Virtue Ethics in Philosophy

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The ethics of virtue is a normative moral theory, one of the essential aims of which is to help people to make good decisions. Human beings are worthy of moral consideration. This is controversial rhetoric since theorists and ethicists who are in support of this claim believe that it’s only humans that can be wronged. Philosophers and ethicists give reasons that humans are worthy of moral consideration because they recognize that they can be morally wronged. There are some specific features about humans that give the credibility of the worth of moral consideration. One of the features is speciesism, which gives them to have special interests based on one’s species. Speciesism refers to both the biological and social membership of an individual, which matters morally. The moral systems developed by humans separate them from the rest of the creations. According to Aristotle, ethical knowledge amongst humans is possible. As such, the ethical knowledge of humans is grounded in human nature. Aristotle argues that human beings possess the nature that governs how they act, and this fulfills their nature. Therefore, men need to gain knowledge of virtue for them to give proper conduct of careful thought. With the application of Aristotle’s reasoning on the conceptualization of nature, one can argue that humans are generally moral and intellectual beings.

According to deontological ethics, certain acts must not be committed under any circumstances, whatever the consequences may be. Emmanuel Kant is the most eminent supporter of this categorical imperative, which, at times, can have unacceptable implications. Kant argued, for example, that one should never lie, even to a criminal who would ask us where his potential victim had fled: by doing so, one would be undermining one of the foundations of life in society, the credit of the word given, especially in the context of contracts. The utilitarian point of view defended by Stuart Mill and Bentham can, however, lead to excesses and deviations. By aiming at the well-being of the greatest number by the aggregation of the well-being of each one, one can, for example, come, as did eminent thinkers of ancient Greece, to consider that it is good to have a hundred slaves to make a thousand free citizens happier.

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The ethics of virtue is that proposed, among others, by Buddhism and certain thinkers of Greek Antiquity. It is based on a way of being which, when confronted with different situations, expresses itself spontaneously through altruistic or selfish acts. Considering the Western philosophical tradition as a whole, the ethics of virtues is one of the three major currents of ethics, alongside deontology and consequentialism. While deontology makes duty or the norm the fundamental feature of its theory, by affirming that an action is morally correct if and only if it is not incompatible with a moral norm, and that consequentialism attributes this role to consequences of our actions, by affirming that an action is morally correct if and only if it favors morally good consequences, the ethics of virtues bases its moral reflections on virtues, these character traits making a difference on the moral level. Care ethicists, on the other hand, argue that moral significance for humans is the reason for the fundamental elements that link human relationships. The care ethicists believe that human relationships can be best maintained through conceptualization and the promotion of the overall well-being of both the caregivers and then receives care within networked social relations. Contracted with Aristotle’s virtue ethics, care ethics has more affinity to moral perspectives like African ethics and Confucian ethics (Engster n.p). However, care ethics has shortcomings like parochialism, essentialism, and ambiguity. Aristotle’s virtue ethics is more plausible because he supports rational consciousness with the ability to understand the intelligible and impossible changes.

Aristotle, in support of the Nicomachean Ethics, argues that some actions like theft and adultery are wrong. He defends the idea of Eudaimonism, which the sense of humans seeking to flourish and gain happiness. Eudaimonism is achieved when humans make the right choices because of the pursuit of a good and excellent life (Joachim n.p). In Aristotle’s view of virtue, ethics’ a man seeks to do good as the end and means justify his deeds. As such, a virtuous and excellent person cannot in their right minds commit adultery or engage in theft. Every sensible human focuses on pursuing good as the virtue of excellence (Younkins 8). To some, good is prudence, wisdom, and life accomplishment. Aristotle also remarks that one’s gain of happiness depends on his potential to hold their property in private. There are two types of reactions to conceptions that confuse value judgments, truth judgments, and personal opinions or preferences. Humans may want to anchor moral convictions in the existence of a moral sense that transcends eras and cultures: a moral sense inherent in human nature. Humans may also want to re-establish a sense of objectivity in values ​​based on the reasoning that escapes easy refutation based on cultural arbitrariness. Sociologists are generally imbued with the idea that the social human being is an empirical impossibility; this is a concept that seems to be part of their common intellectual heritage.

In Robin Hood’s viewpoint, theft would be good if it helps society. For instance, stealing from the rich and sharing with the poor equalizes happiness from both ends. Robin Hood’s arguments could be understood as a form of a narrative that is against the unlawful and oppressive regime (Lundgren n.p). He approves the loyalty to good and champions for social justice between the rich and the poor. Fundamentally, care ethicists would support his approach because he appeals to a utilitarian form of distributive justice. Aristotle’s rhetoric appeals to being a good person and living a good life; however, Robin disapproves of Aristotle’s virtue ethics with the belief that it matters not the action but the person he becomes. In this regard, one may wonder if there is not an inevitable field of tension between a rationalist conception of human activity and the idea of ​​continuity between common sense and scientific activity.

The rationalist point of view applied to moral judgments is accompanied by an often very perceptible distrust of forms of explanation based on transmission by way of socialization. It is easy to understand why. Socializing influences are often invoked in an extremely clumsy manner to suggest a determination of the behavior of which the individuals concerned cannot become aware. The model of the intentional actor, capable of making choices based on rational deliberation, is thus called into question, even implicitly. Second, the implementation of internalized standards following an inculcation process appears to be insufficient to account for the individual modulation of normative attitudes. Finally, formulas aimed at making us admit that all society is based on values ​​that its members internalize are hardly satisfactory, even if they only constitute analytical shortcuts. Such ways of expressing ourselves rightly bother us, because they imply a personification of society which we feel is inadequate; moreover, they entirely neglect to account for the conviction of the actors.

Aristotle posits that good is the supreme goal of life, and good is the object of Politics. Money cannot be a goal of life, and it can only be a means. Wealth is placed in the category of the user, and not of the necessary: ​​ the life of the businessman is a life of constraint, and wealth is not the good that we seek is only a useful thing, a means for another thing. This human relationship is linked to the form of political community in Aristotle. Indeed, only the Republic is a regime of virtue. Friendship establishes and rests a relationship of good between individuals. Therefore, friendship can only flourish in the Republic, and conversely, only the Republic can give rise to true friendships. Of course, only friendship based on virtue is true, because the holders of virtue, being good themselves, are good for others, and pleasant as a result. This type of lasting and perfect friendship is only suitable for good men.

Plato's political thought is based on the idea that the unity and harmony amongst humans must always be safeguarded - the only guarantee of justice - and this based on the principle of specialization, according to which everyone should not selfishly follow their inclinations but rather exercise the social activity for which they are best suited. It is on these presuppositions that Plato outlines his theory of the ideal state which states that; a true city forms an undivided unity. A city is a group where the unity of interests reigns: this is why only the state is a city because it is the only place where citizens are united as one man by finding harmony between interests of the city considered as a whole, and their interests, as they are members of a particular group. The idea of ​​the political unity of the city leads Plato to formulate his famous theses on the community of property and on the suppression of nuclear families, which, are part of the radical project underlying in the sense that Plato does not intend to provide in his work practical advice to administer the city, but rather to define an ideal model from which to think of a profound transformation of civil society. Plato's attempt is part of a philosophical approach rather than a strictly political approach: what must first be changed are the concepts with which we think politics and this change must be as radical as possible.

Plato's philosophical-political reflection leads us towards a radical conception of justice and ethics, in which it is not a question of blind and thoughtless adherence to abstract moral rules and norms and empty, but, much more deeply, of a form of practice rooted in reality and capable of acting directly on the individual. Justice makes us understand that it is better to act by following the laws of reason and intelligence by avoiding all acts that can harm or disturb our individuality. Plato's objective in the Republic is to show that justice is an intelligible requirement made of human nature, that it conforms to the potentials we have for leading a creative and fulfilling life, instead of the one we would probably have if we devoted our potentials to following an arbitrary set of external demands.

Ethics, as an expression of power, is not the result of negation or control of effects through the will, but rather is the understanding and affirmation of the causes that make humans act. Freedom is the practical realization of a trend dynamic having power as its subject: this means that ethical freedom is built up by degrees, through the complex game of effects and the differentiated strategy of passions. Freedom defined by power is a gradual and patient construction of an attitude in which the most diverse components are integrated with the complete realization of power.

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Virtue Ethics in Philosophy. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“Virtue Ethics in Philosophy.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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