Presentation on theme: "Charts by Dr. Peter Vardy, Vice-Principal, Heythrop College University of London."— Presentation transcript:
Charts by Dr. Peter Vardy, Vice-Principal, Heythrop College University of London
VIRTUE ETHICS Virtue theory is not so much interested in the question ‘What should I do?’ but rather in the question ‘What sort of person should I become?’. This has more to do with character and the nature of what it is to be human than with the rights and wrongs of specific actions. The saints or heros that stand out as examples of exemplary behaviour are rarely if ever motivated by one or other ethical theory - instead their behaviour stems from the consistency of the sort of person they are. Virtue Theory needs to seek to determine whether there are any key virtues that underpin the life of an admirable human being. There are many different virtues and they may all be good - moral choices may depend on how one ranks different virtues and which ones outweigh others.
The Aim of Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics is about developing a vision for life which is grounded in what it is to be human. Aquinas said that all human actions are moral actions - in all the things human beings do character and dispositions to act are being formed. Virtue Ethics rests on developing a consistency of behaviour in accordance with certain general ethical principles. St. Thomas Aquinas says that we should examine all our actions, even those that are insignificant, and ask ourselves ‘Are these ways of acting making us more just, prudent, temperate and brave?’
ARISTOTLE Aristotle considered that virtue was a habit, or at least it become a habit if practised regularly. Just as an athlete has to train and practice, so the person who would be virtuous has to train him or herself in virtuous behaviour. Normal discussion of ethics concentrates on the ‘exciting issues’ such as euthanasia or just war or abortion, virtue ethics concentrates more on the day to day activities of life and the sort of characters which human beings develop.
A contrast can be drawn between: The Ethics of Dilemmas - which uses ethical discussion to decide on how moral problems are to be resolved - for instance abortion, euthanasia, genetics, etc. – these are typically represented by ‘hypotheticals’ Virtue Ethics - which seeks to determine the sort of person one should become and resists discussion of dilemmas, emphasising instead consistency of character
Alastair MacIntyre MacIntyre in ‘After Virtue’ rejects the idea that modern society has inherited any single tradition from the past. We have accumulated a disconnected mixture of different views. For instance we may be: - Platonists in admiring perfection, - Aristotelians in praising virtue, - Utilitarians in trying to apportion medical resources equally so as to maximise the good that is done, - Christians in praising compassion and charity, - Followers of Locke in maintaining the right to personal property and - Kantians in insisting on the importance of individual freedom and autonomy. Given this background it is not surprising that individuals have no clear moral sense since we are inheritors of a web of different ideas and there is no single view that will support all the ideas that we have.
MacIntyre’s diagnosis MacIntyre seems to be right in his diagnosis of the moral mess we gfind ourselves in. This mess is made worse by post-modernism and the denial of truth. However it is much more problematic whether getting back to ‘the virtues’ provides a way forward. As we shall see, it is not easy to see what ‘virtuous behaviour’ amountsto in practice.
Parents as ‘Virtue Ethicists’ James Keenan likens parents to Virtue ethicists: ‘I have always thought that parents think this way. Parents are not primarily concerned with what action Johnny is doing. Rather, hey want to understand how Johnny is growing. Certainly there are times when, with young children, parents talk like deontologists: ‘Don’t ever talk to strangers’; ‘Don’t ever talk back to another person’; ‘Don’t ever cross the street unless the traffic light says so’. But behind all their judgements is a more basic concern about how Johnny is turning out..... Generally parents judgements about their children focus on what type of people their children are becoming and whether they can help their child become more fully integrated.’ ‘Virtue Ethics’ in ‘Christian Ethics’ ed. B. Hoose
The Virtues Aristotle put forward key cardinal virtues: Courage, Temperance, Wisdom and Justice and these were also accepted by Plato, Cicero and St. Augustine. To these St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the C13th century, added the theological virtues of: Faith, Hope and Charity. Aquinas was a theologian but he nevertheless believed that one could work out what it was to be virtuous or moral by looking at what it was to be human - to live fully in accordance with human nature. MacIntyre effectively maintains that we must move back from the idea of formulating moral rules (in the way that Natural Law, Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism, Emotivism, Intuitionism, etc. chooses to do) in order to decide how to cultivate the virtues.
Can a rapist be courageous?? MacIntyre, like Anscombe, thought that Kant led the study of morality astray by concentrating o duty as an abstract concept. They thought that ethics based on moral principles and duties could be eliminated altogether by concentrating solely on the virtues. Greg Pence argues that this is not possible and he does so by concentrating on discussion of one of the virtues - namely courage. Socrates rejects the idea that any brave act is courageous. Courage, argues Socrates, cannot serve evil ends. Courage is not the same as being foolhardy or daring as courage is directly related to fostering some ethical ideal. According to Socrates, a rapist or bank robber cannot be courageous…..
TEMPERANCE – THE MIDDLE WAY Temperance is the Aristotelian mean - it calls people to live by the middle way, avoiding extremes. A small amount of wine may be beneficial, none may impair one’s pleasure and too much may lead one out of control. Some sport may be a good thing, but none will mean your body is out of condition and if life is all sport then the balance is lost. Life is multi-dimensional and to live life to the full means keeping a proper balance between many different aspects. VIRTUE ETHICS involves living by the Aristotelian mean – nothing to excess..
People at the centre Virtue ethics is concerned with persons and it can be argued, it is therefore incapable of providing guidance with specific ethical problems. There are various possible replies to this: 1.Traditional ethics may not actually help to change behaviour so that people act more ethically. 2. In medical ethics, and particularly in nursing, Virtue Ethics has succeeded in bringing about changes in relationships which have not be achieved in other ways and has also changed some practices which other ethical theories do not address. 3. Virtue Ethics maintains the view that there is no single way to be good - human beings are diverse and St. Teresa of Lisieuz and Martin Luther King are radically different. As Owen Flanagan puts it: “persons find their good in many different ways”
SAINTS AND MORAL HEROS Many of the great moral heros and saints have been radically different from the societies in which they lived but, in spite of their differences, we can still recognise about them qualities of compassion, concern for others, passion and integrity by which they lived their lives.
RELATIONSHIPS James Keenan suggests that each individual is relational in three ways: generally to all humanity, specifically to certain individuals and uniquely to ourselves and “that each of these relationships demands a cardinal virtue. 1. As a relational being in general we are called to justice and to treat all people fairly, 2. As a relational being specifically we are called to fidelity and to sustain the specific relationships that we enjoy, and 3. As a relational being uniquely, we are called to that self-care that no one else can provide. Keenan maintains that the fourth cardinal virtue is temperance (or prudence as he terms it) which balances the three interests and the other cardinal virtues. A CHRISTIAN would add relationship to God to this list.
TWO SIDES TO ETHICS There are two sides to the Natural Law approach to ethics: 1) EMPHASISES ACTS ONE SHOULD NOT DO – e.g. lying, stealing, adultery, etc.. This has tended to be the side emphasised by Christians, 2) EMPHASISES HOW ONE SHOULD GROW TO BECOME FULLY HUMAN – this is Virtue Ethics and is to do with character formation. Both, however, have the same purpose – to concentrate attention on human beings becoming ’fully human’.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN NATURAL LAW & VIRTUE ETHICS Natural Law tends to see the virtuous life in terms of refraining from doing evil acts which diminish our humanity. It therefore concentrates on what one should NOT do. Virtue Ethics is more positive, concentrating on developing a virtuous character. This means DOING acts which are virtuous. Aristotle held that the virtuous life demands practice and training.
NATURAL LAW AND VIRTUE ETHICS BOTH DEPEND ON… 1. Whether there IS a single human nature from which we can fall short or to which we should aspire, and 2. Defining what this nature is. Both these are problematic – genetics seems to indicate that there IS no single human nature and, even if there is held to be, there is no agreement as to what it is. However it may not be as simple as this!
QUESTIONS 1. Is there a single human nature? 2. Does this human nature evolve or change? 3. Does our understanding of what this nature is evolve or change? These answers given to these questions will determine the future of Christian morality. For instance, the claim that homosexual activity is.’a perversion’ or that a homosexual inclination is ‘a defect’ are based on the claim that there is a single human nature which should be heterosexual.
PROBLEMS If there is a single human nature, then anyone who falls short of this nature is to that extent defective – they are SUFFERING AN EVIL. Downs Syndrome, blindness,loss of an eye, etc. are all DEFECTS. This can lead to the language of ‘correction of defects’. If a homosexual inclination is a defect, then this can lead to the suggestion that this defect should be ‘rectified’ at the embryo stage. Human nature could, then, be changed to what it ‘ought to be’. The problem, of course, is who decides! (The ethics of genetic engineering is dealt with in ‘Being Human’ DLT 2003 by Peter Vardy)