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Virtue Ethics A summary of Virtue (arete) Ethics; based on the work of Aristotle and the current resurgence in popularity. What the specification says.

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Presentation on theme: "Virtue Ethics A summary of Virtue (arete) Ethics; based on the work of Aristotle and the current resurgence in popularity. What the specification says."— Presentation transcript:

1 Virtue Ethics A summary of Virtue (arete) Ethics; based on the work of Aristotle and the current resurgence in popularity. What the specification says you need to know;  Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics.  Eudaimonia.  Golden Mean.  Revival. (A. MacIntyre and others)  Criticisms & Usefulness.

2 Renewed popularity in Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics, was developed in the late 1950s, but was made fashionable in the 1970s and 80s by Foot, P. (Virtues & Vices 1978), MacIntyre, A. (After Virtue 1981), and Taylor, R. (Ethics, Faith & Reason 1985). The movement was a reaction against Utilitarianism and Kantianism. Virtue Ethics emphasises BEING, rather than DOING. Virtue Ethics often points to ‘good people’ as examples – Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela etc

3 The basis of Virtue Ethics in Aristotle Oldest normative tradition in Western philosophy, its roots in ancient Greek civilisation Most influential account presented by Aristotle in his book Nicomachean Ethics. “Every craft and every enquiry, and similarly every action and project, seems to aim at some good; hence the good has been well defined as that at which everything aims.” GOOD is defined in terms of the purpose or aim to which someone is moving, these aims can therefore be numerous.

4 Clearly not all aims are going to be good, so Aristotle establishes what he calls the Supreme Good to which we aim - EUDAIMONIA (‘Happiness’) He is concerned with goodness as HAPPINESS and the type of lifestyle that will lead to achieving happiness. Eudaimonia is crudely translated as ‘happiness’; a later interpretation is ‘flourishing’ - being successful. This difficulty in the translation leads to some problems in establishing meaning.

5 Where does happiness (Eudaimonia) as a final aim or ‘good’ come from? 1.Aristotle proposed that all things in the universe have a cause and move towards a purpose (acorns to humans). Mans purpose involves something that distinguishes him from other species, RATIONAL BEHAVIOUR. 2. Happiness is something chosen for its own sake, a final end, not as a means to something else. Happiness is chosen for its own sake and not in order to achieve something else. Note: this does not define ‘happiness’.

6 ‘GOLDEN MEAN’ ‘GOLDEN MEAN’ - Virtues are the mean between extremes of behaviour and the way to achieve Eudaimonia / happiness. Example - courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. In response to the natural emotion of fear, we should develop the virtuous character trait of courage. If we develop an excessive character trait by conquering fear too much, then we are said to be rash, which is a vice. If, on the other extreme, we develop a deficient character trait by conquering fear too little, then we are said to be cowardly, which is also a vice. Aristotle: it is difficult to live the virtuous life because it is often difficult to find the mean between extremes.

7 What is it to be virtuous? To call someone virtuous is to refer to their disposition (how they would behave in a given situation) and NOT the state they are in. In other words, it is inaccurate to say ‘he is in a virtuous state’, but correct to say ‘he is acting virtuously’. This is useful because it means he is no less virtuous when asleep, or at other times when he is not exercising the virtues. He is still disposed to be virtuous when he is in a position to be but does not have to maintain a permanent state of ‘virtue’.

8 Summary of introduction "virtue" (arete) = excellence in fulfillment of a particular function Virtues can only exist within a social or political setting making this a political issue. "happiness" (eudaimonia) = a sense of well- being, resulting from achieving excellence in the fulfillment of one's functions, including the "species-specific" functions of reason (both theoretical and practical). Developing ones virtues. Virtuous behaviour involves following the mean between extremes.

9 Virtue Ethics – the theory Virtue theory is the view that the foundation of morality is in the development of good character traits, or virtues, not good acts. A person is good, then, if he has virtues and lacks vices. Typical virtues include courage, temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude, liberality, and truthfulness. Some virtue theorists mention as many as 100 virtuous character traits which contribute to making someone a good person.

10 Aristotle’s different types of virtue MORAL 12 (in total) E.g., Compassion, courage, temperance These are learnt through ‘living’ them, habit, because they are part of the irrational / desiring self. Virtues are something we acquire and NOT things we are born with. There is not inherent ‘good’ or ‘bad’, simply habits we develop. Once lived by, the virtues become part of our character and no longer an effort. Analogy: with adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. INTELLECTUAL E.g., wisdom, technical skills These are abilities partly built into the individual, also learnt through teaching. They are part of the rational self and so can be instructed. THE CARDINAL VIRTUES Prudence, Justice, Fortitude & Temperance.

11 Virtue theory places special emphasis on moral education since virtuous character traits are developed in one's youth; adults, therefore, are responsible for instilling virtues in the young. PracticePractice - moral virtues must be lived out and become habitual. Aristotle compares practicing the virtues to practicing any other skill, you will become more advanced though practice. The failure to properly develop virtuous character traits will result in the acquiring vices, or bad character traits instead. Vices include cowardice, insensibility, injustice, and vanity.

12 The Revival – G. E. M. Anscombe ’58; ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ (article) Attacked Utilitarian and Kantian moral rules and obligations. She criticised them for looking at ‘action rather than character’. Good persons do good deeds, good deeds don’t make a good person. The only reason to keep laws is if there is a law- enforcer (judge, rewarder & punisher). A GOD. Whether the ethical theory explicitly involves God or not, law following is nonsense. She emphasises human ‘flourishing’, Eudaimonia, as the best approach. This is not dependent on God.

13 The Revival – Philippa Foot ’78; ‘Virtues & Vices’ (article) Focused more on the positive reasons for adopting Virtue Ethics. Our desires are the root of moral action and the desire for goodness comes before doing good deeds. Train to be good and the rest follows. Virtue Ethics does not guarantee happiness but is significant in working towards it. She addresses the problem of ‘whom should we admire more?’; the naturally virtuous or those that work harder for it. Reminds readers of the long, respected heritage of this theory – in Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant…

14 The Revival – Alasdair MacIntyre ‘81; ‘After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory’ (book) Observes a moral vacuum that we are now in which began after 18 th century enlightenment, i.e., Hume. We emphasise the wrong virtues e.g., wealth, excitement, convenience. MacIntyre made wider criticisms about the detached nature of philosophy from reality, e.g., meta-ethical debate. Narrow, too focussed on reason rather than people and real lives. Looks at virtues historically, over time and how we should reflect on their use i.e., Homeric virtues such as courage, physical strength, friendship…and Athenian virtues especially Aristotelian. Medieval virtues. He refers back to the work of Aristotle. “..attempts to resurrect Aristotelian thinking about the virtues..” (Vardy & Grosch)

15 A moral society is one where people recognise commonly held virtues and aspire to meet them. This approach combats aspiring for personal gain. Examples include army regiments, religious orders. Essence of virtue = doing things for their own sake. Critics suggest that too much faith is placed in history by MacIntyre. In response to critics of Virtue Ethics MacIntyre simply states that it is the…”…best theory so far…adherents are rationally entitled to a high measure of confidence in its epistemological and moral resources.” (After Virtue)

16 The Revival – Richard Taylor ’85; ‘Ethics, Faith and reason’ (book) Shows how Western ethics has been distorted, corrupted and rendered unusable Christianity. Reason is essential for ethics but has been replaced by ‘faith’ and ‘divine-command’. Greek and Christian ethics are not only different in method, but have different goals. Personal development Vs a concept of right & wrong. Criticises Christian concept of equality as preventing us from trying to better ourselves. Reply: This is a general not moral equality and Jesus spoke out against the vices in favour the virtues.

17 Summary of the theory Aim = Eudaimonia – good-life, well being, happiness, flourishing… The emphasis is on the dispositions, motivations and emotions of the individual, rather than on the action, doing one’s duty, obligation or consequence. What someone IS rather than what someone DOES. Virtues are acquired by doing them. Practice, which is an individuals responsibility. Every moment gives an opportunity to acquire and develop virtues. It is about aspiring to be an ‘ideal person’ –a character-based ethical approach, best understood by looking to a good example. Aristotle said the best way to learn was to follow our idea of the ‘ideal type’ of virtue or observe real examples of virtuous people e.g. Mother Theresa, Gandhi...

18 Advantages / Strengths Emphasises the personal side of ethics, its ‘spiritual’ nature – motives, dispositions, feelings. Considers the whole community – Aristotle’s Supreme Happiness is for the community not just the individual. It is inspiring and idealistic, but not unrealistic as it points to real examples of what to achieve and how to achieve it. Fits in well with other ethical systems – religious e.g., Christianity and secular e.g., Humanism. Simple to understand and apply.

19 Disadvantages / Weaknesses It is difficult to define virtues and difficult to really know what the virtuous person would do in a given situation = impractical (R. Louden ’84) Some virtues may clash in a situation. It sometimes ignores actions and consequences. The practical problem is that as societies change, so does our idea of virtue. People who may lack the virtues can still perform moral actions. And the virtuous are not always moral. The ‘Golden Mean’. - Unclear exactly where the mean lies. - Not all virtues are at the mid point between extremes, they are simply good in themselves (MacIntyre)

20 William Frankena – cannot realistically separate virtue from rules & principles. Can characterise most virtues in terms of a sense of duty. Self-centred. Actions are chosen to benefit ones own character not other people involved. ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ cannot be separated in terms of the former having priority. Cannot ‘be’ brave without ‘doing’ it. Susan Wolf – become a virtuous person is an unattractive prospect because they are likely to become boring! There is no room for hobbies, flamboyant characters, etc…The virtues themselves should be practiced in moderation Reply: Louis Pojman dullness is a price worth paying for saintliness.

21 Exam Questions A01 (a) Explain how the idea of the ‘Golden Mean’ is used in Virtue Ethics. [33] (a) Explain the theory of Virtue Ethics. [33] A02 (b) ‘Virtue ethics is an easy system to put into practice.’ Discuss. [17] (b) ‘The world would be a boring place if everyone in it were virtuous’ Discuss. [17]

22 (a) Explain the theory of Virtue Ethics. [33] A01 Guidelines: Outline main principles of Virtue Ethics. Refer to Aristotle & modern views especially MacIntyre. (b) ‘The world would be a boring place if everyone in it were virtuous’ Discuss. [17] A02 Guidelines: Assess weather virtue ethics is boring or not. Refer to real examples of virtuous people. Suggest why it might be worth it, even if you conclude it is dull.


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