Virtue Ethics. Chapter 7 ETCI Barbara MacKinnon Ethics and Contemporary Issues Professor Douglas Olena

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1 Virtue Ethics Chapter 7 ETCI Barbara MacKinnon Ethics and Contemporary Issues Professor Douglas Olena

2 Introductory Paragraphs 109 Story of Abraham Whom do you admire? The list of traits is instructive. It often includes perseverance, loving nature, generosity, independence, and standing up to others. The character traits often mentioned in people we admire are traditionally known as virtues.

3 Virtues and Everyday Life 109 Rather than help us determine what we ought to do, virtue ethics asks how we ought to be. We will ask questions about what virtue is, whether there are different kinds or classes of virtues, and whether a virtue ethics presents an adequate account of morality.

4 What is Virtue? 110 A virtuous person is a morally good person, and virtues are good traits. Ex. loyalty, honesty, courage For virtue ethics, the moral life is about developing good character. So embodying the virtues is the task of the moral person, becoming virtuous.

5 What is Virtue? 110 According to Aristotle there are two basic types of excellence or virtues: The word virtue is translated from the Greek word areté. Its connotation is to be the best at something one can be. intellectual virtues moral virtues

6 What is Virtue? 110 Intellectual virtues are learned through instruction and schooling. Schooling leads to comprehension. Moral virtues are learned, however, by acting virtuously. By practicing courage or honesty, we become courageous or honest. Virtues are learned by practice.

7 What is Virtue? 110 Aristotelian virtues are discovered as the mean between two extremes of behavior or attitude. See the list at the bottom of 110.

8 What is Virtue? 111 Philippa Foot argues that virtues are in some general way beneficial. Human beings do not get on well without them. Ourselves and our community benefit from us having virtues, just as having certain vices harms us and our community.

9 What is Virtue? 111 Virtues are corrective. They help us be and do things that are difficult for us.

10 Masculine and Feminine Virtues 111 Story of the dying wife told to Jake and Amy. Jake concluded that the woman s life was more important than the pharmacist s property, so steal the drug. Amy wondered what would happen to the man and woman if the man stole the drug. And what would happen if the man and woman discussed the issue?

11 Masculine and Feminine Virtues 111 The boy made a rational calculation weighing and comparing values. The girl spoke about the possible effects of the proposed action on the two individuals and their relationship.

12 Masculine and Feminine Virtues 111 With respect to a difference between the religious views of parents and children. The children respond. The male, I have a right to my own opinions, though I respect my parent s views The female, I am concerned about how my parents will react they really ought to listen to me and try to understand my beliefs.

13 Masculine and Feminine Virtues 112 The male spoke in terms of an individual s right to his own opinions while the female talked of the need for the particular people involved to talk and come to understand one another.

14 Masculine and Feminine Virtues It may be that men and women have different moral views, different moral language, different sets of virtues.

15 Masculine and Feminine Virtues We will examine the supposed characteristics of feminine morality. 2. Summarize various explanations given for it. 3. We will suggest some things to consider in evaluating the theory that a feminine ethics of care does indeed exist.

16 Characteristics of Feminine Morality The female moral perspective is said to be one of relatedness. It is highly personal. Natural relations to family and friends are the model for other relations. The primary obligation is to prevent harm and to help people. Women empathize with others.

17 Characteristics of Masculine Morality Men take a more universal and impartial standpoint in reasoning about what is morally good and bad. Men talk about fairness, justice and rights. They consider the consequences. Moral decisions are made from an unbiased or detached, impersonal point of view.

18 Characteristics of Masculine Morality Morality is a matter of doing one s duty, of keeping one s agreements and respecting another person s rights. Impartiality and respectfulness are key virtues.

19 Comparing the Two One set of virtues would be those habits or ways of being which involve caring and orientation to the particular. The other set would be those habits or ways of being which involve concern for rights, and justice and equal treatment for all.

20 Comparing the Two 113 Whether the groups of virtues can be strictly associated along gender lines is in question. Wouldn t these virtues be traits we should all strive to attain? On this view, an ethics of fidelity and care and sympathy would be just as important for human flourishing as an ethics of duty and justice and acting on principle.

21 Evaluating Virtue Ethics 111 How can we determine which traits are virtues? Are there any universally valuable traits? Loyalty seems necessary for friendship. Honesty seems necessary for human relations. Nurture seems necessary for race survival.

22 Evaluating Virtue Ethics 111 Different societies have different virtues sets, not necessarily compatible with each other. Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that what unifies the ethical landscape is the practices in society which support and require the virtues.

23 Evaluating Virtue Ethics The following is a discussion of Alasdair MacIntyre s view about virtues as part of practices.

24 Alasdair MacIntyre The Nature of Virtues What in our society is referred to as a Practice? the Law, Medicine, Trades

25 A Practice 281 This argument is not meant to imply that virtues are only exercised in what he calls a practice. By a practice I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.

26 A Virtue, A Practice 283 A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods. Its goods can only be achieved by subordinating ourselves within the practice in our relationship to other practitioners. Clearly he intends us to think that practice is not a solo affair. It requires a community of practitioners. 284 Every practice requires a certain kind of relationship between those who participate in it.

27 An Example: Justice 284 Justice requires that we treat others in respect of merit or desert according to uniform and impersonal standards: to depart from the standards of justice in some particular instance defines our relationship with the relevant person as in some way special or distinctive. This is similar to what we saw in the Kant movie where the claim is made by the immoral man that his behavior should be allowed as an exception to the rule. 284, 285 Practices then might flourish in societies with very different codes; what they could not do is flourish in societies in which the virtues were not valued.

28 Without Virtue 290 What is the place of the virtues in the larger arenas of human life? MacIntyre asks, What would a human being lack who lacked the virtues? He answers, His own life viewed as a whole would perhaps be defective. To tease an answer out more thoroughly, one must ask Aristotle s question: What is the good life for man?

29 Evaluating Virtue Ethics 111 The problem here is not only how we know what excellences are human excellences, but also whether there are any such traits that are ideal for all persons.

30 Evaluating Virtue Ethics 112 Can virtue ethics be considered a distinct type of ethics. Mill and Kant both acknowledge the role of virtues, but give them a secondary place. However, the best moral person is one who has cultivated the virtues.

31 Evaluating Virtue Ethics 112 In virtue ethics, however, the primary goal is to be a good person. Its goal is to determine what is essential to a well-functioning or flourishing human being or person. If we don t stand up to a virtuous ideal, are we therefore bad people?

32 The Problem of Incompleteness *187 Should virtue theory be counted as an adjunct to theories of right action? Kant and Mill certainly think so Others think that virtue theory should be counted as an alternative to these other theories. *From Ch 13 of Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels

33 The Problem of Incompleteness 187 Theories of conduct fail to give a good account of character while virtue theories fail to give a good account of right action. 188 The incompleteness problem lies in the relation between moral rules and virtuous character. 189 Do we know what it means to say that someone is virtuous besides suggesting that it is the disposition to follow certain moral rules, say do not lie?

34 The Problem of Incompleteness 189 Giving an explanation for why a particular character trait is virtuous seems to take us past any pure virtue based theory. A theory of virtue may not be able to handle a case of moral conflict where a choice between fulfilling one or another aim is also a conflict between virtues. 190 It seems best to regard the theory of virtue as part of an overall theory of ethics rather than as a complete theory in itself.

35 Premonition We learn some of the fundamentals of virtue from Aristotle s Nichomachean Ethics. Philippa Foot addresses certain central questions about virtue.

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