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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?