Individual Ethics


I believe that virtue ethics is a good moral theory as it promotes moral decision making, although it lacks a ‘decision-procedure’ such as the ‘action-guidance’ rules the deontologists and utilitarian have. Virtue ethics may lack a decision procedure but it helps us make good moral decision because it is about living a virtuous life and doing good deeds and avoiding bad ones on a daily basis. It is about weaving virtue in the fabric of our moral character where we automatically do the right thing in every situation.

Aristotle was an advocate for Virtue ethics as a moral theory, where right action is the default choice of a virtuous person, one who does the right thing because he knows it is the right thing to do for the right reason. Aristotle believed that as a moral person our rational pursuit of happiness can be attained by practicing virtue ethics and exercising reason in fulfilling our moral obligation. Always avoiding vicious acts and doing virtuous ones.  Aristotle was a moral realist. His idea was to educate and train the natural inclination in virtue ethics, in doing the right thing, making moral judgment and doing moral deeds. 

Aristotle’s virtue ethics helps us in making moral decisions because it is based on character building where we know what the right thing to do is, in any given situation. Unlike deontology with it moral rules which may led to moral dilemmas when faced with choosing between two moral laws. 

For example, a deontologist is faced with choosing between two moral laws, being truthful or being kind, as in this case where Nazis come to our door asking us if we are hiding any Jews. We have some Jewish friends hiding, so we cannot be truthful and say yes and hand them over. Do we lie, as we also have a moral duty to protect our friends from harm and possible death. A virtuous person would know right away that the right course of action would be in protecting his Jewish friends instead of helping the Nazis by telling them that he had Jews in his house and handing them over. This shows that virtue ethics does not need a decision-procedure to help us make moral decisions, and is as good a moral theory as deontology or utilitarian. 

Aristotle’s concept of a moral theory as seen in virtue ethics, was to educate people in a society to led virtuous lives and develop moral considerations and not be influenced by vicious passions. To have a stable character grounded in virtue. Moral law cannot make people to do the right thing but virtue ethics with it’s emphasis on leading virtuous lives, being a truly virtuous person who always knows and does the right thing and avoids what is wrong, does not need a decision procedure to make a moral decision. He knows instinctively what the right thing to do is, in any given situation, based on his moral character and regular experience of doing the right thing and avoiding wrong deeds. In some situations when desire such as greed, lust, anger is present, only a strong virtuous character can resist and overcome these desires and passions, to choose the right thing to do. 

Aristotle saw virtue ethics in the context of a cultural society where people are trained in virtue ethics, giving rise to virtue, with people reflecting on moral virtue and not just living by the rules. Virtue ethics is the view that the right action is that which would be chosen by a virtuous person for the right reasons, in a certain situation, so that it is always results in a moral action based on the ‘golden mean’. These actions are guided by the virtue ethics the person is striving for. Deontology and utilitarianism offer a decision procedure but it is difficult to ascertain the truth condition of a moral action when we don’t know what motivated it even though someone has followed a moral rule. Sometimes these rules are not true for everyone, everywhere, at all times. Kant’s ‘good will’ for the moral law as a reason for doing good does not always result in moral actions. Although Hume’s ‘stable and general perspective’ and ‘calm passion’ develops the right motivation for moral action when reason and moral theory clarify a situation or a moral dilemma, assessing cause and effect. 

Virtue ethics is thinking outside the box of moral theory. If a person does the right deed, this is being virtuous and he is a virtuous person. To do virtuous deeds one must be virtuous, practicing virtues on a daily basis ‘… we become just by doing just actions…’ The ‘golden mean’ is how we act appropriately in a given situation. The virtuous person’s thinking process and desires are trained in virtue ethics leading to moral actions ‘doing the right things, in the right way.’ Aristotle wanted society, through education, practice and reflection. to develop virtue, aiming at virtuous actions.


Bibliography and References 

i.      Shafer-Landau, Russ: (Ed); Ethical Theory: An Anthology Blackwell`s, Oxford, 2007

ii.     http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-dilemmas/ 

iii.   http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/

© 2015 Bernadine Bartsch