Virtue Ethics: Strengths & Weaknesses

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  • 0:06 What Are Virtue Ethics?
  • 1:12 Virtue Ethics: Strengths
  • 3:53 Virtue Ethics: Weaknesses
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

Virtue ethics are guiding principles based on the type of people humans should be. This form of ethics has been practiced by famous people throughout history and is seen as a positive outlook by many. However, there are many questions left unanswered when examined more closely.

What Are Virtue Ethics?

Have you ever considered what makes you a good person or gives your life direction? Many philosophies have sought to answer this question over the ages. One of these is virtue ethics. The main thrust of virtue ethics is the attention to being a moral person. The criterion for such a practice is, of course, somewhat subjective. However, most people who practice or study virtue ethics generally agree that there are some common criteria on which they can be based.

It seems in the natural world that some things are always wrong, due to the adverse harm, feelings, or effects they cause. For example, most people would agree that things like murder and rape are always wrong. Not only do they cause harm, but the lasting effects are often substantial for the victim and those who are close to the victim.

Virtue ethics stand as a way of viewing the world somewhat subjectively, while still maintaining an objective view toward ultimate good and the philosophy of do no harm. While these are seen as the strong points of virtue ethics, there are still areas, when examined more closely, that seem to stand at odds with logic and reason.

Virtue Ethics: Strengths

Virtue ethics includes several intrinsic strengths based on the practicality and generally non-threatening nature of its philosophy. We'll look at them one by one.

Consider how you look at yourself. Do you only take care of your body, or do you also nourish and train your mind and spirit? This is what being holistic is all about. Virtue ethics are first and foremost seen as a holistic understanding of who human beings are. They take into account the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and intellectual properties of human nature. The holistic approach allows the close examination and refinement of the human character through introspection and therapeutic pursuits.

The concept of character development coincides well with the idea of the whole person. If a person has many parts, so to speak, he or she will be able to develop these components and grow in character. Through this growth, the human being becomes stronger internally and is able to project this internal good onto society. You've probably been a part of something meant to develop your character, perhaps a debate team or club where you give community service. This is where virtue ethics begins.

Morality is dealt with pragmatically in virtue ethics. Through the practical application of morals that are developed through societal agreement, there is a basis for community understanding and growth. This subjective outgrowth of moral concepts allows for change from society to society. For instance, stealing might be punished more severely in one society than another, because it's understood as an occasional necessity. Your moral center is what guides you to do what's right. We all have some sort of morality.

You probably have a friend you prefer above others. You're partial, but you can still make matters fair between your best friend and your other friends. Partiality is also regarded as a strength in virtue ethics as it allows for an open understanding and acceptance of social differentiation. In other words, one can be partial towards people without being seen as unjust or unfair. In other philosophies, especially utilitarianism, rigid impartiality is seen as the only manner in which justice and fairness can be dispensed. However, in virtue ethics, one can have both partiality and justice.

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