Virtue Ethics - Strengths + Weaknesses


Virtue Ethics - Strength


You could have moral theory which may seem good, but have absurd consequences if you always follow it 

E.g. moral theory to always tell the truth - problem if axe-murderer asks you where your children are

Virtue ethics sys you don't need to follow theory, but rather become virtuous so you simply know

We don't get the problem of the masses just mindlessly following dictactorship

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

Improved people by developing character

It does not just tell you to be good, but rather teaches you how to be good 

Normative theories (e.g. Kantian ethics) give you a theory on how to be good, but you don't have to be a good person to follow a theory

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

It motivates you to be good

In order to do good actions, you have to be a good person 

With normative ethics, you are not encouraged to cultivate anything 

With virtue ethics, you are encouraged to cultivate yourself and virtues

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Virtue Ethics - Strength


Concerned with the whole person

Involves our whole life, as we are always able to find an opportunity to develop a particular virtue

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

With this theory we are able to distinguish good people from legalists

Just because someone follows the rules, it does not mean they are a virtuous person

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

Enables us to integrate many aspects of our life into our ethical reflection 

For example, it does not reject our emotions, but rather includes them

It is more aware of how people naturally react to ethical dilemmas

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

It has a focus on encouraging us to want to be a good person

Encourages idea that good actions are their own reward

Advocates idea that we ought to look to people we view as good to develop our own virtues

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Virtue Ethics - Strength

Does not claim to know what to do in any situation

Contrastingly, it encourages us to be a more virtuous person, so that we will simply know what to do in a particular situation

No need to refer to a normative ethical theory

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

It is difficult to identify what the virtues are

There is a definite sense that our idea of virtues depend on cultural upbringing and social conditioning

This is problematic as we have no way of knowing if we are actually being virtuous, or if are actions are merely viceful 

MacIntyre allows for some relativism, but this seems weak

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

Robert Louden 

States that Virtue ethics does not help people facing ethical dilemmas

It does not give any clear course of action, or any rules

One response from a virtue ethicist may be that we would not need rules if everyone is virtuous 

This is a massive assumption, as we are not all going to be virtuous

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

Robert Loudon

Difficult for us to decide who is virtuous

Virtue ethics encourages us to look to people we admire for guidance (particularly Michael Slote's virtue ethics), but we have no way of knowing if such people are actually virtuous 

People could do seemingly virtuous actions, but have bad intentions

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

You could have conflicting virtues

A virtue ethicist may respond saying that the truly virtuous perosn will just know what to do 

But this is a weak response - it does not help someone still working towards being virtuous 

E.g. obeying the law vs. being loyal to a loved one

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

Problematic in the fact that it seems to praise some virtues we may deem immoral 

For example, you could say courage is a virtue, but a soldier courageously fighting in an unjust war does not make the soldier morally good 

You could counter this argument by referring to Aristotle's "Golden Mean", or other virtue ethicists' ideas that virtues are not virtues all the time

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

It does not seem to have room for basic concepts, such as rights and obligations

Therefore, it seems incapable of dealing with big issues, as it does not always have a view about whether something is right or wrong

No robust idea of what is right or wrong

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Virtue Ethics - Weaknesses

It depends on there being some final end, or purpose which gives shape to our lives

There may be no eudaimonia, or anything to the equivalent, meaning striving towards it is pointless

Even if there is some "telos" to human life, there is nothing to suggest that being virtuous is the best way to reach it

Also, not everyone may want to be virtuous

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