Virtue ethics or charisma (charm) based ethics. Virtue is used in somewhat two meanings: (a) a virtue is also a habit of action corresponding to the quality of character or disposition. We may refer it to honesty of a man, or to the honesty of his dealings equally as virtues. (b) A virtue is a quality of character- a disposition to do what is right in a particular direction, or to perform one of the more universal duties. A right act is the deed a virtuous person would do in the same situations. Virtue ethics is person rather than action based; it stares at the virtue or moral character of the person carrying out an action, rather than at ethical responsibilities and instructions, or the consequences of particular actions. Virtue ethics not only deals with the correctness or wrongness of individual actions, it provides guidance as to the sort of characteristics and behaviours a good person will seek to achieve. In that way, virtue ethics is concerned with the whole of an individual’s life, rather than particular episodes or actions. A good being is someone who lives virtuously – who possesses and lives the virtues. It’s a valuable theory since human beings are often more interested in assessing the character of another person than they are in assessing the goodness or badness of a particular action. This advocates that the way to build a good society is to help its members to be good people, rather than to use laws and punishments to prevent or deter bad actions. But it wouldn’t be helpful if a person had to be a saint/ angel to count as virtuous. For virtue philosophy to be really useful it needs to suggest only a minimum set of characteristics that a person needs to possess in order to be regarded as virtuous.
…being virtuous is more than having a particular habit of acting, e.g. generosity. Rather, it means having a fundamental set of related virtues that enable a person to live and act morally well. James F Keenan, Proposing Cardinal Virtues, Theological Studies, 1995.
Virtue ethics teaches: (a) an action is only right if it is an action that a virtuous person would carry out in the same circumstances. (b) A virtuous person is a person who acts virtuously. (c) A person acts virtuously if they “possess and live the virtues”. (d) A virtue is a moral characteristic that a person needs to live well.Most virtue theorists would also insist that the virtuous person is one who acts in a virtuous way as the result of rational thought (rather than, say, instinct).
The three questions
The modern philosopher Alasdair Macintyre proposed three questions as being at the heart of moral thinking:
Who am I?
Who ought I to become?
How ought I to get there?
What would a virtuous person do?
Most virtue theorists say that there is a common set of virtues that all human beings would benefit from, rather than different sets for different sorts of people, and that these virtues are natural to mature human beings – even if they are hard to acquire. This poses a problem, since lists of virtues from different times in history and different societies show significant differences.
The traditional list of cardinal virtues was (a) Prudence, (b) Justice, (c) Fortitude / Bravery. (d) Temperance. The modern theologian James F Keenan suggests: Justice -Justice requires us to treat all human beings equally and impartially. Fidelity -Fidelity requires that we treat people closer to us with special care. Self-care -We each have a unique responsibility to care for ourselves, affectively, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Prudence -The prudent person must always consider Justice, Fidelity and Self-care. The prudent person must always look for occasions to acquire more of the other three virtues
Most virtue ethics theories take their motivation from Aristotle who stated that a virtuous person is someone who has ideal character traits. These traits originate from natural internal tendencies, but need to be nurtured; however, once established, they will become stable. For example, a virtuous being is someone who is kind across many circumstances over a lifetime because that is her character and not because she wants to maximize utility or gain favors or just do her duty. Unlike deontological and consequentialist theories, notions of virtue ethics do not aim mainly to identify universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. And virtue ethics theories compact with wider questions-“How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?” Since its recovery in the twentieth century, virtue ethics has been established in three main directions: Eudaimonism, agent-based theories, and the ethics of care. Eudaimonism sources virtues in human flourishing, where flourishing is equated with performing one’s distinctive function well. In the case of humans, Aristotle argued that our characteristic function is reasoning, and so the life “worth living” is one which we reason well. An agent-based theory emphasizes that virtues are determined by common-sense instincts that we as witnesses judge to be admirable traits in other people. The third division of virtue ethics, the ethics of care, was proposed predominately by feminist thinkers. It challenges the idea that ethics should focus solely on justice and autonomy; it argues that more girlish traits, such as caring and nurturing, should also be considered.
Here are some common protests to virtue ethics. Its theories provide a self-interested conception of ethics because human flourishing is seen as an end in itself and does not sufficiently consider the extent to which our actions affect other people. Virtue ethics also does not offer guidance on how we should act, as there are no clear principles for guiding action other than “act as a virtuous person would act given the situation.” Lastly, the ability to promote the right virtues will be affected by a number of different factors beyond an individual’s control due to education, society, friends and family. If moral charisma is so reliant on luck, what role does this leave for appropriate praise and blame of the person?
This article looks at how virtue ethics originally defined itself by calling for a change from the dominant normative theories of deontology and consequentialism. It goes on to examine some common objections raised against virtue ethics and then looks at a sample of fully developed accounts of virtue ethics and responses.
Good points of virtue ethics are it centre ethics on the person and what it means to be human and it includes the whole of a person’s life. Bad points of virtue ethics, it doesn’t provide clear guidance on what to do in moral dilemmas. Although it does provide general directions on how to be a good person. Apparently a totally virtuous person would know what to do and we could consider them a suitable role model to guide us. There is no overall agreement on what the virtues are and it may be that any list of virtues will be relative to the culture in which it is being drawn up.