Virtue ethics

  • Created by: Jenna
  • Created on: 15-05-16 19:04

Introduction to Virtue ethics

The theory is derived from Aristotles writings in 350 BCE 

It is a normative theory on how to become the best kind of person- whenever we do an action we do it to gain an end, the ultimate end is the greatest good. But in order to do this we must practice, by practicing we improve our skills and so become happy and arrive at arête which is excellence. A virtuous person is one who does actions excellently all the time. 


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12 moral virtues

Aristotle thought of 12 moral virtues that fall between 12 vices to becoming a virtuous person. These vices are deficiency and excess, then the balance (in the middle) is the golden mean. The golden mean is what a person must find. 

For example, for someone to find the golden mean which is courage, they may also find the deficiency to be cowardice and the excess to be rashness. 

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The aim of life is eudaemonia to govern our lives.

Eudaemonia is a greek word that roughly translates into ‘happiness’ or ‘flourishing’. Aristotle argued that this is a process that we grow towards by practicing virtues.

the good life is the eudaemon life, and the virtues are what enable a human being to be eudaemon. 

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Problems with virtue ethics

the virtues during one's life that is held to be at least partially constitutive of eudaemonia, and this is consistent with recognising that bad luck may land the virtuous agent in circumstances that require her to give up their life. Given the sorts of considerations that courageous, honest, loyal, charitable people wholeheartedly recognise as reasons for action- they may find themselves compelled to face danger for a worthwhile end e.g. to speak out in someone's defence.

On the view that the exercise of the virtues is necessary but not sufficient for eudaemonia, such cases are described as those in which the virtuous agent sees that, as things have unfortunately turned out, eudaemonia is not possible for them (Foot 2001, 95)- not a pragmatic theory 

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Practical wisdom


practical wisdom involves knowledge of what is good or bad, it is not merely theoretical knowledge, but a capacity to act on such knowledge as well. 

Aristotle’s theory makes practical wisdom very demanding because the type of insight into whats good and the relation between practical wisdom and virtues of character are complex. Practical wisdom cannot be taught, but requires experience of life and virtue. Only the person who is good knows what is good, according to Aristotle.

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