Virtue Ethics

HideShow resource information

Introduction & Aristotle- HARMONY!

Centres on the character of the person making moral decisions rather than the action itself. Loads of different forms. Many different forms, with a range of opinions. Virtue ethics fought against the rise of consequentialism and deonotological domination. It's origins are in Aristotle and Plato.

Aristotle. > Arete- (excellence) in a SYSTEM.  Not moral excellence but how it does its job. Arete when it is doing its job right. E.g heart, lungs etc. Must function well to lead to


Organon- (A's book)

Describes this need for a natural function/harmonic which can be seen through society as well. E.g. slaves and rulers. Each has its own responsibility. The arete of a slave is to perform his/her duty to the satisfaction of the master. The ruler has the job to make sure he guides the state/has harmonic interactions with society.

A's view of virtue originated in how he saw society. Each group and each persons fulfils a function, for a purpose and to an end within society. Synoptic- 4 causes.

1 of 7

Golden Mean and Eudomonia

Virtue can be found in the golden mean- which is striking a balance between excess and deficiency. 

The golden mean is a 'lack of extremity' that achieves the best function of what is being examined. It's all about harmony- it must be in harmony to be virtous. The harmony between excess and deficincey. Tap anoalogy- plumber solution e.g. Deficinecy- laziness- golden mean- hardworking- excess- exhaustion.

Human beings must have virtue in their role e.g. doctor-caring


When the golden mean is achieved, eudomonia can be as well. Aristotle also saw this as achieving purpose. In human beings- eudomonia should not just be singular, it is designed to fulfil the happiness of society as a whole.

Synoptic- Utilitarianism and principle of utility. Each sector of society has a particular role to play, fulfilling that eudomonia is acheived when all groups work in harmony with eachother. Achieve telos.

2 of 7

Modern Virtue Ethics

Originates in Aristotle but is agent centred. It is based on character traits- not looking for goals of society.  >>>'You will know them by their fruits' Jesus. . R Adams, you have to show your virtue

  • The moral agent- is his/her search for virtue. They need examples of people who have been virtous and have the qualities in their lives in which virtues flourish and will put these into practice. You should learn the qualities of these people- not the person itself.
  • The moral agent will become more virtous by admiring/respecting people who have certain virtues. Their qualities rub off. Also says moral agent will become less virtous if they follow idle people.
  • Moral frality- Adams' term for the the study of virtous people has one constant feature- being prone to moral weakness. Contrasts with Aristolean thought of virtue as being about certain strong characteristics e.g courage.

Indeed, they are but Adams points out Modern Pyschology shows human characters are complex. A person may be virtous in one aspect of life e.g. charity but not in another e.g. relationships. Certain traits we should strive to like kindness, courage, love etc. >>Priest an ******* factor- if  you live an enviroment where everyone is virtous it is easier to be.

3 of 7

Theoretical Virtue Ethics

They reject Aristotle's concept of virtue based on the completion of NL.  What you do morally should be based on the way your actions effect you. There are 2 sides to this.

  • Some see the moral actions as important for the way it makes your virtuous Others dont
  • Rosalind Hurthouse- Ananlogy of fruit. Some people look at the fruit the tree produces to determine how good it will be, whilst others look at the tree- if it is healthy or not instead of the fruit- it's the nature of the tree that counts
  • Hurthouse is not concerned with the practical q's of ethics. She is not concerned with them as a basis for morality. They are the result of a moral state- it is this STATE and not moral actions that is all important.
  • She uses the Golden Mean of A- e.g courage as oppose to cowardice and foolhardyness is what she is interested in (calls them X-factor). If you by nature are virtuous then you will be virtous always,if you are not then you won't be. So- everyone should get into a state of virtous living.

Criticsms- How can you judge the state of virtue?-Conflicts of states of virtue-Objective judging?

4 of 7

Practical Virtue Ethics

  • 1 issue with VE is that it can't move foward from character traits to practical moral decisions.
  • Hurthouse didn't show how VE could be applied to particular cases.

Martha Nassbaum

  • Phronesis- Rational process of the mind, which discovers practical means for applying moral concepts to life.
  • Phronesis principle- A origins. Aristotle believed that moral life is inbuilt into RATIONAL human beings. We dicover the nature of the universe and its moral structure through a rational process- known as Sophia (wisdom). This creates an understanding of ethical theory and moral concepts.
  • A goes on to say that ethical theory needs a lot of paractical application.
  • Human beings use the rational process of phronesis to discover the best means of applying moral concepts to the real world-  it is the rational process of the mind, art of deciding the best way to sovle a problem. Involves rational reflection, and how to put it into practice.
  • Nassbaum's 1st major book looked at the concept of justice- which is difficult for VEists- looking at the moral agents virtues, the meaning of absolute justice can be lost. Synoptic- ME?
  • 2009 book looks at homosexuality. Defends rights and says tolerance is key.
5 of 7

Motive Virtue Ethics

Directly developed from Aristotle.  Anscombe- key thinker.

  • If a man doesn't follow his shopping list and acts impulsively, when he gets home he won't have the right ingrediants for the meal. It's his fault, te can't blame the list.
  • Applies this to ethics. The shopping list is a list of moral virtues- in life, the moral agents walks around the ethical supermarket and what counts is not who creates the list, e.g. you, god, society but knowing what the ingrediants are and deciding to take them or not.
  • VE is therefore concerned with intentions, covincing individuals they hould choose the right ingrediants for the good live and not to live impusively.
  • Law of the double effect- based on the intentions of the moral agents.

Phillpa Foot- virtues are objective in nature. . The shopping list is real- human beings should be lead to buy the right things in life, Getting the right good will lead to

  • Develop natural goodness, which is acheived by reason
  • Reason is the use of A's concept of phronesis- practical wisdom- the art of reflection, reflecting on an action- deciding on which virtue to use.
  • Macintyre- we need to have REASON to be moral, it sis no good on relying on 'natural goodness' . People should know why they're being virtous.
  • Slote- Idea of motives. Warm virtue ethics based on human sentiments and feelings. Being sentimental is good.
6 of 7

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Places emphasis on examining the character of the moral agent.
  • It seems human relationships as important and the need to look after and care for those whose moral agent is close. E.g. others ignore this like Kant- how see it as morally dangerous.
  • Sees human emotions as important, whereas other theories do not because they view them with suspicion.
  • Allows individual to make ethical decisions based on his/her own moral well being and not what is legally right.
  • Rejects simplistic rules or maxims as a basis form orality. Regards morality as complex, it can't be found in simple statements like the 'greatest good' eg
  • Places good values e.g. being truthful at the centre of morality


  • Robert Louden- criticised it for the concentration on the individual.
  • Doesn't resolve big ethical dilemmas
  • Paricularist- ignores the big icture, modern society is too big and universal to be affected by a moral philospgy that looks at small things
  • The Golden Mean can be seen as foolish in some places
7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar Ethics resources:

See all Ethics resources »See all Virtue Ethics resources »