“Virtue ethics is of little use when dealing with practical ethics.” Discuss.
It is often argued that virtue ethics is of little use when dealing with practical ethics. Virtue ethics does not focus on actions being right or wrong, but on how to be a good person. Virtue ethics raises three questions “who am I?”, “Who I ought to become?” and “How do I get there?”. On the other hand Practical ethics describes situations where an action is needed.
Firstly virtue ethics goes back to Plato and Aristotle. Plato’s moral theory centres on the achievement of man’s highest good, which involves the right cultivation of his soul and the harmonious wellbeing of his life (Eudaimonia). Plato seemed to ...view middle of the document...
Aristotle saw that a person who achieved eudemonia was someone who used their reason well. He saw reason as the supreme human virtue. Reason is practical and involves both understanding and responding.
Aristotle believed that virtue were found in the golden mean which involves finding the balance between two means and this is the best way to live in society, as extremes of character are unhelpful. Aristotle said that virtues are to be found between two vices each of which involves either an excess or a deficiency of the true virtue. Eg courage is the mean, between the two vices coward and foolhardy. Aristotle said the mean is not the same for everyone and depends on circumstance and therefore you need to apply practical wisdom.
Some people would disagree with Aristotle’s golden mean; they say that virtue ethics seems to praise certain virtues that we may see as immoral such as soldiers fighting in an unjust war that may be courageous but does mean it is morally good. They would find that virtue ethics is not good when dealing with practical ethics.
Many people argue that virtue ethics is of use when dealing with practical ethics, one way of learning to be virtuous is to follow the example of virtuous people. Virtue ethics understands the need to distinguish good people from legalists, just because someone follow the laws does not make him a good person. The lives of Jesus, Nelson Mandela are good examples of moral excellence. However some disagree with this view and argued that moral saints are unattractive because they lack the ability to enjoy the enjoyable of life and are dull witted and boring.
Modern versions of virtue ethics argue that the assessment of a person’s character is an important aspect of our ethical though and needs to be included in any ethical theory. An example is G.E.M. Anscombe who published a paper called ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ and put forward the idea that modern moral philosophy is misguided. She asks if there can be any moral laws if there is no God, but she suggests that the idea of Eudaimonia which does not depend on any God.
Anscombe also suggested that Kantian ethics and Utilitarianism do not depend on God, but they are still act based. Anscombe thought that act based ethics do not make sense because it ignores a belief that people no longer hold and therefore virtue ethics is better when dealing with practical ethics. Also according to the principle of autonomy it neglects the community aspect of morality. Also Anscombe might argue that Virtue ethics avoids formulas, like utilitarianism.
Philippa Foot attempted to modernise Aristotle’s virtue ethics and keeping it to the Aristotelian understanding of character and virtue. She recognised the importance of the persons own reasoning the importance of the persons own reasoning in the practice of virtue. Foot argues that a virtue does not operate as a virtue when turned to a bad end. Virtue ethics does not pretend to be able to tell us what a good person would...