtuous person would carry out in the same circumstances.
  • A virtuous person is a person who acts virtuously
  • A person acts virtuously if they "possess and live the virtues"
  • A virtue is a moral characteristic that a person needs to live well.

Most virtue theorists would also insist that the virtuous person is one who acts in a virtuous way as the result of rational thought (rather than, say, instinct).

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Virtue Ethics

The modern philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre proposed three questions as being at the heart of moral thinking:

  • Who am I?
  • Who ought I to become?
  • How ought I to get there?

The modern philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre proposed three questions as being at the heart of moral thinking:

  • Who am I?
  • Who ought I to become?
  • How ought I to get there?
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Virtue Ethics

The modern theologian James F Keenan suggests:

  • Justice
    • Justice requires us to treat all human beings equally and impartially.
  • Fidelity
    • Fidelity requires that we treat people closer to us with special care.
  • Self-care
    • We each have a unique responsibility to care for ourselves, affectively, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
  • Prudence
    • The prudent person must always consider Justice, Fidelity and Self-care.
    • The prudent person must always look for opportunities to acquire more of the other three virtues
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Virtue Ethics

Good points of virtue ethics

  • It centres ethics on the person and what it means to be human
  • It includes the whole of a person's life

Bad points of virtue ethics

  • it doesn't provide clear guidance on what to do in moral dilemmas
    • although it does provide general guidance on how to be a good person
    • presumably a totally virtuous person would know what to do and we could consider them a suitable role model to guide us
  • there is no general agreement on what the virtues are
    • and it may be that any list of virtues will be relative to the culture in which it is being drawn up.
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