The Ethics of
Virtues & Vices
Two Moral Questions
The Question of Action:
– How ought I to act?
The Question of Character
– What kind of person ought I to be?
Our concern here is with the
question of character
Involving both heart
Seeks the mean
between excess and
Virtue As the Golden Mean
Strength of character (virtue), Aristotle
suggests, involves finding the proper
balance between two extremes.
– Excess: having too much of something.
– Deficiency: having too little of something.
Not mediocrity, but harmony and balance.
Where have we seen this idea of harmony
and balance before?
This leads to the growth on a individual
– Esp. on his/her conscience 4
Virtue and Habit
For Aristotle, virtue is something that is practiced and thereby learned—it is
not defined the same way as we use it today
This has clear implications for moral education, for Aristotle obviously
thinks that you can teach people to be virtuous.
Through several channels, but specifically through action and experience
One could not simply study what virtue is; one must actually be virtuous.
Analogously, in order to become good at a sport like football, one does not
simply study but also practices. Aristotle first establishes what was
virtuous. He began by determining that everything was done with some goal
in mind and that goal is 'good.' The ultimate goal he called the Highest
We have seen this idea before as well, achieving our happiness through our
desire, that are ultimately paralled with God
Aristotle believed that every ethical virtue is an intermediate
condition between excess and deficiency.
– For example, fear isn't bad in and of itself, it is just bad when
felt to excess or deficiency. A courageous person judges that
some dangers are worth facing and others not, the level of fear
is appropriate to the circumstances
The strength of character necessary to continue
in the face of our fears
– Deficiency: Cowardice, the inability to do what is necessary to
have those things in life which we need in order to flourish
• Too much fear
• Too little confidence
• Too little fear
• Too much confidence
• Poor judgment about ends worth achieving
Both children and adults need courage.
Without courage, we are unable to take the
risks necessary to achieve some of the
things we most value in life.
– Risk to ask someone out on a date.
– Risk to show genuine vulnerability.
– Risk to try an academically challenging
program such as pre-med.
Courage and the Unity of the
To have any single strength of character
(virtue) in full measure, a person must
have the other ones as well.
– Courage without good judgment is blind,
risking without knowing what is worth the risk.
– Courage without perseverance is short-lived,
– Courage without a clear sense of your own
abilities is foolhardy.
Excess Mean Deficiency
Underestimates actual Correctly estimates Overestimates actual
danger actual danger danger
Overestimates own Correctly estimates own Underestimates own
ability ability ability
Undervalues means, Properly values means Overvalues the means,
what is being placed at that are being put at riskwhat is being placed at
Overvalues goal, what Properly values goal that Undervalues goal, what
the risk is being taken is being sought the risk would be taken
Virtues are those strengths of character that
enable us to develop as a conscience
The virtuous person has practical wisdom
(developed reason and logic), the ability to
know when and how best to apply these
various moral perspectives.
This is gained through experience, for an
individual, but for a Christian through
several other means as well.
This ability to develop “habit” by a person and
use it through their active life and development
of their self leads to 4 categories
1. Virtuous - those that truly enjoy doing what is right
and do so without moral dilemma
1. What we, (Christians) strive to achieve
2. Continent - does the virtuous thing most of the time,
but must overcome conflict
1. Where most people are within their lives
3. Incontinent - faces the same moral conflict, but
usually chooses the vicious ("full of vice") thing
4. Vicious - sees little value in virtue and doesn't attempt
Slide should go before the Christians