Virtue Ethics.ppt - Albert Shin - Home by juanagao


									Virtue Ethics
Philosophy 4 (Summer 2012)
Virtue Ethics
 Deontology focuses on the intention with
  which someone acts, on the goodness of
  the will.
 Consequentialism focuses on the
  consequences of one’s actions, on the
  amount of goodness they produced.
 Virtue ethics focuses on the character (or
  disposition) from which someone acts, on
  what kind of a person one is.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)
   Student of Plato, who in turn
    was a student of Socrates
   Teacher of Alexander the Great
   Collection of his works is
    incomplete and most likely of
    his unpolished works.
   For a period, Aristotle was
    forgotten until a rediscovering
    and interpreting of his text in
    the Medieval period; St. Thomas
    Aquinas, for instance, was
    heavily influenced by Aristotle.
   His moral theory is found
    primarily in Nicomachean Ethics.
Shift in Approach
 To comprehend virtue ethics, we need to
  shift our approach.
 In our discussions of deontology and
  consequentialism, we were focusing
  heavily on what makes an action right.
 But Aristotle is not primarily concerned
  with what makes an action right.
Teleological Account
   According to Aristotle, “[e]very art and
    every inquiry, and similarly every action
    and pursuit, is thought to aim at some

   E.g. the study of medicine and the activity
    of exercising are aimed at health, and
    health is good.
Teleological Account
   Now, there are two ways in which
    something is good:
    ◦ A thing can be good for its own sake, or
    ◦ A thing can be good for the sake of something
      else (good insofar as it brings about another
Teleological Account
 “[A]nd for this reason the good has
  rightly been declared to be that at which
  all things aim….”
 Aristotle is drawing a conclusion that
  there is one thing at which everything
  aims from the fact that everything aims at
  some good.
   But this line of reasoning is invalid. Look
    closely at what Aristotle is doing:
 But let us set this worry aside.
 Aristotle believes that, apart from the
  argument, everyone already accepts that
  there is the highest good, and that this
  highest good is happiness (eudaimonia).
   The assumption is that the highest good is
    the kind of thing that is:

 So to resolve the disagreement over what
  eudaimonia is, Aristotle shifts his focus to
  the function of things.
 His thought is that if we can identify the
  function of a human, then we can
  determine what a good human is.
What is a function?
   The function of some thing is its
    characteristic activity.

   The goodness of some thing (that has a
    function) depends on the function.
Function “Argument”
   But what is the function of humans? In
    other words, what is the characteristic
    activity of humans?
   So eudaimonia consists in reasoning well.
    But what does that have to do with

   By “right way”, I mean with the right
    feeling toward the right object to the
    right degree.
   To help us understand what these virtues
    are, consider people who are virtuous.

   Notice that whoever you consider virtuous,
    you are saying that they tend to do the right
    thing for the right reason in the right way.
   Now, what is it about them that makes them

   The focus is not on the action, but rather on
    the character from which the action stems.
    And one’s character is a stable disposition,
    not something that shifts from action to
Example: Bravery
 In Book III, Chapter 6 of Nicomachean Ethics,
  Aristotle gives a detailed account of the virtue of
 For one, bravery involves feeling fear towards the
  right kind of things:
       “Certainly we fear all bad things – for
       instance, bad reputation, poverty, sickness,
       friendlessness, death – but they do not all
       seem to concern the brave person….
       [S]omeone is called fully brave if he is intrepid
       in facing a find death and the immediate
       dangers that bring death. And this is above all
       true of the dangers of war.”
Example: Bravery
   Bravery also involves feeling the right amount of fear
    given the circumstance:
        “Among those who go to excess the excessively
        fearless person has no name…. He would be
        some sort of madman, or incapable of feeling
        distress, if he feared nothing, neither earthquake
        nor waves, as they say about the Celts.
                The person who is excessively confident
        about frightening things is rash. The rash person
        also seems to be a boaster, and a pretender to
                The person who is excessively afraid is
        the coward, since he fears the wrong things, and
        in the wrong way, and so on.”
The Mark of a Virtuous Person
   It is important to realize that for the
    virtuous person, doing the right thing for
    the right reason with the right feeling is
    not a struggle.
Kant vs. Aristotle
   According to Kant, the shopkeeper that
    did the action with any moral worth is
    the one that did the right action (i.e. the
    action that is in accordance with duty) for
    the right reason (i.e. from duty). The
    benevolent shopkeeper’s action did not
    have moral worth.
Phronesis (Practical Wisdom)

   To have this understanding, you need,
    among other things, practical wisdom
Phronesis (Practical Wisdom)
   Phronesis is what gives you understanding,
    knowledge, of:
Two Kinds of Virtues
   Hence, we can divide up the virtues into
    two categories:
    1) Virtues of thought

    2) Virtues of character
Unity of the Virtues
Unity of the Virtues

   Why might this be?
Unity of the Virtues
   Imagine if you were generous but
    intemperate. Then you are the kind of
    person that would be giving, but at the
    same time indulgent. And there would be
    times in which you were not able to do
    what was right to do because your
    intemperance stood in the way of doing
    what is generous.
Unity of the Virtues
   As Bernard Mayo puts it:
       “But when we are asked ‘What shall I
       be?’ we can readily give a unity to our
       answers, though not a logical unity. It is
       the unity of character. A person’s
       character is not merely a list of
       dispositions; it has the organic unity of
       something that is more than the sum
       of its parts.”
Cultivation of Virtues
   So how do we get these virtues?

   Analogy: Learning to be a mechanic
Cultivation of Virtues
   But of course, we are speaking of virtues,
    so the picture will look a bit different:
Account of Right Action
 In discussing deontology and
  utilitarianism, we have been asking
  ourselves what the right action is in some
  particular situation.
 Notice that virtue ethics really is not
  asking the same question; there is no
  theory of right action.
 Instead, it gives us an ideal to strive for.
Account of Right Action
   Given those ideals, we might understand
    the right action as follows:

   In other words:

   But does this help us figure out the right
Objections to Virtue Ethics
   Objection #1: Virtue ethics is not very
    helpful for making difficult moral
Objections to Virtue Ethics
   Objection #1: Virtue ethics is not very
    helpful for making difficult moral
Objections to Virtue Ethics
   Objection #2: Virtue ethics is too
Objections to Virtue Ethics
   Objection #3: Is an action wrong because
    a virtuous person would not do it or
    does a virtuous person not do that action
    because it is wrong?
Objections to Virtue Ethics
   Objection #3: Is an action wrong because
    a virtuous person would not do it or
    does a virtuous person not do that action
    because it is wrong?

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