VIRTUE ETHICS – January 28 20 4
Three different views:
1) Virtue ethics
Character ▯Act ▯Consequences
Virtue ethics ▯Deontology ▯Consequentialism
- The moral worth of an act is determined by its consequences
- The main theory is ‘utilitarianism’ – the idea that goodness consists in
contribution to human happiness
- Happiness is a trouble of course:
• Human or all sentient creatures
- The idea that an act possesses its moral worth, without regard to its
consequences or its motives
- The idea that the moral worth of an act resides in the moral worth of
the person performing it
- The object of moral education is to form good people, people of good
character or ‘virtue’
- The bearer of moral worth is the source of he action, the character of
the person who is performing the action (Aristotle)
Virtue Ethics – Aristotle
Part One: Why be Ethical?
Aristotle’s answer: Happiness
The Greek word translated here as happiness… and the translation isn’t perfect.
Happiness, for us, is generally regarded as an occurrent subjective state; it was
understand as an objective state.
Loosely and roughly:
You can’t be happy without knowing that you’re happy. But you can be eudaimon
without knowing that you are.
A better translation for eudaimonia might be ‘blessedness’ – but without the religious
connotations that that word has for us. A person who is eudaimon will be admired and praised by others.
That person who is universally admired, will be entitled to a great deal of self
And so, in a way, ethics becomes an empirical enquiry:
• What sorts of people do we generally admire?
(Note: We is we wellborn citizens, we nobility, we elite)
• What are the virtues that we admire in people?
• Is there a general definition of virtue?
b) Areté – Virtue
Part Two: The Mean
• Aristotle thinks about the virtues we admire, and he notices that, they represent a
form of behaviour that is in the middle of two extremes, which are vices – behaviour
that is not admired. For every vice, there are 2 virtues. *
Virtue for Aristotle, is a mean.
Deficiency/Vice Mean/Virtue Excess/Vice
cowardice courage foolhardiness
anorexia moderation gluttony
(Eating and Drinking)
stinginess generosity profligacy
standoffishness friendliness obsequiousness
shyness pride vanity
pessimism realism optimism celibacy monogamy promiscuity