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VIRTUE ETHICS

From Aristotle to the 21st century

Why Should I Be Moral?


Because of My Character!

Aretology
Arete

- Excellence, Strength, Virtue


Aretaic Ethics - Strength-Centred
Ethics
Emphasizes Virtues (Strengths) and
Vices (Weaknesses) of Character
Not What Should I Do? (both
Deontology and Teleology) but
What Kind of Person Should I Be?

Aristotles Ethics
384-322

B.C.
The Nicomachean Ethics
Two Kinds of Persons
Continent:
Do what is right, but not necessarily
because they want to

Temperate:
Do what is right because they want to;
the more holistic person

The Goal of Human


Existence
Eudaimonia
Flourishing,

Happiness
A Lifelong Pursuit,
accomplished
Rationally, through
theoretical wisdom and
contemplation
Functionally, through
practical wisdom and
politics

The Goal of Human Existence &


Eudaimonia
Aimed

at the perfect
happiness which is the
perfect activity
An excellence in any activity
in accordance with the nature
of that activity
Thus, Human happiness is
the activity of the soul in
accordance with perfect
virtue (excellence). (I.8;
Pojman, 394).

The Virtues
Intellectual

Virtues

Wisdom, Understanding, Prudence


Taught through instruction
Moral

Virtues

Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance


The result of habit
Not natural or inborn but acquired through
practice
Habit or disposition of the soul (our fundamental
character) which involves both feeling and action
Those strengths of character that enable us to flourish
(Hinman)

The Virtues
Defined

/ understood in terms of
spheres of human experience

Fear of important
damages

Courage

Bodily appetites and


their pleasures

Moderation

Distribution of
limited resources

Justice

Attitude to slights
and damages

Mildness of
Temper

Adapted from Martha C. Nussbaum, Non-Relative Virtues

The Doctrine of the Mean


Proper

position between two extremes

Vice of excess
Vice of deficiency
Not

an arithmetic median

Relative to us and not the thing


Not the same for all of us, or
Any of us, at various occasions
In this way, then, every knowledgeable
person avoids excess and deficiency, but
looks for the mean and chooses it (II.6)

The Mean

Virtues and the Mean


Defined

through Reason

Education, contemplation, reflection

Balanced

with Other Virtues and applied


using phronesis:

To have any single strength of character in full


measure, a person must have the other ones as
well.*
Courage without good judgement is blind
Courage without perseverance is short-lived
Courage without a clear sense of your own abilities is
foolhardy

The

virtuous person has practical


wisdom, the ability to know when and how
best to apply these various moral
perspectives. (*Hinman)

Virtues and Community


Virtues

are defined and lived in community


Sharing a common identity and story
Modelling the Virtues
Importance of Moral Exemplars (Saints and
Heroes)
Practicing

the Virtues Habit is Crucial!

In a word, then, like activities produce like dispositions.


Hence we must give our activities a certain quality,
because it is their characteristics that determine the
resulting dispositions. So it is a matter of no little
importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest
age it makes a vast difference, or rather all the
difference in the world. (II.i.) (Pojman, 396)

Reinforcing the Virtues

Other Virtue Ethicists


G.E.M.

(Elizabeth)
Anscombe

In 1958 she published an


article
called Modern Moral
Philosophy arguing
that we should return to
the virtues,
as the idea of a law without
a lawgiver
was incoherent.

Other Virtue Ethicists


Alasdair

MacIntyre
After Virtue (1981)
Modern moral philosophy is
bankrupt; it must recover
the tradition of virtue.
Importance of Narrative as
a
live tradition you need to
know where ethics has come
from.
Virtues change over time.

Other Virtue Ethicists


Philippa

Foot

Tries to modernise Aristotle.


Ethics should not be about dry
theorising, but about making the
world a better place (she was one of
the founders of Oxfam)
Virtue contributes to the good life.

Other Virtue Ethicists


Rosalind

Hursthouse

A neo-Aristotelian Aristotle was


wrong on women and slaves,
and there is no need to be
limited to his list of virtues.
We acquire virtues individually,
and
so flourish, but we do so together
and not at each others expense.

Other Virtue Ethicists


Carol
In

Gilligan

a Different Voice (1982)

Developmental theories have


been built on observations
and assumptions about mens
lives and thereby distort views
of female personality.
The kinds of virtues one
honors depend on the power
brokers of ones society.
The Ethics of Care

Other Virtue Ethicists


Michael

Slote

Develops the feminist ethics of care,


and links it to a virtue ethics inspired
more by Hume and Hutchesons moral
sentimentalism than by Aristotle.
Slotes version of virtue ethics is agent-based (as
opposed
to more Aristotelian forms which are said to be agent
focused) i.e. the moral rightness of acts is based on
the
virtuous motives or characters of the agent. The
motives are all important.

Other Virtue Ethicists


Martha

Nussbaum

She interprets Aristotles views as


absolutes justice, temperance,
generosity etc. are essential to
human flourishing
in all societies and in all times.
Nussbaum sees a relativist
approach as being incompatible
with Aristotles virtue theory.

Examples of Virtue Ethics


Bruderhof

and

Amish
communities
Anti-worldly
Pacifist
Family
Story

What makes one group virtuous


and not another?
Inner-City

Gangs
Common
values
Models
Virtuous
actions
Codes of
honour

Ku

Klux Klan?

Focused
Live tradition
Stories and
Models
Common
enemy
The family is
the strength of
our nation.

The

Christian Church?

The

Taliban?

The

Scouting Movement?

Your

school?

Your

friends?

Are the virtues the same for


everyone?
People

are very different.


But we face the same basic problems
and have the same basic needs.
Everyone needs courage as danger
can always arise.
Some people are less well off, so we
will need generosity.
Everyone needs friends so we need
loyalty.

Strengths of Virtue Ethics


Importance

of the Person, Motive,


Heart, Conscience
Connection to Community
Realization that morality is not
defined by moments but by a
long-term process
Allowance for gray areas, varying
contexts, different levels of moral
maturity and life contexts

Weaknesses of Virtue
Ethics

Dependence on strong
communities
Not easily applied to ethical issues
or to give us practical solutions
Demands time
Can be turned into a really poor
duty-based ethics
Might be taken as situational ethics

Conclusions
Utilitarianism

and Deontology are

helpful
They demand some kind of larger
criteria or grounding, a larger view
Virtue ethics seems to provide this view
It seems to reflect Christian ethics best,
and
It is not dependent on any particular
way of thinking (e.g. Enlightenment
rationalism)