Virtue Ethics



Plato's moral theory does not judge particular actions, but instead focuses around the achievement of the highest good (eudaimonia or happiness). Happiness must be attained through the persuit of Virtue, and actions are good when they achieve this.

Cardinal Virtues- prudence, justice, temperance and courage


for we are enquiring not in order to know what virtue is but in order to become good since otherwise our enquiry would be of no use (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 1)

  • Aristotle disgtinguishes between things that are good as a means (for the sake of something else) and things that are good as an ends (for their own sake only). 
  • eudaimonia, happiness and human flourishing are the final and overriding end of human activity
  • human well being/flourishing is a life characterised by the virtues which shpe human character and behaviour
  • Aristotle saw human beings as not only rational beings, but social beings - and so the wellbeing of the 'group' or community is more inmportant than of the individual. 

Acquiring Virtues - Aristotle saw 2 types of virtues:

  • Intellectual Virtues: developed by training and education
  • Moral Virtues: developed by habit

We acquire virtues by doing virtuous acts. Much like learning a new skill. We are all capable of being virtuous, and need to get into the habit of acting virtuously from childhood. Although we all have the potential to be virtuous, only a few people actually achieve this. Those whom achieved eudaimonia used their reason well. 


The balance of extremes of virtues and vices. A balance between excess (too much of something) and deficiency (too little of something). Aristotle said that virtue is too be found between two vices. 

Vice of Deficiency Virtuous Mean  Vice of Excess

cowardice courage rashness

shamelessness modesty shyness

malicious enjoyment righteous imagination jealousy

servility self-love arrogance

Phronesis (Practical Wisdom): According to Aristotle, Phronesis is the virtue most needed for any other virtue to be developed. Balancing self-interest with that of others, needs to be directed by the moral virtues. The Golden Mean is not the same for everyone, and is dependant on the circumstance - you must apply phronesis to decide the right…


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