Virtue Ethics Plato Aristotle Misconceptions Regarding Virtue Ethics

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Overview of Significant Ethical Approaches on how to “find” Moral Truth:

  • Virtue Ethics
  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Misconceptions Regarding Virtue Ethics
  • John Dewey
  • Kant
  • Social Contract Ethics
  • Utilitarianism
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Rule vs. Act Utilitarianism
  • Act Utilitarianism
  • Kantian Utilitarianism (R. M. Hare)
  • G. E. Moore’s Utilitarianism
  • Intuitionism
  • Ethical Relativism
  • Moral Realism
  • Care Ethics
  • F. Nietzsche
  • David Hume
  • John Rawls

Welcome to Ethics

  • Unless your faculties aren’t working properly, you have an interest in ethics and the reason why is simple:
  • Ethics is about what is right and what is wrong and how can we tell the difference.

Consider the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be moral?
  • What are human beings really like: selfish, greedy, noble, or good?
  • Are some people “better” at being good than others? If so, how and why?
  • What does it mean to be good?
  • Are there good ways of teaching children to behave morally?
  • Does anyone have the right to tell anyone else what is right from wrong?
  • What is human nature?

Consider the following questions:

  • Why should I be a good person? What does it mean to be a good person?
  • Is morality about obeying a set of rules or is it about thinking carefully about consequences?
  • When people say “cannibalism is wrong”, do they know it is wrong or just believe it very strongly?
  • Are there certain kinds of acts that are always wrong (e.g., torturing children, beating up your mother, lying)?
  • Is it okay to ever break a law?
  • Is it wrong to enjoy hurting others?
  • Are human beings essentially good or essentially wicked?
  • How do you find ethical, moral truth?
  • Social contract theorists say ethical principles are made, not found, constructed by social groups, and exists for the benefit of those groups.
  • Natural/Special Revelation from God
  • Jainism says ascetic control/suppression of all feelings.
  • Care Ethics: Narrative of relationships that extend through time.
  • Virtue Ethics says in a virtuous character whereby a person is able to realize the crucial potentialities that constitute human excellence. It’s focus is on the person rather than the act.

Overview of Ethical Systems: Virtue Ethics:

  • Rather than focusing on what we ought to do, Virtue ethics offers a distinctive approach whereby we focus on human character asking the question, “What should I be?” Thus, ethical life involves envisioning ideals for human life and embodying those ideals in one’s life. Virtues are ways in which we embody those ideals.
  • Plato (c.427-347c):
  • To be virtuous we must understand what contributes to our overall good & have our desire (appetitive; workers), spirit (warriors), & reason (ruler-guardians) educated properly so they will aggregate with the guidance provided by the rational part of the soul (Books 2 & 3 of Republic). When these 3 parts of the soul conflict with each other, it might move us to act in ways that go against the greater good (become incontinent).
  • Virtue is an excellence of some sort. Originally the word meant “strength” and referred to as “manliness.” In Aristotle’s ethics (arete) is used which is trans. as “excellences of various types.”
  • Plato (c. 427-347) is concerned with the quality of a person’s inner state & he prized beauty, health, harmony, & strength of a soul as the virtues we should emulate.
  • Aristotle (384-322): The function of man is reason (the good of the thing is when it performs its function well) which is peculiar to him. Thus, the function of man is reason and the life that is distinctive of humans is the life in accordance with reason. If the function of man is reason, then the good man is the man who reasons well This is the life of excellence (eudaimonia; human flourishing & well-being).
  • G.E.M. Anscombe (1919-2001) argues we can’t rely on moral obligation using a non-religious ethic but we can rely on the Greek notion of excellence because it is tied to well-being & appropriateness to the kind of things we are.
  • Philippa Foot (1920-) ethical naturalist, grounds the virtues in what is good for human beings; the virtues are beneficial to their possessor or to the community; virtues are valuable because they contribute to it.
  • Aristotle: “Must have knowledge, second he must choose the acts and choose them for their own sakes, & finally his actions must proceed from a firm character” (1105a).
  • Aristotle says there are 2 types of virtue: intellectual virtues:
  • excellences of the mind (e.g., ability to understand, reason, & judge well);
  • moral virtues: learned by repetition (e.g., practicing honesty we become honest. To be virtuous requires knowledge, practice, & consistent effort at character building.

Basic Framework of Virtue Ethics:

  • Premise 1: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.
  • Premise 1a: A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, i.e., one who has and exercises the virtues.
  • Premise 2: A virtue is a character trait a human being needs to flourish or live well.
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