Virtue Ethics

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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 07-04-14 11:05


  • Centres around the achievement of man’s highest good, which involves the right cultivation of his soul and the harmonious well-being of his life (eudaimonia)
  • Happiness must be attained through the pursuit of virtue and actions are good when they achieve this
  • Considered certain values central: temperance, courage, prudence and justice (cardinal virtues) when in balance a person s actions will be good


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  • Argued whenever we do something we do it to gain an end and that the ultimate end of all ends is the chief good, the greatest good: eudaimonia
  • The greatest good for a person is for them to exist in the social and political realm. Humans are social animals and such need to interact with other humans/community
  • In order to achieve that end we must be educated and practise eg archers who want to hit their target
  • Phronesis: practical wisdom  (the virtue most needed for any other virtue to be developed. Balancing self-interest with that of others. Needs to be directed by other virtues) is acquired to be more autonomous person-centred and virtue-centred morality
  • ‘Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.’ Although all of us could develop these virtues, only a few will
  • We do one thing (subordinate action) to achieve a greater thing (greatest good)
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Aristotle Continued

  • Supreme happiness is in correlation with the community
  • Every human action is a moral action: what we do is who we are
  • Two types of virtues:
    • Intellectual virtues- developed by training and education
    • Moral virtues- developed by habit
  • A person who achieves eudaimonia uses reason well
  • Golden mean (Doctrine of the mean):
    • Virtue is to be found in the golden mean, which involves finding the balance between two means
    • There are 12 virtues that lay at the mid-points (deficiency and excess) between two vices:
      • Cowardice| Courage| Rashness
      • Shamelessness| Modesty | Bashfulness
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Modern Philosopher: Macintyre

  • Morality has suffered a catastrophe
  • ‘…We have- very largely, if not entirely- lost our comprehension, both the oretical (theory) and practical, of morality’
  • Lost moral wisdom
  • Looks back to writings of ancient Greeks, writings that told of great heroes showing a vision of morality: you are what you do (a man’s identity is defined by what he does’
  • The way in which we behave provides an opportunity for others to judge our virtues and vices
  • Sees a moral society as one in which people recognise commonly agreed virtues and aspire to meet them


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Modern Philosopher: Phillipa Foot

  • Attempted to modernise Aristotle’s Virtue ethics while still keeping the Aristotelian understanding of character and virtue
  • Recognises the importance of the persons own reasoning in the practice of virtue
  • Virtues benefit the individual by leading to flourishing
  • Virtues are good for us and also help us to correct harmful human passions and temptations
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Modern Philosopher: Hursthouse

  • Has a very Aristotelian framework but does not agree with all conclusions
  • Defends a version of virtue ethics which claims that virtues are virtues because they helo a person achieve eudaimonia and so living a virtuous life is good for humans
  • Sees virtues as shaping that persons attitudes or actions
  • Attempts to address the major criticism of Virtue ethics: that it provides no guidance in moral dilemmas, she believed it did, not by telling us how a virtuous person would act but by showing how a virtuous person would think about a moral dilemma


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Modern Philosopher: Michael Slote

  • Virtue is “an inner trait or disposition of the individual”
  • Slote prefers admirable to good or excellent as it does not require qualification
  • There are a variety of human traits that we find admirable, such as benevolence, kindness, compassion etc.
  • The opposite of admirable is deplorable (description of a vice)
  • We can identify admirable traits by looking at those we admire
  • Slote has developed an ethic of balanced caring (following some feminist approaches)
  • An act is morally acceptable when it doesn’t exhibit a lack of caring and wrong when it does
  • An uncaring act is one whose agent shows less empathy than is normal for human beings
  • Slote supposes that some miners are trapped in a mine
  • A utilitarian approach might assume that limited resources are best used in making the mine safe for future miners rather than getting the miners out
  •  Slote argues that an ethic of balanced caring shows we must choose in favour of helping those miners who are already trapped right now
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Modern Philosopher: Annette Baier (feminist)

  • Feminists call for a change in how we view the virtues – shifting towards those exemplified by women e.g. taking care of others, patience, the ability to nurture, self-sacrifice
  • They promotes an ethics of caring without making explicit links with virtue ethics
  • Carol Gilligan In a Different Voice “…men tend to conceive morality in terms of rights, justice and autonomy, whereas women more frequently think of the moral in terms of caring, responsibility and interrelation with others”
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Christianity: Stanley Hauerwas

  • Argues that Jesus was a Virtue Ethicist who lived his life by the virtues of Peace and Justice
  •  Christians no longer live by Virtues which show how different they are from the rest of society - “Christianity has lost its soul”
  • Christianity needs to rediscover radical edge and live by the virtues that Jesus lived by rather than the virtues of those around
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  • Avoids having to use a formula (eg utilitarianism) and instead focuses on the kind of person we  ought to be
  • Understands the need to distinguish good people from legalists: just because one person obeys the law and follows the rules does not make a good person
  • Stresses the importance of motivating people to want to be good, and the importance of education and actions are their own reward. Shows how we acquire and learn virtues by imitating others
  • Tells us how we learn moral principles and involves our entire life, every moment is an opportunity for developing virtues
  • Relates our ethical choices to the bigger picture
  • Allows to be biased towards family and friends unlike impartial theories (eg utilitarianism and Kant)
  • Does not tell us what a good person would do in every situation but encourages us to be more like a moral agent who does not need an ethical theory to make a decision for
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  • Robert Louden:
    • How can virtue ethics be applied to moral dilemmas? Does not help people when facing a crisis- no concrete answer
    • How do you know a person is virtuous? May appear virtuous but not with a  good interior
  • Seems to praise some virtues that we might see as immoral (eg soldiers fighting an unjust war could be seen as courageous but this does not  make them moral)
  • Seems incapable of dealing with big issues because does not seem to have room for basic concepts eg rights and obligations
  • Depends on some final end which gives shape to our lives: there may not be one and being virtuous may not affect it anyway
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