Introduction to Virtue Ethics

KristinaW

Member
We've discussed quite a few types of ethics in this forum already, but today I'd like to discuss one more. This one has to do with virtues of the individual and the group. In a previous post, a statement was made:

"This leads me to the idea that in order for someone to be virtuous or moral, they need to be for the right reasons, not just because they fear the results or repercussions of their actions. If it were any other way, their seemingly moral act wouldn't be moral at all."

This quote is very telling. It describes a few different types of personalities among us. If a deontologist were asked to do a good deed, he or she might respond by asking if there's a rule that forces them to. They'd want to know if there was some sort of requirement to do so. If a utilitarian was asked to do the same good deed, he or she might reply by wondering out loud their perception of whether or not the outcome would produce a better outcome than if they didn't do the deed. If a virtue ethicist was asked to do the good deed, they'd consider whether or not a virtuous person would do the deed that's being asked of them. With these three examples, we have one that describes someone who is bound by rules, one who is bound by outcomes, and one who is bound by feelings. The final one ultimately desires to be a good person. They want to live a virtuous life; one that is defined by honesty, trustworthiness, and generosity. They place much less importance on duty and obligation. They want everyone to be happy and in order to be happy, we need to be good and virtuous humans. So if we look again and the quote from above, we can see that not only is morality based on doing the good or right thing, it's also based on doing it for the right reasons. And the right reasons for a virtue ethicist would be to increase happiness across the board.

When I was a kid, my mother brought me to church every weekend. In this church, we recited seemingly rules and commands that would make us better people. We'd recite, sing, and chant all sorts of different things and then some of us would go home and beat our spouses, rob banks, and pilfer candy from the candy aisle from the closest grocery store. The rules, or "virtues," we learned in church didn't really have much of an effect on many of us. I suppose we were deontologists because they didn't have any bite to them. There was no repercussion if we didn't follow them. And if we did break a command and if we got caught doing so, all we'd have to do is confess our sins and everything would go away.

When it comes to virtue ethics, we look beyond simple rules and commands that are easily broken or argued against. Whether these rules stem from a religion or the law, they're things many of us don't benefit from obeying. With virtue ethics, we look past the rules. We learn how to to make the right decision and why it may be important to do so. Obviously, there can't be a hard rule or law for every single situation and that's why it's important to have the wisdom to understand the entire framework that contains goodness and virtue.

Virtue ethicists don't subscribe to the notion that states we as humans must follow hard and fast rules and regulations for every single circumstance. Alternately, they much more prefer a consensus of wisdom and character that comprises basic ethical principles. What have they learned throughout life that can lead to the best outcome? The happiest outcome? What would be the most ethical course of action? How can reflection help lead them down the right path? How can discipline do the same thing? How can they make their own decisions based on what they know to be right? How can they be more virtuous and less dogmatic?

Some types of virtue ethics rely on God as the ultimate source of goodness and some do not. Whatever the type, all types utilize a keen sense of moral intuition to derive moral wisdom and good character in a belief that these traits will transcend themselves into the most ethical action and goodness.
 
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