Virtue Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
A virtue is a good habit. Moral philosophy started in ancient Greece, when Socrates asked questions about virtue and encouraged people to think about such. A mere habit of acting contrary to our inclinations cannot be a virtue, by the infallible Quantitative relations are so far from any serious human situation that they. There are two types of virtue – intellectual virtues and moral virtues. In Given the very close connection between what we feel and how we choose to act, In §§1–4, Aristotle argues that we acquire virtues of character through 'habit', in.
It is part of practical wisdom to know how to secure real benefits effectively; those who have practical wisdom will not make the mistake of concealing the hurtful truth from the person who really needs to know it in the belief that they are benefiting him. The detailed specification of what is involved in such knowledge or understanding has not yet appeared in the literature, but some aspects of it are becoming well known.
Even many deontologists now stress the point that their action-guiding rules cannot, reliably, be applied without practical wisdom, because correct application requires situational appreciation—the capacity to recognise, in any particular situation, those features of it that are morally salient.
This brings out two aspects of practical wisdom. One is that it characteristically comes only with experience of life. Amongst the morally relevant features of a situation may be the likely consequences, for the people involved, of a certain action, and this is something that adolescents are notoriously clueless about precisely because they are inexperienced. It is part of practical wisdom to be wise about human beings and human life. It should go without saying that the virtuous are mindful of the consequences of possible actions.
How could they fail to be reckless, thoughtless and short-sighted if they were not? The wise do not see things in the same way as the nice adolescents who, with their under-developed virtues, still tend to see the personally disadvantageous nature of a certain action as competing in importance with its honesty or benevolence or justice.
These aspects coalesce in the description of the practically wise as those who understand what is truly worthwhile, truly important, and thereby truly advantageous in life, who know, in short, how to live well. Forms of Virtue Ethics While all forms of virtue ethics agree that virtue is central and practical wisdom required, they differ in how they combine these and other concepts to illuminate what we should do in particular contexts and how we should live our lives as a whole. In what follows we sketch four distinct forms taken by contemporary virtue ethics, namely, a eudaimonist virtue ethics, b agent-based and exemplarist virtue ethics, c target-centered virtue ethics, and d Platonistic virtue ethics.
A virtue is a trait that contributes to or is a constituent of eudaimonia and we ought to develop virtues, the eudaimonist claims, precisely because they contribute to eudaimonia. It is for me, not for you, to pronounce on whether I am happy. If I think I am happy then I am—it is not something I can be wrong about barring advanced cases of self-deception. Contrast my being healthy or flourishing. Here we have no difficulty in recognizing that I might think I was healthy, either physically or psychologically, or think that I was flourishing but be wrong.
Most versions of virtue ethics agree that living a life in accordance with virtue is necessary for eudaimonia. This supreme good is not conceived of as an independently defined state made up of, say, a list of non-moral goods that does not include virtuous activity which exercise of the virtues might be thought to promote.
It is, within virtue ethics, already conceived of as something of which virtuous activity is at least partially constitutive Kraut Thereby virtue ethicists claim that a human life devoted to physical pleasure or the acquisition of wealth is not eudaimon, but a wasted life. But although all standard versions of virtue ethics insist on that conceptual link between virtue and eudaimonia, further links are matters of dispute and generate different versions.
For Aristotle, virtue is necessary but not sufficient—what is also needed are external goods which are a matter of luck. For Plato and the Stoics, virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia Annas According to eudaimonist virtue ethics, the good life is the eudaimon life, and the virtues are what enable a human being to be eudaimon because the virtues just are those character traits that benefit their possessor in that way, barring bad luck.
So there is a link between eudaimonia and what confers virtue status on a character trait. For a discussion of the differences between eudaimonists see Baril It is unclear how many other forms of normativity must be explained in terms of the qualities of agents in order for a theory to count as agent-based.
The two best-known agent-based theorists, Michael Slote and Linda Zagzebski, trace a wide range of normative qualities back to the qualities of agents.
Similarly, he explains the goodness of an action, the value of eudaimonia, the justice of a law or social institution, and the normativity of practical rationality in terms of the motivational and dispositional qualities of agents Zagzebski likewise defines right and wrong actions by reference to the emotions, motives, and dispositions of virtuous and vicious agents. Her definitions of duties, good and bad ends, and good and bad states of affairs are similarly grounded in the motivational and dispositional states of exemplary agents, However, there could also be less ambitious agent-based approaches to virtue ethics see Slote At the very least, an agent-based approach must be committed to explaining what one should do by reference to the motivational and dispositional states of agents.
But this is not yet a sufficient condition for counting as an agent-based approach, since the same condition will be met by every virtue ethical account.
Aristotle: Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
For a theory to count as an agent-based form of virtue ethics it must also be the case that the normative properties of motivations and dispositions cannot be explained in terms of the normative properties of something else such as eudaimonia or states of affairs which is taken to be more fundamental. Beyond this basic commitment, there is room for agent-based theories to be developed in a number of different directions.
The most important distinguishing factor has to do with how motivations and dispositions are taken to matter for the purposes of explaining other normative qualities.
If those motives are good then the action is good, if not then not. Another point on which agent-based forms of virtue ethics might differ concerns how one identifies virtuous motivations and dispositions.
As we observe the people around us, we find ourselves wanting to be like some of them in at least some respects and not wanting to be like others. The former provide us with positive exemplars and the latter with negative ones. Our understanding of better and worse motivations and virtuous and vicious dispositions is grounded in these primitive responses to exemplars This is not to say that every time we act we stop and ask ourselves what one of our exemplars would do in this situations.
Our moral concepts become more refined over time as we encounter a wider variety of exemplars and begin to draw systematic connections between them, noting what they have in common, how they differ, and which of these commonalities and differences matter, morally speaking. Recognizable motivational profiles emerge and come to be labeled as virtues or vices, and these, in turn, shape our understanding of the obligations we have and the ends we should pursue.
However, even though the systematising of moral thought can travel a long way from our starting point, according to the exemplarist it never reaches a stage where reference to exemplars is replaced by the recognition of something more fundamental.
At the end of the day, according to the exemplarist, our moral system still rests on our basic propensity to take a liking or disliking to exemplars. The target-centered view developed by Christine Swantonby contrast, begins with our existing conceptions of the virtues. We already have a passable idea of which traits are virtues and what they involve.
Of course, this untutored understanding can be clarified and improved, and it is one of the tasks of the virtue ethicist to help us do precisely that.
But rather than stripping things back to something as basic as the motivations we want to imitate or building it up to something as elaborate as an entire flourishing life, the target-centered view begins where most ethics students find themselves, namely, with the idea that generosity, courage, self-discipline, compassion, and the like get a tick of approval. It then examines what these traits involve. A complete account of virtue will map out 1 its field, 2 its mode of responsiveness, 3 its basis of moral acknowledgment, and 4 its target.
Different virtues are concerned with different fields. Courage, for example, is concerned with what might harm us, whereas generosity is concerned with the sharing of time, talent, and property.
Courage aims to control fear and handle danger, while generosity aims to share time, talents, or possessions with others in ways that benefit them. A virtuous act is an act that hits the target of a virtue, which is to say that it succeeds in responding to items in its field in the specified way Providing a target-centered definition of a right action requires us to move beyond the analysis of a single virtue and the actions that follow from it. This is because a single action context may involve a number of different, overlapping fields.
Determination might lead me to persist in trying to complete a difficult task even if doing so requires a singleness of purpose. But love for my family might make a different use of my time and attention. There are at least three different ways to address this challenge. A minimalist target-centered account would not even require an action to be good in order to be right. For further discussion of target-centered virtue ethics see Van Zyl ; and Smith So it is clear that Plato counts as a virtue theorist.
But it is a matter of some debate whether he should be read as a virtue ethicist White What is not open to debate is whether Plato has had an important influence on the contemporary revival of interest in virtue ethics. A number of those who have contributed to the revival have done so as Plato scholars e. However, often they have ended up championing a eudaimonist version of virtue ethics see Prior and Annasrather than a version that would warrant a separate classification.
Nevertheless, there are two variants that call for distinct treatment. Constantly attending to our needs, our desires, our passions, and our thoughts skews our perspective on what the world is actually like and blinds us to the goods around us.
Contemplating such goodness with regularity makes room for new habits of thought that focus more readily and more honestly on things other than the self. It alters the quality of our consciousness. And good agency is defined by the possession and exercise of such virtues.
Goodness, in particular, is not so defined. But the kind of goodness which is possible for creatures like us is defined by virtue, and any answer to the question of what one should do or how one should live will appeal to the virtues. Another Platonistic variant of virtue ethics is exemplified by Robert Merrihew Adams. Unlike Murdoch and Chappell, his starting point is not a set of claims about our consciousness of goodness.
Rather, he begins with an account of the metaphysics of goodness. And like Augustine, Adams takes that perfect good to be God. God is both the exemplification and the source of all goodness. Other things are good, he suggests, to the extent that they resemble God Adams The resemblance requirement identifies a necessary condition for being good, but it does not yet give us a sufficient condition. The childish sort of habit clouds our sight, but the liberating counter-habit clears that sight.
This is why Aristotle says that the person of moral stature, the spoudaios, is the one to whom things appear as they truly are. The mean state here is not a point on a dial that we need to fiddle up and down; it is a clearing in the midst of pleasures and pains that lets us judge what seems most truly pleasant and painful.
Achieving temperance toward bodily pleasures is, by this account, finding a mean, but it is not a simple question of adjusting a single varying condition toward the more or the less. The person who is always fighting the same battle, always struggling like the sheep dog to maintain the balance point between too much and too little indulgence, does not, according to Aristotle, have the virtue of temperance, but is at best selfrestrained or continent.
In that case, the reasoning part of the soul is keeping the impulses reined in. But those impulses can slip the reins and go their own way, as parts of the body do in people with certain disorders of the nerves. It is the old story of the conflict between the head and the emotions, never resolved but subject to truces.
A soul with separate, self-contained rational and irrational parts could never become one undivided human being, since the parties would always believe they had divergent interests, and could at best compromise. The virtuous soul, on the contrary, blends all its parts in the act of choice. This is arguably the best way to understand the active state of the soul that constitutes moral virtue and forms character. It is the condition in which all the powers of the soul are at work together, making it possible for action to engage the whole human being.
The work of achieving character is a process of clearing away the obstacles that stand in the way of the full efficacy of the soul. Someone who is partial to food or drink, or to running away from trouble or to looking for trouble, is a partial human being. Let the whole power of the soul have its influence, and the choices that result will have the characteristic look that we call "courage" or "temperance" or simply "virtue. A person of character is someone you can count on, because there is a human nature in a deeper sense than that which refers to our early state of weakness.
Someone with character has taken a stand in that fully mature nature, and cannot be moved all the way out of it. But there is also such a thing as bad character, and this is what Aristotle means by vice, as distinct from bad habits or weakness. It is possible for someone with full responsibility and the free use of intellect to choose always to yield to bodily pleasure or to greed. Virtue is a mean, first because it can only emerge out of the stand-off between opposite habits, but second because it chooses to take its stand not in either of those habits but between them.
In this middle region, thinking does come into play, but it is not correct to say that virtue takes its stand in principle; Aristotle makes clear that vice is a principled choice that following some extreme path toward or away from pleasure is right.
In our earlier example, the true glutton would be someone who does not just have a bad habit of always indulging the desire for food, but someone who has chosen on principle that one ought always to yield to it.
In Plato's Gorgias, Callicles argues just that, about food, drink, and sex. He is serious, even though he is young and still open to argument. But the only principled alternative he can conceive is the denial of the body, and the choice of a life fit only for stones or corpses.
What, for example, is the virtue of a seminar leader? Is it to ask appropriate questions but never state an opinion? Or is it to offer everything one has learned on the subject of discussion? What principle should rule? Is there a hybrid principle? Or should one try to find the mid-way point between the opposite principles?
Or is the virtue some third kind of thing altogether? Just as habits of indulgence always stand opposed to habits of abstinence, so too does every principle of action have its opposite principle. If good habituation ensures that we are not swept away by our strongest impulses, and the exercise of intelligence ensures that we will see two worthy sides to every question about action, what governs the choice of the mean?
Aristotle gives this answer: This brings us to the third word we need to think about. Noble Aristotle says plainly and repeatedly what it is that moral virtue is for the sake of, but the translators are afraid to give it to you straight. Most of them say it is the noble.
One of them says it is the fine. If these answers went past you without even registering, that is probably because they make so little sense.
But Aristotle considers moral virtue the only practical road to effective action. The word "fine" is of the same sort but worse, suggesting some flimsy artistic soul who couldn't endure rough treatment, while Aristotle describes moral virtue as the most stable and durable condition in which we can meet all obstacles. Aristotle singles out as the distinguishing mark of courage, for example, that it is always "for the sake of the beautiful, for this is the end of virtue.
And he explicitly compares the well made work of art to an act that springs from moral virtue. Of the former, people say that it is not possible add anything to it or take anything from it, and Aristotle says that virtue differs from art in that respect only in being more precise and better. Antigone contemplates in her imagination the act of burying her brother, and says "it would be a beautiful thing to die doing this.
This is not some special usage of the Greek language, but one that speaks to us directly, if the translators let it. And it is not a kind of language that belongs only to poetic tragedy, since the tragedians find their subjects by recognizing human virtue in circumstances that are most hostile to it.
In the most ordinary circumstances, any mother might say to a misbehaving child, in plain English, "don't be so ugly. Aristotle is always alert to the natural way that important words have more than one meaning.
In the Physics the various senses of motion and change are played on like the keyboard of a piano, and serve to uncover the double source of natural activity. The inquiry into ethics is not built in this fashion; Aristotle asks about the way the various meanings of the good are organized, but he immediately drops the question, as being more at home in another sort of philosophic inquiry.
This is a misreading of any text of Aristotle to which it is referred. Here in the study of ethics it is a failure to see that the idea of the good is not rejected simply, but only held off as a question that does not arise as first for us.
Aristotle praises Plato for understanding that philosophy does not argue from first principles but toward them. He tells us there are three kinds of good toward which our choices look, the pleasant, the beautiful, and the beneficial or advantageous.
The goods sought for their own sake are said to be of only two kinds, the pleasant and the beautiful. Aristotle's first description of moral virtue required that the one acting choose an action knowingly, out of a stable equilibrium of the soul, and for its own sake.
The knowing in question turned out to be perceiving things as they are, as a result of the habituation that clears our sight. The stability turned out to come from the active condition of all the powers of the soul, in the mean position opened up by that same habituation, since it neutralized an earlier, opposite, and passive habituation to self-indulgence.
In the accounts of the particular moral virtues, an action's being chosen for its own sake is again and again specified as meaning chosen for no reason other than that it is beautiful.
In Book III, chapter 8, Aristotle refuses to give the name courageous to anyone who acts bravely for the sake of honor, out of shame, from experience that the danger is not as great as it seems, out of spiritedness or anger or the desire for revenge, or from optimism or ignorance. Genuinely courageous action is in no obvious way pleasant, and is not chosen for that reason, but there is according to Aristotle a truer pleasure inherent in it.
It doesn't need pleasure dangled in front of it as an extra added attraction. And Aristotle does say explicitly that the target the temperate person looks to is the beautiful. It must somehow be applicable, since he says it is common to all the moral virtues, but in that case it would seem that the account of justice could not be complete if it is not connected to the beautiful. I think this does happen, but in an unexpected way.PHILOSOPHY - The Good Life: Aristotle [HD]
And Aristotle says that there is a sense of the word in which the one we call "just" is the person who has all moral virtue, insofar as it affects other people. Justice concerns itself with the right distribution of rewards and punishments within a community. This would seem to be the chief aim of the lawmakers, but Aristotle says that they do not take justice as seriously as friendship. They accord friendship a higher moral stature than justice. Just as with health of the body, virtue of the soul is a habit that can be acquired at least in part as the result of our own choices.
Deliberate Choice Although the virtues are habits of acting or dispositions to act in certain ways, Aristotle maintained that these habits are acquired by engaging in proper conduct on specific occasions and that doing so requires thinking about what one does in a specific way.
Neither demonstrative knowledge of the sort employed in science nor aesthetic judgment of the sort applied in crafts are relevant to morality. But there is a distinctive mode of thinking that does provide adequately for morality, according to Aristotle: This faculty alone comprehends the true character of individual and community welfare and applies its results to the guidance of human action. Acting rightly, then, involves coordinating our desires with correct thoughts about the correct goals or ends.
This is the function of deliberative reasoning: Ethics III 3 Although virtue is different from intelligence, then, the acquisition of virtue relies heavily upon the exercise of that intelligence. Weakness of the Will But doing the right thing is not always so simple, even though few people deliberately choose to develop vicious habits.
Aristotle sharply disagreed with Socrates's belief that knowing what is right always results in doing it. The great enemy of moral conduct, on Aristotle's view, is precisely the failure to behave well even on those occasions when one's deliberation has resulted in clear knowledge of what is right.
Ethics VII 1 This may appear to be a simple failure of intelligence, Aristotle acknowledged, since the akratic individual seems not to draw the appropriate connection between the general moral rule and the particular case to which it applies.
Somehow, the overwhelming prospect of some great pleasure seems to obscure one's perception of what is truly good. But this difficulty, Aristotle held, need not be fatal to the achievement of virtue. Although incontinence is not heroically moral, neither is it truly vicious. Consider the difference between an incontinent person, who knows what is right and aims for it but is sometimes overcome by pleasure, and an intemperate person, who purposefully seeks excessive pleasure. Aristotle argued that the vice of intemperance is incurable because it destroys the principle of the related virtue, while incontinence is curable because respect for virtue remains.
Ethics VII 8 A clumsy archer may get better with practice, while a skilled archer who chooses not to aim for the target will not. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.
Differentiating between the aims or goals of each, he distinguished three kinds of friendships that we commonly form. Ethics VIII 3 A friendship for pleasure comes into being when two people discover that they have common interest in an activity which they can pursue together. Their reciprocal participation in that activity results in greater pleasure for each than either could achieve by acting alone.
Thus, for example, two people who enjoy playing tennis might derive pleasure from playing each other. Such a relationship lasts only so long as the pleasure continues.