3 Structure 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics 2. Virtue Ethics: historical background3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims4. Objection and Response5. Conclusion
4 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics AlternativesDeontology:A moral theory focused on our duties/rulesAn action is right if it's in conformity with/from a moral rule. Acting from such rules has priority over what might produce most good.
5 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics AlternativesConsequentialism:A moral theory focused on consequencesMorality requires us to act to bring about the best consequences.Different consequentialist theories spell out best consequences differently.
6 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics Dissatisfaction with alternativesElizabeth Anscombe (1958):She criticised the rigid use of rules/principles in Kant's deontology and Mill's utilitariansm.Both suffer from counterexamples that it's difficult to dismiss.
7 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics Dissatisfaction with alternativesBernard Williams (1985, and Athanassoulis, 2010):Ethics broader than morality as characterised in Kant's philosophyMorality is concerned with duty/obligation and blameEthics has broader concerns, including certain emotions, relations with family and friends.Deontology and Consequentialism don't address those concerns.
8 1. The Motivation for Virtue Ethics Deontology and consequentialism are primarily concerned with saying what makes for a good act.In contrast, virtue ethics is agent focused rather than act focused.Virtue ethics focuses on how you should be rather than what you should do.
9 2. Virtue Ethics: historical background Historically, various ethical accounts are or have been interpreted as virtue ethical accounts:From Chinese philosophy, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Aquinas, Hume and Nietzsche.
10 2. Virtue Ethics: historical background Examples of ApproachAquinas' virtue ethics:“A virtue is an aspect of, or constitutive element in, being a person of good character. To have the virtues is to have a stable and ready willingness to make choices that are morally good because in line with the bonum rationis, the basic good of practical reasonableness.” (Finnis, 2011).
11 2. Virtue Ethics: historical background Examples of ApproachHume's virtue ethics:“[A] virtue is a character trait (of human beings) that is useful or agreeable to its possessor or to others (inclusive 'or' both times)”. (Hursthouse, 1996).
12 2. Virtue Ethics: historical background Aristotelian virtue ethics, however, is what has been drawn on most heavily in the recent revival of the approach.Three concepts commonly drawn from Aristotelian virtue ethics:Aretê – excellence or virtuePhronesis – practical or moral wisdomEudaimonia – happiness or flourishing
13 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims From AristotleTwo kinds of virtue: intellectual and moralTwo kinds of intellectual virtue: theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom (Phronesis)Virtue is understood as an excellencePhronesis is required for the application of moral virtueFor example, how do I be just in this situation?
14 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims From Julia Annas (2011) on virtueWhat does it mean to say Jane is generous?It's not just to say that they did something generous or that they had a generous feelingA person might do something generous, say, to impress a friendOr she might have momentarily felt generous because of a song she heard
15 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims From Julia Annas (2011) on virtue“For Jane to be generous, generosity has to be a feature of her”A persisting, reliable, and characteristic feature of her.
16 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims From Julia Annas (2011) on virtuePersisting:she retains her generosity in the face of challengesReliable:She can be expected to be generous on the occasions that call for generosityCharacteristic:She is acting in and from character when she is acting generously
17 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims For Aristotle being virtuous is a necessary requirement for eudaimonia.Being virtuous is self-interested because virtues bring their own reward and are constitutive elements of eudaimonia.Alternative view: An agent-based theoryCommon sense intuitions determine the virtues. Those Intuitions are based on what we judge to be admirable traits in other people (Athanassoulis, 2010).
18 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims The Development of Moral CharacterPeople have natural tendencies which may be encouraged or discouragedOur natural tendencies are affected by parents, teachers, peers, role-modes etc.Our character generally is affected by habituation and education.
19 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims The Development of Moral CharacterA person begins to become virtuous by trying to emulate her virtuous role-model.This involves habituating oneself in right actionBut virtue is not merely a habitThe virtuous person acts reflectively recognising why she should act virtuously (Athanassoulis, 2010)Becoming virtuous takes practice
20 3. Virtue Ethics: characteristic claims A portrait of the virtuous agent“The virtuous agent acts effortlessly, perceives the right reason, has the harmonious right desire, and has an inner state of virtue that flows smoothly into action.” (Athanassoulis, 2010).
21 4. Objection and Response Objection: Action GuidanceDeontology and consequentialism tell us what we need to do in a situation to act morally.Objection: Virtue ethics doesn't tell us how to act morally in a situation.Implication: Virtue ethics is not a rival to deontology and consequentialism.
22 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)Utilitarian account of right actionU1. An action is right iff it promotes the best consequences.U2. The best consequences are those in which happiness is maximised.
23 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)Deontological account of right actionD1. An action is right iff it is in accordance with a correct moral rule or principleD2. A correct moral rule (principle) is one that...is universalisablewould be the object of choice of all rational beings…
24 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)A virtue ethicist account of right actionV1. An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically (i.e. acting in character) do in the circumstances.V1a. A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, that is, one who has and exercises the virtues.V2. A virtue is a character trait that....a human being needs for eudaimoniais useful or agreeable to its possessor or to others (inclusive 'or' both times)”…
25 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)Objector's response: But how can you know what the virtuous agent would do in particular circumstances unless you yourself are already virtuous?Hursthouse's response:We can go to the virtuous agent and ask what they do in the circumstances.Appeal to experts. How is it to be judged who should qualify?Based on a knowledge of what the virtues are, I can know what to do.
26 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)Conflict Problem: When different virtues seem to demand conflicting actionsFor example, when the honest thing to do seems to be to tell the truth, albeit while saying something hurtful in the process, and the kind thing to do seems to be to remain silent or perhaps to lie.Virtue ethicist response:Such conflicts may merely be apparent due to a misunderstanding of what the virtues require in particular circumstances.But it may also be the case that some conflicts aren't resolvable by normative ethics.
27 4. Objection and Response Hursthouse (1996)Dilemmas:Anti-theory – rejecting normative ethical theoryBy rejecting a normative ethical theory supporters of anti-theory are rejecting the claim that a set of general principles can provide a decision procedure that can yield the correct answer to all questions about how to act morally.
28 5. Conclusion What is a virtue? Annas: a persisting, reliable, and characteristic feature of her.For Aristotle being virtuous is a necessary requirement for eudaimonia.
29 5. Conclusion What is virtue ethics? It's agent centred rather than act centredVirtue ethics seems to better reflect what we think of as our moral lives – it says something about how we should be.Contemporary virtue ethicists tend to draw on Aristotle's virtue ethics but there are many other alternatives.
30 5. ConclusionObjection: Virtue ethics doesn't tell us how to act morally in a situation.Implication: Virtue ethics is not a rival to deontology and consequentialism.Hursthouse: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically (i.e. acting in character) do in the circumstances. (Key condition)Virtue Ethics can tell us what to do in numerous circumstancesIt's an advantage that it doesn't claim to have a procedure that can tell us what to do in every circumstance.