Virtue Ethics

Virtue 'Arete' greek for excellence What makes a person good, what qualities make them good. People don't use ethical theories to make decisions e.g Utilitarianism -Agent centered rather than act centered
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Plato
Achievement of mans highest good, the right cultivation of his soul and the well being of his life, eudemonia or happiness.
Happiness is attained through the pursuit of virtues and actions that are good.
4 Cardinal Virtues - Courage, Justice, Prudence, Temperance. = actions that are good
Masculine attributes
Aristotle
engaging in ethics is to become good. '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.' (Nicomachean Ethics)
There is one final end to human activity - eudemonia which is human flourishing, characterised by virtues.
A good life is one lived in harmony with others. Humans are social beings.
We must place the well being of the group over the individual.
2 types of virtues.
1. Intellectual virtues - developed through practise - knowledge, prudence and intelligence
2. Moral virtues - developed through habit - courage, friendliness
These are skills. 'We learn to play the harp through playing the harp. In the same way we become just by doing just acts, courageous by doing acts of courage.'
• Someone who achieved eudemonia, someone who used their reason well. Reason is supreme virtue
• Reason used to think and moral sense - the ability to put into action what reason said was good.
• Reason is practical- involves understanding and responding.
Doesn't give guidance to make a decision, use reason to work out what to do.
• Virtue is found in the Golden Mean. Virtue is found between two vices. Between the excess or deficiency of the true virtue.
Courage - Coward does not have enough, fool runs into danger
• This golden mean is not the same for everyone and depends on circumstance 'right amount at the right time' - apply 'Phronesis' to work out (practical wisdom)
Golden mean is subjective. Not always a mean to act upon. Some virtues can become vices, showing courage in an oppressive war.
• We develop autonomy as we grow up and away from rules. (flourish)
We can learn how to be virtuous through virtuous people - replicate their behavior
Different cultures have different values, yet shared virtue ethics religious morality. Religious leaders seen as perfect examples. Moreover teachings support virtue ethic system, well-being for the individual and the community.
'Love your enemies' Jesus
'If people do you good, you will do good to them' Mohammad
'Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can irradiate our good deeds.
Virtuous people aren't always virtuous - rolf harris
All people have the potential to develop moral and intellectual virtues, only a few will achieve.
-for Aristotle these were male philosophers.
A person should not act virtuously just to achieve an end, subordinate aim. Instead because goodness is a superior aim.
Modern Virtue ethics
Morality comes from within. Unsatisfied with act centred ethical theories. Agree with emphasis on the agent.
G.E.M Anscombe 1956 paper called 'modern moral philosophy'
Ethical theory - if there is no God then there is no moral laws. Answer in the idea of human flourishing which does not depend on god.
Kant and Utilitarianism do not rely on God but are act based and ignores the agent. Act based ethics stresses autonomy but neglects community aspect of morality.
Philippa Foot 1920 - Attempted to modernise Aristotle's virtue ethics.
Importance of a person's reasoning in the practise of virtue - virtues lead to flourishing
Virtues are good for us, correct harmful passions and temptation. Not a virtue if lead to bad end.
Alasdair Maclntyre - 1929 After virtue.
Ethical theories have resulted in ethical disagreements.
As a result people do not believe in moral truths
Attitudes today are based on 'Emotivism', moral statements are neither true nor false, simply reflect the feelings and attitudes of the speaker
Hursthouse 1943 - Virtues are virtues because they help a person achieve eudemonia, therefore living a virtuous life is a good thing for a human being
Slote - Virtue ethics are mostly common sense and intuitions about what counts as a virtue. Prefers 'admirable' to describe and action rather than 'good' opposite is a deplorable action which is foolish and careless.
Virtue as 'an inner trait or disposition of the individual.'
Nussbaum interprets Aristotle's virtues as absolutes - she claims that Justice, Temperance, generosity etc. are essential elements of human flourishing across all societies and throughout time. This is a sharp contrast to the general attitude among modern virtue theorists. Although it may be too much to describe all of the above as moral relativists, Nussbaum is clear that she believes a relativist approach is incompatible with Aristotle's virtue theory.
Ben Franklin - utilitarian virtue theorist. He believed that we should try to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number (the principle of utility). However, he thought that the best way to bring about the greatest good was by developing the virtues. cleanliness, temperance, justice and sincerity all of which he explained how to apply unto oneself and one's life
Feminism and Virtue ethics
Has built-in sexism which is oppressive for women. Virtue itself comes from Latin word for manliness Aristotle's own views that women are morally inferior has influenced many thinkers.
Annette Baier - men think of morality in terms of Justice and autonomy which are masculine.
Women think in terms of care, nurture and self sacrifice.
Baier advocates a view of ethics that takes account of our natural biases (e.g. the love of a mother for her children and the importance of trust).
Strengths
Leslie Stephen - morality is internal. An internal motive holds more moral value than an external sanction
Weakness
Susan Wolf - if everyone virtuous would be no variety or excitement in the world. Need negative traits so that we can admire the good ones
Aristotle's story of Milo, comparison to the Golden mean - still is variety
Robert Louden - too vague for actual application 'we ought, of course, to do what the virtuous person would do, but it is not always easy to fathom what the hypothetical moral exemplar would do.'
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