Virtue Ethics A2

Virtue ethics for A2 Edexcel Religious Studies

  • Created by: Charlotte
  • Created on: 23-05-09 10:07


- Aristole believed that all things and human beings have a telos

- He believed that the ultimate goal is human flourishing and developing the characteristics best suited to the realisation of a virtuous being

- His emphasis was on what kind of person people are, rather than what they do

- He believed that everything is arranged in a strict hierarchy with God at the top - the Unmoved Mover. This is not the God of classical theism but that towards which everything tends - eternal thinking itself

- He claimed that the end or purpose of man is rational thought, and his highest good is to be found in intellectual virtue

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Aristotle (contd.)

- Despite man's intellectual pursuit, he must also live practically in the world and pursue moral virtues

- Among these, Aristotle included courage, temperance, liberality, and magnificience (attitude towards one's wealth), greatness of soul (attitudes to social inferiors), good temper or gentleness, being agreeable in company, wittiness and modesty

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Aristotle (contd.)

- Although these are practical virtues, Aristotle maintained that they are still under the control of the intellect

- For Aristotle, these qualities are needed to lead a good life; thus the person who aims to cultivate these qualities maximises their potential for a happy life - or eudaimonia - which involves being happy and living well

- This is of intrinsic value and not a means to an end, and should be desired for its own sake (the person and their society)

- A person who has developed these virtues will be able to act in an integrated way, deriving satisfaction from doing the right thing because it is so, and not for any external reasons or goals

- They act in a virtuous way because they have identified the right way to act

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Modern Philosophers

- For Aristotle, the right way to act is the Golden Mean - the perfect balance between the two extremes

- It is discovered by the intellect and leads towards genuine practical wisdom and moral virtue

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Aristotle (contd.)

- Some actions are always to be avoided and in such cases the doctrine of the Golden Mean cannot apply, and we should use intuition to guide us in these cases

- The good person should learn from virtuous role models and train this virtue until it becomes an automatic way of living and behaving

- Most importantly, his character will become courageous, and all of his actions will be motivated by this

- Aristotle maintained that the genuinely virtuous person is virtuous all the time because he has cultivated the habit of virtue

- Prudence > a person must not only desire to do good, they must know when and how to do it; it requires constant practice

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Modern Philosophers

- Virtue ethics underwent a revival later in the 20th century

- Elizabeth Anscombe observed that ethical codes which lay stress on moral absolutes and laws are anachronistic in a society that has effectively abandoned God, and she returned to a morality based on human flourishing

- Richard Taylor also rejected a system of morality which was based on divine commands and discouraged people from achieving their potential

- He argued that the emphasis Christianity places on human equality does not encourage individuals to be great but advocates a self negating humility

- Philippa Foot argued that although the virtues cannot guarantee happiness, they can help to achieve it

- Alistair MacIntyre noted that in moral dilemmas, naturalistic theories of ethics are of little value as they are time consuming and overly complex

- A virtue based approach to ethics is more realistic and applicable to everyday situations

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Appeal of Virtue Ethics

> Can be accommodated by both religious and secular morality

> Jesus can be held up as a model of the virtuous man

> It is accessible by reference to the real world

> It attempts to link theoretical and practical approaches to ethics and maintains that theories of moral behaviour have objective values as part of developing a good life

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Weaknesses of Virtue Ethics

- How do we decide which virtues are to be cultivated the most?

- Why should we prefer certain ideals to others?

- Virtues have relative value in different cultures - they are of different value in each society

- Not everyone wants to cultivate virtues or maintains that they are intrinsically good

- Aristotle's principle of the Golden Mean is not easy to apply to all virtues

- Aristotle gave no guidance in situations where there is conflict and where we need rules to guide our actions. Because the emphasis of the approach is on being, rather than doing, it can also be seen as a selfish theory, placing greater emphasis on personal development than on the effect our actions have on others

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- Aristotle values masculine virtues, making his theory chauvinistic (although this was a reflection of his society)

- Virtue ethics is ultimately attractive only to those who have the time, inclination and ability to engage in speculative moral philosophy

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