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Transcript
Ethics—The Basics
by John Mizzoni
CHAPTER TWO:
VIRTUE ETHICS
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Road rage—What causes it?
• Differences between
feelings/emotions and
behavior/actions.
• Virtue Ethics (sometimes called
Character Ethics) relates our
feelings to our behavior…
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Virtue ethics is an ethical tradition
that focuses on:
• How emotions relate to actions
• How human beings are able to
control their emotions
• How human beings are able to gain
happiness for themselves
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Before Socrates, the earliest
known Greek moral philosopher,
there
was
virtue
ethics.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Important Pre-Socratics—Pythagoras, Democritus,
•
Heraclitus, Anaxagoras
Important Sophists—Protagoras, Thrasymachus,
Callicles, Hippias
• The 3 most well-known Greek philosophers
agreed that answers to questions about ethics
depend on answers to questions about human
nature:
• Socrates—founder of ethical studies
• Plato—author of many ethical dialogues
• Aristotle—author of Nicomachean Ethics
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Virtue ethics has continued
from the ancient world to our own:
• School and Community Programs
—The Boy Scout Law
—Character Counts!
—The Virtues Project
• Church-sponsored Programs
—School of Virtue (Kids for Jesus)
• Employment Programs
—The Josephson Institute
• Popular Culture
—Adventures from the Book of Virtues
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Virtue ethics addresses all four of
the ethical problems we are
considering. However:
• WHAT IS A VIRTUE?
• WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF
VIRTUES?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Examples of Virtues include:
Tolerance
Generosity
Integrity
Honesty
Kindness
Courage/Fortitude
Wisdom
Cleverness
Courtesy
Loyalty
Prudence
Justice
Temperance
Responsibility
Respectfulness
Continency/Self-control
Chastity
Compassion/Caring
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• A virtue is a trait of character of a
person that is good for that person to
have. (Aristotle, 337 BCE)
• A moral virtue is a mean between two
extremes. (Aristotle, 337 BCE)
• This is Aristotle’s Principle of The
Golden Mean
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
The Principle of
The Golden Mean
A moral virtue is a
mean between two
extreme vices— (the
vice of excess and the
vice of deficiency).
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
For example, courage is the mean
between cowardice (deficiency)
and rashness (excess).
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Aristotle was not alone in this idea:
• In ancient China, Confucius called
one of his important teachings
“The Doctrine of the Mean”
• In ancient India, the Buddha
called his philosophy of life
“The Middle Way”
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Moral excellence—a moral virtue—
consists in a mean state.
• “By virtue I mean virtue of character…
it is concerned with feelings and
actions….” (Aristotle, 337 BCE)
• “Virtue, then, is a mean, in so far as it
aims at what is intermediate.”
(Aristotle, 337 BCE)
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
According to Aristotle, two things
are important in achieving
happiness (eudaemonia) in our
lives:
• how we handle our feelings
• the rational judgment we use
in developing our virtues
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
In Aristotle’s thinking, every
human being has a rational soul:
• The rational soul (reason) can
help us to control our feelings.
• If feelings are well-controlled,
virtues develop; if they are not
well-controlled, vices develop.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
For example, temperance is a mean
that focuses on our desires:
• If we let our desires control us, we are
intemperate
• If we deny our desires entirely, we
repress our humanity
• Controlling our desires to the correct
degree leads to excellence
QUESTIONS?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
The Golden Mean is Not Mathematical
• It is like hitting the bulls-eye in archery
The Golden Mean is Not Precise
• It is a mean that is relative to us, perhaps even to
each of us
• Like hitting the sweet spot on a baseball bat
For Aristotle, ethics is not a precise
science, it is about living the good life.
WHAT IS THE “GOOD LIFE”?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
The “Good Life” is a life that leads to
eudaemonia:
• happiness
• flourishing
• excellence
• well-being
• self-realization (Abraham Maslow)
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
“Human Nature” for Aristotle:
• Humans are rational animals
• Humans are unique animals because of their
reason
• Humans are social/political animals
• Humans flourish in groups
• Humans have social origins
• Humans succeed in social pursuits
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
A “moral virtue”, for Aristotle, is a
trait of character:
• A trait that is not “natural” to us
• A trait that develops through habit
—A habit is a repeated action
—“Practice makes perfect”
Potential → Repeated actions → Habit formation → Character
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Thus, Aristotle’s model of human nature is a
developmental model:
• Humans are born with rational minds (potential)
—Human develop awareness of self
—Humans develop awareness of choice
• There is a time in our lives to “train” ourselves
(input phase)
• There is a time in our lives when our character
flows easily in action (output phase)
Potential → Repeated actions → Habit formation → Character
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Old Testament Scripture supports this
developmental model:
“Train up a child in the way he should
go[input], and when he is old he will not
depart from it[output]” (Proverbs 22:5).
Potential → Repeated actions → Habit formation → Character
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
In Aristotle’s development model, the
idea of a role model is very important:
• One of the natural ways we learn is by copying
others
• Some role models of virtuous lives:
—Jesus (WWJD = What Would Jesus Do?)
—Saints (Francis of Assisi, Maria Goretti, Dominic Savio)
—Others (Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.)
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Virtues are good for the
individual who practices them
• Virtues are good for those who
have social contact with the
virtuous person
Many of the virtues have to do
with our dealings with others
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
There are two kinds of virtues:
• Intellectual virtues can be taught.
• Moral virtues can only be learned
through habitual practice.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Example of an intellectual virtue:
• Knowledge
• Examples of moral virtues:
• Prudence
• Justice
• Fortitude
• Temperance
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
The Instruction of Ptahhotep, written
4000 years ago, long before
Aristotle, recommends the
following virtues to everyone:
Self-control, moderation, kindness,
generosity, justice, truthfulness, and
discretion
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
In New Testament Scripture, Paul’s
letters support virtue ethics:
• Practice virtues (e.g. Galatians 5:22):
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control
• Don’t practice vices (e.g. Galatians 5:19):
Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery,
enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party
spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing
• Follow an exemplary model of character (Galatians
2:20):
“…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Universalist virtue ethics:
• Admits that different cultures
emphasize different virtues
• BUT states that some virtues are
universally important
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Relativist virtue ethics:
• Admits that different cultures
emphasize different virtues
• AND states there are NO universally
important virtues
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• To interpret different inventories of
virtues from different cultures and
times (cultural relativism) as proof
of ethical relativism is to commit the
fallacy of hasty generalization.
• Ethical relativism is an exaggeration
of cultural relativism.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
What, then, is the nature of man?
• According to Aristotle, we are
essentially rational in nature.
• Mizzoni adds that we are also
emotional, social, and political in
nature, and Aristotle notes this.
WHAT ABOUT SPIRITUAL?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
What is the good life, according to
Aristotle?
• Everything in nature has a purpose
• The purpose of man is to exercise his
reason in a life of virtue, or
moderation, to achieve happiness
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
• Some scholars view Aristotle’s model
as leading to a life of contemplation
rather than to a life of action.
• Other scholars view this model of
human development as leading to a
life of action (courage and justice),
with a retirement to contemplation.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Ethics and Literature
The virtues and vices that are
important in developing a literary
character are an essential part of
the plot.
CAN YOU THINK OF ANY VIRTUOUS
LITERARY CHARACTERS…?
…ANY VICIOUS ONES?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Advantages of Virtue Ethics
• It provides a reasonable account of
moral motivation
• It is flexible
• It focuses on the whole person
• It fits well with common sense
• It accounts for the fact that partiality,
not impartiality, is a part of life
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Disadvantages of Virtue Ethics
• Virtue ethics is anthropocentric
• Virtue ethics is individually focused
• Virtue ethics is incomplete
• Why is one trait better than another?
• How do we resolve moral conflict?
• What about people with disabilities?
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Conclusion: Origins of Virtue Ethics
• Ethical standards come from a
combination of human nature and
society. (Societal standards that contradict
human nature would not lead to human
happiness.)
• Ethical standards do not come from
God or religion
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Conclusion: Relativism v. Universalism
• Cultural relativism may be true, because we
observe ethical diversity among cultures, but
ethical relativism could not be true, because
some virtues are important in any culture.
• Aristotle, then, is a ethical universalist who
accepts cultural relativism
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Conclusion: Human Nature
• Aristotle argues for a universal human nature,
observing that all human beings are striving
after happiness.
• Aristotle observes that human beings are
rational animals (who can control their actions
and feelings, and choose what habits they will
develop), and social/political animals.
Ethics—The Basics
VIRTUE ETHICS
Conclusion: What Makes Something Right or
Wrong?
• Virtue ethics answers such questions as:
—How one should live a life?
—What is a life lived well?
—What kind of person I should become in terms of virtues and universal
human nature?
• A trait is virtuous if it is a product of our developed
natural potential and if it contributes to our
happiness, well-being, and flourishing.
DOES ALL THIS INFORMATION HELP YOU CHOOSE
THE RIGHT THING TO DO?