Evaluating Virtue Ethics

Strengths of Virtue Ethics 

  1. Avoids using a formula – non normative
    – Unlike normative ethical theories such as Natural Law or Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics avoids creating rules & guild lines to follow
    – This is positive as it means people have to use their rationality in each situation to figure out how to adhere to the golden mean & act virtuously
    – It also means that when learning or following other’s examples we should not merely copy or blindly follow – there are no rules & every situation is subjective, we have to use our rationality & experience to find the right path
    – This causes true engagement with morality & how to become a virtuous person
    – It also allows for subjectivity in the world while avoiding the dubious morality that relativism can justify; the only criteria is to promote human flourishing
  2. Stresses the importance of being good
    – Virtue ethics shows us that acting virtuously is not only beneficial to our wider communities, but also to us
    – By acting virtuously we can achieve eudaimonia
  3. Virtue ethics shows us how morality works 
    – Virtue ethics shows us that we do not need a moral law giver such as God or a moral law
    – Instead we can see that through learning, emulating others and using reason we develop our own ethics & can apply them in the world
    – This removes all questions regarding the existence of God etc.
    – This also explains the subjectivity in morality
    – However for some people a subjective or human-based moral law is not a good thing, it means there is no real right or wrong
    – However the principles of virtue ethics are also compatible with religious belief, if that is how one chooses to interpret it
    – For example following the moral example of Jesus Christ, acting virtuously to achieve human flourishing in heaven
  4. Integration of all our concerns 
    – Virtue ethics allows us to consider many different aspects of life, from a personal & wider point of view when making ethical decisions
    – Whereas Kant advocates for duty & in certain cases rejecting one’s personal ties to family or friends, and Utilitarianism could suggest neglect of the individual, Virtue Ethics allows consideration for all of these factors
    – It does not attempt to discard emotions but also includes those
  5. An agent based theory 
    – Virtue ethics focuses on the acts of the person & their virtue
    – This can be seen as a strength when looking at Anscombe’s shopping list parable; other ethical theories are too focused on where ethics comes from & the simple acts themselves
    – For virtue ethicists the most important component is the person acting
    – Anscombe successfully points out that motive is also important when making ethical decisions, and MacIntyre builds upon this by adding that we must also consider consequence, as this is why many people chose to take certain paths
  6. A logical theory 
    – Virtue ethics promotes the use of phorensis (practical reason) in order to make ethical decisions
    – This is a strength as it is often how ethics works in modern society; using one’s reason to choose how to act in given situations
    – Virtue ethics uses this model & improves upon it by arguing that humans should do this while aiming to achieve human flourishing & promoting community values

Weaknesses of Virtue Ethics 

  1. Identifying virtues 
    – Are virtues culturally relative?
    – Can virtues always be considered good in all cultures, all situations?
    Robert Louden argued that certain people could argue that the act of rape benefits them as it develops their character
    Philippa Foot solves this by building on Aristotle’s ideas and stating that virtues are only virtues if used properly to benefit the individual & the community using reason
    – This means that the virtues are inherently subjective; one cannot use a virtue to achieve a dastardly end
  2. How can it be applied to moral dilemmas? 
    – Robert Louden also argued that as Virtue Ethics is non-normative it can’t be used to solve moral dilemmas, it gives no clear rules for action or any concrete answers
    – However the non-normativity of virtue ethics is a strength. Rather than simply following rules in ethical dilemmas, virtue argues that a person should engage fully with the matter & use their rationality to make a decision
    – As well as this, Louden’s point is diminished by the fact that almost all normative ethical theories are useless when dealing with ethical dilemmas: for example Kantian ethics argues duty always comes first, if one agreed to go for coffee but is then asked by a friend to babysit in an emergency, their duty is to go for coffee first
  3. An ethic of average (literally) 
    Susan Wolf argues that if everyone behaved in the same mediated way that virtue ethics demands, the world would be a very boring place with no variety
    – This is overcome by pointing out that the golden mean is not an ethic of average but one of balance in each individual situation
    – Aristotle clearly explains that we should use phorensis as the golden mean will most likely be different in any situation
    – As well as this a world without crime, murder, rape or abuse may be considered “boring” but it would certainly be a better one
  4. Virtues clash 
    – Which one is more important in what situation? Should courage always outweigh pragmatism?
    – Simply following the golden mean solves this
    – There is no clash in virtues, taking this example, if being courageous violates pragmatism then you are being reckless & not adhering to the golden mean
  5. Incorrect use of virtues 
    – Some virtues can be used to incorrectly perform immoral actions
    – For example, being courageous in the right amount but doing it to kill the enemy during war
    – However, if everyone in the world followed virtue ethics there would be no clashes like this as there would be no war
    – At the moment there is some dilemma due to non-virtuous people beginning conflicts
    – Put in such a difficult situation the best thing a virtue ethicist can do is adapt to the situation & attempt to still be as virtuous as possible
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