By the end of today‟s lesson you will have: Examined the strengths and weaknesses of virtue ethics Recapped an overview of the theory
What are Virtues? A virtue is a positive character trait. Modern-day virtue ethicist Alastair Macintyre points out that different virtues have been prized by different societies, and at different points in history. Virtue Ethics is therefore a morally relativist, non-cognitivist theory.
Origins The ancient Greeks recognised virtue as a central element of ethical thinking. Virtue is particularly important in the writings of Aristotle. The emphasis that the theory puts on the whole person is typical of the ancient Greeks.
A Different Kind of Theory Not the same as Utilitarianism or Kantianism i.e. Not so much a guide for moral decision-making, more a description of the moral life. Utilitarianism and Kantianism ask “How should I act?” – Virtue Theory asks “How should I live my life?”, and “What kind of person should I be?” It is interested in the whole person, not just their actions.
We are Judged by our Character The theory suggests that we are judged by our character, not specific actions. An individual who has developed good character traits (virtues) is judged to be a morally good person. An individual who has developed bad character traits (vices) is judged as a morally bad person. Most of us have a mixture or virtues and vices.
Aristotle and the Doctrine of the Mean Aristotle believed that the moral man was the man of virtue. He did not see virtue as the opposite of vice. Virtue is the mean between two extremes – a middle way. For example, courage is the Yet in some cases the doctrine of the Golden mean mean between cowardice and can not be applied. Aristotle foolish bravado. dealt with this problem by Finding this middle way is the observing that what is evil is key to leading a moral life. obviously evil, which relies on our intuition to make the distinction.
How do we become Virtuous? We become virtuous by doing virtuous acts We become patient by doing patient acts We become brave through acts of bravery As with learning an instrument, we get better with practice The virtuous life is a happy life – we will enjoy acting virtuously Becoming virtuous is a developmental process, it requires moral education The end purpose of man, claims Aristotle, is rational thought and his highest good is to be found in intellectual virtue
Virtues in Homer‟s Greece Physical Strength Courage Cunning Friendship
Virtues in Athens Courage Friendship Justice Temperance (self-control) Wisdom
Christian Virtues St Ambrose (340-397) defined the following Greek virtues as the four cardinal virtues: Courage Justice Temperance Wisdom He took the following three from St. Paul and these became known as the three theological virtues: Faith Hope Love (charity – Greek: caritas)
Further Scholars Elizabeth Anscombe – 20th century revival of Virtue Ethics – a society without God would be anachronistic in a society which craves rules. We should instead focus on human flourishing Richard Taylor – Rejects a system of morals based on Divine commands Phillipa Foot – Although virtues can not guarantee happiness, they can go some way to achieving it
Advantages of Virtue Ethics Emphasis on pleasure and emotion – it is good that we should enjoy acting virtuously Moral education – being moral is a developmental process Consideration of life as a whole – “One swallow does not make a spring” (Aristotle)
Advantages of Virtue Ethics Virtue ethics avoids having to use a formula (e.g. GHP) to work out what we ought to do and focuses on the kind of person we ought to be. It understand the need to distinguish good people from legalists (i.e. Just because one obeys the laws and follows rules does not make one a good person)
Advantages of Virtue EthicsIt encourages us to be morevirtuous so that we will not needan ethical theory to make ourdecisions for us. It stressescharacter- after all someonewho helps the poor out ofcompassion does seem morallysuperior to someone who does itout of duty!
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Offers no solution to specific moral dilemmas Not everyone has the equal opportunity to develop morally – do we judge them the same? Many non-virtuous people live happy lives, many virtuous people are miserable Cultural relativism – whose virtues are best? We recognise that some non-virtuous people are useful in our society; life would be dull without them
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Virtue ethics seems to praise some virtues that we might see as immoral e.g. Soldiers fighting unjust wars may be courageous but that does not make them morally good. Louden points out that it is difficult to decide who is virtuous on the outside may not necessarily have good motives and versa.
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Virtue ethics does not seem to have room for basic concepts such as rights and obligations, so as a theory of ethics it seems inadequate in dealing with big issues- it does not always have a view about what makes an act right or wrong. How do we decide which virtues are to be cultivated the most? Why should we prefer certain ideals to others?
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Aristotle‟s Golden mean does not easily to apply to all virtues. Is it possible to take compassion to an extreme, where it becomes a vice? Even where there is a mean how do we identify where it lies?
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Aristotle gave no guidance in situations where Virtues 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.
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Aristotle was writing in the context of the 4th century BC Greek city state, in which inequalities between nobleman and slaves were the norm. Alasdair MacIntyre observes „the whole of human life reaches its highest point in the activity of a speculative philosopher with a reasonable income‟
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics Aristotle‟s virtues are masculine, frequently associated with the battlefield, such as bravery and honour. Therefore his approach can be seen as chauvinistic giving little credit to feminine virtues such as humility and empathy. In his defence Aristotles static society was very different to our own in which