Most recently the virtue theory has resurfaced because of contemporary theorists criticizing principle based theories such as Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics (230). According to the text Ethical Choices, “Virtue theory is an objective theory and the fact that it can have “multiple right choices” sets it apart from all principle based theories” (226). Aristotle, a famous Greek philosopher believed that as humans, we constantly seek happiness and he believed that we become what we do habitually. Therefore, Aristotle conceptualized two predominant virtues, intellectual and moral. He claimed that intellectual virtues were inherited or learned while moral virtues are developed and require practice to become habitual. You learn virtue by watching those around you and then mimicking it. Responding in a virtuous manner requires a balancing act of landing in what is referred to as the “golden mean”. The golden mean is the middle point between being deficient and being excessive in reference to a specific virtue. Although we can talk about specific virtues such as courage, honesty, temperance, pride, and justice. It is the combination and overlapping of a multitude of virtues that form our character.
Being virtuous could be simply stated as always doing the right thing at the right moment. The one thing that is not simple is a unanimous agreement about what may actually be right. Because our intellectual virtues are products of our inheritance and education they are subject to be different. The virtue theory is not concrete and it seems a bit more human due to the fact that it is not a list of rules and consequences. As humans, we are all subject to making bad choices. However, “Aristotle believed that if we educate humans, they will make the right and moral choice” (Virtue Ethics Part 4). The golden mean is a critical piece in virtue theory. The middle of the continuum is not the same for everyone. For example, when considering the virtue of generosity, you would not want to be overly generous and put yourself in a difficult situation to manage your money or pay your own bills. However, if you can afford to be generous without depleting your funds to support your basic needs then you have found the golden mean. Of course the golden mean would change based on individual circumstances. Virtue theory wants every person to be their best no matter what they choose to do or become. Whether you are a high powered executive earning a six figure salary or a blue collar worker earning minimum wage, you are of value and should put forth your best intent and effort because that is the expectation of a person of virtue. Ultimately, the virtue theory can be defined as a good person making good choices and those moral decisions will allow one to live life in harmony and total happiness.
The virtue theory pushes us to best the best person we can and to continually seek growth and improvement for ourselves. Virtuous is something that we all aspire to become. Even though our text indicates that the virtue theory is resurfacing among theorists, as a young adult, I can honestly depict the virtue theory in my entire life. I just didn’t know it was called the virtue theory. My high school embodies the virtue theory by listing all the qualities and characteristics they want students to possess upon leaving the district. They refer to it as the Portrait of a Graduate and it includes the following traits: compassion, global citizen, team player, strong work ethic, responsible, effective communicator, critical thinker, leader, innovator and life-long learner. Virtue is present when I walk into a bookstore and an entire aisle is dedicated to self help and self improvement. Virtue is present when I sit in church and I listen to the word of God and the interpretation of the priest. Virtue is present when I watch Hallmark movies and they all have a predictable and happy ending. It is present when my parents and educators speak of the value and importance of education because with knowledge, we are better equipped to make the right decisions, those of virtue. According to virtue theory, being virtuous earns contentment where everything is balanced and in perfect harmony. This all sounds so perfect. However, life and people aren’t perfect. We are all different, not necessarily good or bad, just different. It is quite possible that a person’s intentional good decision ends up having a very bad effect on someone else. Life is messy and sometimes bad things happen. Unfortunately, when bad things happen, we don’t always see the virtuous aspects of people. However, the virtue theory provides a roadmap and we can continue to aspire to be our very best knowing there will be bumps and detours along the way.