Virtue Ethics Research Paper

¶ … virtues the proper starting point for ethical theory? The debate about virtue ethics

Main issues

Critical analysis of virtue ethics criticism

Virtues should be the starting point for ethical theory

This paper revolves around the question that whether or not virtues are an appropriate starting point for ethical theory. I have presented the main criticism on virtue ethics theory followed by the defense of this theory by renowned virtue ethicists. There are three main schools of thought that have presented theories regarding ethics. In traditional normative ethical theories, deontologist, etiologist, and virtue ethics are the three perspectives. Virtue ethics has been gaining popularity as an alternative theory to deontologist and etiologist perspective of ethics. Main concerns in the virtue ethics approach are with the character, personality, environment and reasoning of the individual who acts. The main criticism of virtue ethics theory is that it does not provide action guidance. The criticism has been effectively answered by virtue ethicists such as Rosalind Hurthouse, Bernard Williams, and Christine Swanton. The paper concludes that virtue ethics is a superior theoretical perspective compared to deontologist and etiologist perspectives of ethics. When individual are concerned with moral and ethical dilemmas and of questions pertaining to ethical action, virtue ethics provide a practicable answer to their moral queries.

Are the virtues the proper starting point for ethical theory?

1- Introduction

Ethical theory is based on questions that require an individual to ask the following question. How ought I to do? What is the most ethical decision in a given condition? Thus, ethical theory is related to acts and not the qualities of an individual. The teleological theory of ethics means that an individual's act will be judged for its rightness based on the result that the act produces. On the other hand, the deontological ethics signify that morality of an action is based on the adherence of an action to a set of moral rules. The latter is the rule-based ethic. The utilitarian perspective of ethics is that greatest good of number of people should be achieved. From the aforementioned explanation of basic ethical perspectives, it is clear that virtue may be considered by the classic utilitarian as a derivative category (Louden, 201). Virtue ethics is the third approach to normative ethics used by the philosophers.

2- The debate about virtue ethics

All three positions differ in the way that moral dilemmas are approached. For example, in teleological or consequential ethics murder is morally wrong because it produces negative outcome. For a deontologist, the murder is morally wrong in all circumstances, whether or not it produces negative consequence. However, a virtue ethicist is concerned with the personality of the murderer and what the act of murder tells about the moral character of murderer. Thus, in virtue ethics perspective, personality and character of a person is of importance rather than his/her actions. For a casual student of philosophy, there are only two types of ethical perspectives. The first one is the deontologists' perspective of morality, and the other one is the utilitarian perspective. The virtue ethics perspective has been ignored by most of the researchers except Plato and Kant. The main rationale is that Rawals's theory of justice held that there are only two types of ethical perspectives one is the deontologists' and the other is utilitarian. The reason as stated by Rawals was that there are only two concepts, one is being right, and the other is being good. Those virtues are only derivatives of good and right.

3- Main issues

There are many objections raised against virtue ethics perspective is that researchers belonging from utilitarian and deontologist perspective of ethics. Researchers argue that virtue ethics does not provide an action oriented solution to the moral dilemmas. The issue gets far complex when it is alleged that virtue ethics perspective requires a detailed decision procedure. It is said that, in each case of virtue ethics it is required to determine that whether a morally right or wrong thing has taken place. The absence of action guidance in virtue ethics is partly due utilitarian professors being critical of a virtue ethics perspective. In virtue ethics researchers are concerned with being or personality of the agent rather than action of that agent. Another criticism is that virtue ethics theory does not provide enough impetus for a person to formulate his actions according the moral standards. The criticism also stated that rather than...


Driver (113) also mentioned that Robert Louden is the famous writer and critique of virtue ethics theory. Louden also questioned the practicality of virtue ethics. Since virtue ethics do not provide a standardized set of rules on which an individual or agent should base its actions, the theory was stated as being impractical (Louden 630). Gary Watson is another researcher who tirelessly critiqued the application of virtue ethics due to the theory's lacking of action-guidance.
A main issue with the virtue ethics theory is that more often than not the researchers have not well understood the position of Aristotle in describing the virtue. Swanton (8) has somewhat adopted the Aristotle's perspective regarding virtues. "A virtue is a disposition in which both reason and emotion are well ordered" (Swanton 8). Swanton explains that a virtuous person has the practical wisdom. This is exactly the view as propagated by Aristotle. Thus, Swanton describes virtue as a state of appropriate responsiveness to the demands on the world. Virtue and vice may not be well explained in the thesis developed by Aristotle, but contemporary researchers such as Swanton try to address the issues by highlighting this drawback.

4- Critical analysis of virtue ethics criticism

Hursthouse (645) argued there is a great deal of criticism on virtue ethics perspective for lacking the action oriented guidance. The author argued that here are several rules employing the virtue and vice terminology. For instance, Hursthouse (90) said that doing something honest and not doing something dishonest has clear use of virtue and vice. The vocabulary of virtue and vice is rich and utilitarian researchers make use of these terms.

Within the virtue ethics literature, there is a connection between the theoretical concept of moral action and a virtuous motivation behind such an action. It is also pertinent to mention that some researchers have criticized the notion that ethical theory's main purpose should be providing action guidance. Researchers have termed action guidance as the secondary subject in a moral theory (Zagzebski 35). Therefore, the main aim should be determining a moral exemplar agent. The same author also argues people associate with people and admire them based on the virtues that the admirable people practice. For a moral theorist, the main question should not that what ought to be done? Rather the investigation should revolve around the question that what is, right? Another criticism is that virtue ethics theory does not provide action guidance or is responsible for lack of action on the part of the agent. This is also contested by Zagzebski. The author describes a long list of virtuous actions of admirable people as a proof that virtue ethicists do not procrastinate finding the correct or moral action path.

Hursthouse has been particularly critical of the researchers who attacked the virtue ethics theory on the basis of lack of applicability. He said that it was the intelligentsia's failure and not that of the theory in itself. Hursthouse defined the right action in terms of virtue (Driver, 114). Let us consider the definition provided by Hursthouse (28) in which the author described right action "as it is what a virtuous agent would be characteristically doing in circumstances" (Hursthouse 114). Thus, Hursthouse clearly identified the 'v' rules such as being honest, being kind, and so on and so forth. Another advantage of the explanation that Hursthouse provided was that even a non-virtuous person was destined to perform a virtuous action. If he/she were to ask them the question of honesty and kindness, the ultimate conclusion of his/her inquiry would lead him to a virtuous path. The other criticism (not explicitly mentioned in the issues section) is that in case a mother is compelled to kill one of her child to save the other child, virtue ethics does not guide use as to what action the mother ought to take. This criticism is rejected by Driver (115) in which the author said that such a condition is truly a tragic one. These circumstances are horrific one but are not faced by individuals on a regular basis. Driver (116) also attacked the deontological theory by stating that in a given condition, there might not be any one right action that should be performed. For instance, when a mother is faced with the dilemma of buying a gift for her child, there may more than one right option and action that she can take. Thus, Driver argued that theories other than virtue ethical theories are reductionist in their nature and style. Virtue ethics theory does not reduce a person to a mere set of rules or to the rightness of one…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Armstrong, Alan E. "Towards a strong virtue ethics for nursing practice." Nursing Philosophy 7.3 (2006): 110-124.

Driver, Julia. "Virtue theory." Contemporary debates in moral theory. Blackwell, 2006.

Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Normative virtue ethics." ETHICA (2013): 645-665.

Hursthouse, Rosalind. On Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Cite this Document:

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