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Asses The Strengths and Weaknesses of Virtue Ethics.

Virtue Ethics was first thought up properly by Aristotle, who looked at what made the person or the moral agent good rather than whether or not an action was good or bad (meaning this theory is neither teleological or deontological) and said that a moral man is a man of virtue. Thomas Aquinas took this idea and Christianised it, adding the four cardinal virtues and the three theological ones. It stayed the same during the enlightenment and was put to one side up until the late 1900's with Elizabeth Anscombe and Alisdair MacItyre, who both thought looking at the action and not the agent wasn't the right way to go about it. Aristotle uses virtues of the agent as his main description of what good is. He believed that the main goal of all human activity was Eudaimonia, this is the state of living a happy and desired life. Eudaimonia is achieved, according to Aristotle by living and developing a set of virtues, which Aristotle saw as supreme qualities of humanity, he called these qualities Arete and split them into two kinds of virtue; Moral and Intellectual. Moral virtues are traits of character for example, courage and modesty. They are expressed by the way people act and are gained through habit and are thus practised to improve them. According to Aristotle a virtue is the mean point between the vices of excess and of deficiency. He called this 'midpoint' the golden mean an example of this would be the virtue courage would have the vice of excess rashness and the vice of deficiency cowardice. The problem with the golden mean is that it is seen as very bourgious this because it is easy to work out the mean in a situation when there is no extreme need or lack of option. He then listed nine intellectual virtues five primary and four secondary. The intellectual virtues are traits of rational thought, which are acquired through learning and sensual experience, for example prudence/Phronesis and scientific knowledge. The most important intellectual virtue to Aristotle is Phronesis this is because using Phronesis we can work out what the virtuous person would do in a situation and then we can act in the same way. The major problem with phronesis telling us what the virtuous person would do does not make moral decision making easy, it gives us no moral 'equation' to apply to a situation. Aristotle says that we are not born virtuous and that we grow into it by practising virtuous acts we are what we repeatedly do. For example we become resourceful by practising resourcefulness. Peoples virtues develop and then eventually flourish depending on how often they practised, meaning that not every one will act the same in the same situation, this is problematic because it means that virtue ethics is not universifiable making ethical rules regarding actions virtually impossible.A strength of aristotles virtue ethics is that it changes with the times, in Aristotle's time a Hero or Warrior was seen as a virtuous person, he would show courage and justice. But these virtues do not fit into modern society, in the modern age the virtuous man would show tolerance and individuality. Aquinas then takes this idea and Christianises it, adding the four cardinal virtues; Prudence/Phronesis, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude, Aquinas said that all virtues depend on these four moral virtues, he then added the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity creating the 'seven virtues'. A strength of this is that the virtues he come up with can apply to both religious and non-religious people. After Aquinas Virtue Ethics was disregarded and replaced in the enlightenment in the 17th century by action based ethical theories such as Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics it remained this way until the late 1900's when action based ethics was rejected by Elizabeth Ansocombe, Philippa Foot and Alisdair MacIntyre. Anscombe starts in 1958 by saying that moral laws/ obligations are flawed as in modern society there is no 'lawgiver'. She also says that the way a person acts tells us nothing about them, good actions do not make a good person. In a society if people put the Laws first and then act accordingly only out of obedience then the action is with out morals all together. To be virtuous, a person has to do what they believe to be right not what they are told is right.

Philippa Foot believed that ethics had become lost within the idea of what words mean. She believes that virtues benefit human beings, and do not get on well with out them. No body can get on well if he lacks courage, and has no measure of temperance and wisdom- (Virtues and Vices 2002). People need virtues in the same way that they need health but these are different kinds of excellences, virtues of the mind and health of the body. Foot then says that a man is judged by there moral intentions. Foot goes back to the idea of the golden mean (the mid point between the vice of excess and the vice of deficiency. She talks about the possibility of being tempted by the vices, for example the virtue of hope is brought about by the temptation of despair. Our virtues are there to make us act when we would not if the virtues were not there. In some situations practising virtues is more difficult than in others for example if I have the opportunity to steal and I am tempted then I am less virtuous that someone who was not tempted, But if I have a starving family and resist the temptation then my strength of virtue is much greater. The examples shown show how the theory does not look at the action but at the 'agent' who is acting. But still the main underlying problem with virtue ethics is that there is no set precedure for working out what is te right or wrong thing to do in a given situation.