Virtue Ethics: Doing the Right Thing – Values of the Wise (2022)

Virtue Ethics: Doing the Right Thing – Values of the Wise (1)

Virtue ethics is one of the top four or five ethical theories. Ethical theories are ways of organizing information regarding right and wrong. Typically, in science, theories can be shown in just one or two experiments or studies to be “false.” However, when it comes to ethics, it’s a bit more nuanced. The other major theories go by names such as utilitarianism, deontology (duty-based ethics), and religious ethics. Other contenders for the Top 10 include ethical subjectivism, consequentialism, relativism, casuistry, and authority-based ethics. Virtue ethics is one of my favorites for sure, and I will share some thoughts and perspectives about it in this blog. In the end, hopefully, the readers gainsome appreciation for it, seehow it is different thancompeting ethical theories, and recognize how to “use it” in real life (making ethical decisions, facing moral dilemmas, etc.).

One can tell what ethical theory they favor by filling in the blank in the sentence below when a moral decision is upon them (i.e., decide a real issue in real time—because engaging the emotions is necessary to get a “good read”). That sentence is: “It is wrong if I did X because this is an example of the principle that (fill in the blank) ____________________.” Basically, one goes from the specific situation to the general rule. Here is an example. You are thinking of quitting your job because your boss is driving you crazy. You are asking yourself if you can just get up and walk out, or if you should give notice. Now, all considerations of practicality aside (which is typically the case when deciding right from wrong), what should you do?

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If you come up with a reason to not walk out that sounds like the following, you are thinking ethically—you’re considering the moral dimensions of a problem. “If I quit, Becky is going to have to deal with all my files until my lame boss gets someone new hired and trained. I don’t want to do that to her because I wouldn’t want her to do that to me if our roles were reversed; or because it is going to destroy her emotionally, whereas it is going to suck less for me if I just give notice and give two more weeks; or because a stand-up person isn’t the kind of person who walks out on jobs,” or the like.

As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it: “Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role ofcharacter and virtue inmoral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring aboutgood consequences. A virtue ethicist is likely to give you this kind of moral advice: “Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation.”

The phrase, because a stand-up person (a loyal person, a person with character and integrity) doesn’t walk out on jobs, is a good exemplar of this particular theory: virtue ethics. Here, the question: “What is the right thing to do in this situation?” is answered by the following: The right thing to do is to do that which a person of virtue would do in a situation such as this. We are talking about conscience here, and as the famous ethicist John Stuart Mill wrote, “It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak.”

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Looking in on oneself objectively is important. The famous Adam Smith, a moral philosopher, was keen on the idea of an observer—to consider an objective person viewing oneself: “We endeavor to examine our own conduct as we imagine any other fair and impartial spectator would examine it.” Thus, to improve one’s conduct, imagine that you are being observed – not just by some individual, but by one who is upstanding, good, wholesome, true, admirable. In a word, a person with character. He also wrote: “We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behavior, and endeavour to imagine what effect it would, in this light, produce upon us. This is the only looking-glass by which we can…scrutinize the propriety of our own conduct.”

Likely you have seen this principle in action in modern culture. Have you heard the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a popular thing for a while there, and you would see W.W.J.D. on bracelets and the like. That includes a religious element, but basically it is virtue ethics because it is asking: What would a person of high moral integrity, of good character, of excellent virtue, do in this exact situation? It’s sometimes reminiscent of, say, asking what your grandpa or your mom would do, or remembering their voice in your head (because by and large, we learn about virtue ethics – and other theories, as well—in the home).

There is also a neat, negative approach to this theory of right and wrong. What I mean is, you are also preventing wrong behavior by asking yourself what you should not do. Example: “I won’t cheat on my husband because then I would be a cheater, and cheaters are not good people.” Or “I don’t want to take the money out of that wallet I just found because what kind of man steals someone’s money when they are in the vulnerable position of having lost their wallet?”

(Video) Karen Stohr: Virtue Ethics and the Skill of Good Judgment

It isn’t easy to define virtues such as loyalty, honor, integrity, goodness, character, honesty, fidelity, and moral praiseworthiness, but we know them when we see them. I would also suggest that you research these values a bit in The Wisdom Archive, which is the fruit of all my labor at collecting quotations, poetry, and proverbs about values, ethics, and “a life of value.” But once you get more practiced, more used to, doing the right thing according to virtue ethics, like Aristotle suggested was how character is formed, then it becomes a bit easier to execute one’s decision. It’s never easy for a good person (who is morally less committed than a Jesus or a devout member of Jainism or the Dalai Lama) to do good acts. However, over time, if one concentrates on a version of the WWJD reminder (in this case, “What Would a Moral Person Do?”), then it gets a bit more second-nature. The Dalai Lama, for example, arguably, goes through his moral decisions daily without much hesitation, regret, or doubt because his sense of ethics is thoroughly engrained.

Now, one does not need religiosity to be a good, secular, moral decision-maker. Though, let’s face it, it might be easier. Religious adherents believe a significantly ethical figure is watching them all the time, and cannot be hidden from! If I am not mistaken, I also believe that Thomas Jefferson was an admirer of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

So how does virtue ethics differ from the two biggies – utilitarianism and deontology? With utilitarianism, it’s easy to describe. Utilitarianism was a 19th-century invention of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill that sought to reform society by considering more than just the special people—the aristocrats and the politically connected and those on the religious side of the equation. They looked around and saw plenty of suffering in Charles Dickens’ England, and thought: There must be a better way. There was: it was to consider what a decision would mean for the majority. Basically, an action is right if more people will be better off if you do X than if you do Y. So, if you drive drunk and hit someone, you have wronged them not because good people don’t harm others by becoming impaired and driving a vehicle and having an accident, but simply because that victim is going to suffer because of acts or omissions on your part. It’s why terrorist bombings are wrong: because pain and devastation are rained down on innocent peoples’ heads. Or consider a tax raise—societal issues are very amenable to using a utilitarian calculus.

(Video) Virtue Ethics

Or, consider a tax increase—societal issues are very amenable to using a utilitarian calculus. The question is, Would raising an additional ten billion dollars by raising the tax rate 1% be right or wrong? Well, people don’t like to be taxed, but the money could be used for position and prosocial things. It would have to all be weighed and balanced to find out if it’s right. Virtue ethics is harder to utilize with such a question.

Deontology was an invention of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, also from way-back-when (though, virtue ethics can be traced to Confucius and others who are much older than either utilitarianism or deontology. His philosophy of right and wrong is a bit like virtue ethics. It is duty-based ethics. In other words, one should make up one’s own rules of conduct ahead of time, and then in moral situations, apply them rigorously and without exception. To do one’s duty. How does one know if doing X or doing Y is a moral act?

One, all utilitarian considerations are dispensed with: it doesn’t matter how it turns out, what the results of an action are. It only matters what one’s intentions were when they made their moral decision. Lying is an illustrative example: for Kant, one should never lie. One can determine this by asking about the categorical imperative: should lying become a frequent and universally-done thing? Or would that not be something that you would like to see happen? If you lie easily and everyone else does as well, then what you have is truth having virtually no meaning. That is not a good state of affairs. Truth should be truth and lies should be lies. Admittedly, this is somewhat similar at this point to a virtue ethics approach, in that both are trying to get at proper behavior for the sake of the behavior, and not because the act would be praised, approved of, successful, or create great results. One of the problems with deontology is when duties conflict: like, should you lie, or should you turn your friend in – you can’t avoid one of those in a situation where your friend was caught cheating on an exam.

(Video) The Major Virtues: Integrity

The other hallmark of deontology is to treat others as ends in themselves, and not as means. For example, according to duty-based ethics, it is wrong to use people. Thus, whereas a utilitarian would torture a terrorist if the terrorist knew where a ticking time bomb was hidden in a crowded urban setting, a deontologist would lament the loss of life, but wouldn’t torture because torturing is wrong. Why? Because one cannot do wrong to a person to bring about some positive end. The ends don’t justify the means. One can’t do three wrong acts and end up with a positive/moral outcome. Positive moral outcomes must be the end of a string of right actions. The careful reader might see that this is somewhat reminiscent of virtue ethics, too: good people don’t torture people. However, virtue ethics would suggest that a good person might decide that a lowly terrorist waste of space does not deserve to sit there with a smile on his face while authorities hunt in vain for the ticking time bomb, because, after all, good people save lives.

Ethics is truly interesting, almost fun—at least for me. Knowing (believing) that there is no God who wrote laws down in stone for obedient humans leaves us open to a world of possibilities. From a more existential perspective, the fact that we are the masters of our fate; that we have the power to decide right from wrong—is bracing. We must face the consequences of our actions and decisions, too, though. That makes morality a high-stakes game, and it can quicken one’s pulse to have to deal with moral dilemmas and make garden-variety decisions of right and wrong. In the end, one would do very well to study both positive values (truth, justice, honor, etc.) and try to behave in keeping with those virtues. A person of character rarely does wrong, not because they are of superior stock, but because they have developed the habit of behaving in a manner that would be described as “the right thing to do.” Act like a virtuous person, and your moral decisions will not be very difficult to solve.

Here is an external source for learning more about the idea of ethical theories.

(Video) Values and Virtues

FAQs

What is virtue ethics * Your answer? ›

Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one's duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences.

What are the values of virtue ethics? ›

Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues.

Does virtue ethics give us enough direction about how do you live? ›

So, virtue ethics helps us understand what it means to be a virtuous human being. And, it gives us a guide for living life without giving us specific rules for resolving ethical dilemmas.

What is the main concept of virtue ethics? ›

Virtue ethics mainly deals with the honesty and morality of a person. It states that practicing good habits such as honesty, generosity makes a moral and virtuous person. It guides a person without specific rules for resolving the ethical complexity.

What is the best definition of virtue? ›

Definition of virtue

1a : conformity to a standard of right : morality. b : a particular moral excellence. 2 : a beneficial quality or power of a thing.

Why is virtue ethics the best? ›

Virtue ethics allows people to maintain personal and interpersonal connections important for the good life. Virtue ethics does not fall victim to moral schizophrenia, which is one advantage it has over most other moral theories.

How do you understand virtues and values? ›

The main difference between value and virtue is that values are principles or standards of behavior that help one to decide what is important in life whereas virtues are qualities that are universally or generally considered to be good and desirable.

What is good and right in ethics? ›

Article Summary. 'Right' and 'good' are the two basic terms of moral evaluation. In general, something is 'right' if it is morally obligatory, whereas it is morally 'good' if it is worth having or doing and enhances the life of those who possess it.

What are the values and how are they different from virtues give some example? ›

The main difference between value and virtue is that values are principles or standards of behavior that help one to decide what is important in life whereas virtues are qualities that are universally or generally considered to be good and desirable.

Why are virtues required for good life? ›

Virtues are important because they are the basic qualities necessary for our well being and happiness. By recognizing the importance of virtues, in our lives, it will lead to better communication, understanding and acceptance between us and our fellow man.

What is the most important virtue do you think should be exercised and developed by the doctor? ›

Compassion is one of the most important attributes of a successful doctor. Patients often experience anxiety and stress along with their pain or illness, and need to feel that their practitioner is empathetic to their issues and dedicated to creating the best outcome.

How do you use virtue ethics? ›

Aristotle's criteria for the virtuous person is as follows: You must have knowledge, consciously choose the acts and choose them for their own sake, and the choice must come from a firm character, in accordance to who you are. You must consistently choose to do good acts deliberately for the right reasons.

What is virtue ethics essay? ›

Virtue Ethics Paper

Virtue ethics is a moral theory that is used to make moral decisions based on what a good or virtuous person would do. The decision to act does not depend on consequences, culture, religion, rules, or society like deontological or teleological ethics.

Which of the following best defines virtue based ethics? ›

Which of the following best defines virtue-based ethics? An ethical theory that emphasizes the role of character rather than actions.

Is virtue ethics important in making decision about morality? ›

The Value of Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics emphasizes the central role played by motives in moral questions. This is one reason why they can be popular and why they make an important contribution to our understanding of morality. To act from virtue is to act from some particular motivation.

What is the most important virtue? ›

Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without it, no other virtue can be practiced consistently, said Maya Angelou to members of this year's graduating class.

What does virtue literally mean? ›

The word virtue comes from the Latin root vir, for man. At first virtue meant manliness or valor, but over time it settled into the sense of moral excellence. Virtue can also mean excellence in general.

How do you use virtue in a sentence? ›

Her flaws were as large as her virtues. Humility is considered a virtue. There was no virtue in returning to Calvi the way I had come. Its other great virtue, of course, is its hard-wearing quality.

Why studying values and virtues is important in ethics? ›

Values reduce conflicts and make easy to live:

Values make life easy to measure and reduce conflicts and doubts. Values such as integrity, honesty, compassion, selflessness, and co-operation increase the personality of an individual and make him a far better human being.

What is the biggest problem with virtue ethics? ›

The alleged problem with virtue ethics is that it fails to appreciate the perspectivai, theory ladenness, and intractability of dispute, for it is commonly assumed that in virtue ethics a virtuous agent is both the determinant of right action and the repository of sound reasoning about which actions are right.

Why is it important to know and understand what virtues and values are? ›

Our values inform our thoughts, words, and actions.

Our values are important because they help us to grow and develop. They help us to create the future we want to experience. Every individual and every organization is involved in making hundreds of decisions every day.

What virtue do you value the most at work and why? ›

Honesty and Integrity

Employers value employees who maintain a sense of honesty and integrity above all else. Good relationships are built on trust. When working for an employer they want to know that they can trust what you say and what you do.

What is the difference between value and values? ›

Value (uncountable) is your worth. What you bring to the table. In Japanese, the equivalent to it would be the word 価値. Values (countable/usually used with “s”) are your important and lasting beliefs or ideals.

What makes an action the right thing? ›

bioethics. …that holds that the moral rightness or wrongness of an action should be ascertained in terms of the action's consequences. According to one common formulation, an action is right if it would promote a greater amount of happiness for a greater number of people than would any other action performable

What makes something right or wrong? ›

Ethics are the standard of what is right and wrong, and they are based on our values. Being ethical requires making a moral judgment, and that's not always easy. Ethical behavior takes courage and has to be practiced.

Is doing always right good? ›

Doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it is always clear. Doing the right thing may not be pleasant or fair, but doing the right thing is always – right. Whatever plan or agenda we have – personal, political, religious or career – doing the right thing may not always have the best outcome.

What is value short answer? ›

Value is the monetary, material, or assessed worth of an asset, good, or service.

How do we develop our values? ›

Values lie deep in our psyche, they reflect our past experiences and as such create the foundation for our lifetime of behaviour and our response to the world and people around us. The only way to engage and enhance our values is introspection and reflection.

Is there a difference between virtues and values? ›

Values are your ideals, guiding principles, and standards of behavior. They're aspirational goals that provide you with a moral compass for navigating choices and decisions. Virtues are your convictions. Values as lived and acted upon.

What is the best virtue in life? ›

Courage is perhaps the most vital virtue to develop. When we feel the fear and do it anyway we develop courage. The ability to step outside of yourself and perform an act of selflessness: this is the foundation of compassion.

Is virtue necessary for happy life? ›

Virtuous behavior contributes to moral excellence. Moral excellence can contribute to a happy life. Thus, being a moral person is essential to living a life of happiness. A person achieves happiness by possessing the dispositions (i.e., tendencies) to make the right choice at the right time in the right way.

What makes a virtuous person? ›

Virtue is defined as "the quality of moral excellence, righteousness, and responsibility" (Pg. 73) While studying what makes a virtuous person their character rather than actions are studied. Honesty, courage, moderation, compassion, wisdom and loyalty are a few examples of the characteristics of a virtuous person.

What is the most important virtue do you think should be exercised and developed by the nurse? ›

Caring and compassion remain the core virtue ethics of the nursing profession and their relevance remains obvious. The essence of caring as a nurse is that you recognize the value and worth of those you care for and that the patient and his or her experience MATTERS to you (Benner & Wrubel, 1989).

Why virtue ethics is important in health and social care? ›

By contrast, virtue ethics sees good practice as practice that results from the virtuous moral character of the doctor. As a distinctive approach to medical ethics, virtue ethics investigates how the doctor's good moral character enables them to promote the good for the patient.

Is honesty still a virtue valued today? ›

Answer: Yes, honesty is a virtue value today because it can lead to all kinds of success and even define you. Explanation: Truth is important to both individuals and society as a whole.

What does virtuous person mean? ›

committed to the highest ethical principles virtuous implies moral excellence in character.

What is virtue ethics quizlet? ›

Virtue Ethics. The older or traditional approach to normative ethics. It emphasizes the character of the moral agent over time, rather than following rules or consequences in specific cases. Good Persons.

What is virtue ethics essay? ›

Virtue Ethics Paper

Virtue ethics is a moral theory that is used to make moral decisions based on what a good or virtuous person would do. The decision to act does not depend on consequences, culture, religion, rules, or society like deontological or teleological ethics.

What is a virtue in philosophy? ›

The concept of a virtue is the concept of something that makes its possessor good: a virtuous person is a morally good, excellent or admirable person who acts and feels as she should.

What is virtue ethics in health and social care? ›

By contrast, virtue ethics sees good practice as practice that results from the virtuous moral character of the doctor. As a distinctive approach to medical ethics, virtue ethics investigates how the doctor's good moral character enables them to promote the good for the patient.

What is the aim of virtue ethics quizlet? ›

Virtue Ethics fins goodness in being rather than doing. It highlights those virtues or qualities that are desirable and encourage people to adopt them for their own sake. Because the well-being of the individual is key to happiness and the achievement of eudaimonia.

How do we learn virtue? ›

6. How do we learn virtue?
  1. By habit.
  2. By dialectical argument.
  3. By rational instruction.
  4. By learning from our mistakes.

What are the advantages of virtue ethics quizlet? ›

Advantages: 1) It offers a natural and appealing source of moral motivation (unlike, for instance, Kantian ethics). 2) It responds to our doubts about the "ideal" of impartiality. 3) It centralizes the importance of what constitutes a good human life.

How can virtue ethics help a person be a better professional? ›

Because the right ethical action depends on the particularities of individual people and their particular situations, virtue ethics links goodness with wisdom because virtue is knowing how to make ethical decisions rather than knowing a list of general ethical rules that will not apply to every circumstance.

Is it true that virtue ethics states that only good people can make good moral decision? ›

Virtue ethics states that only good people can make good moral decisions. Therefore, the best way to be moral is to constantly seek to improve oneself. Virtue ethicists list a number of qualities that they believe are universal, and that all cultures appreciate.

What is the mean and how it is related to virtue? ›

Aristotle describes a virtue as a “mean” or “intermediate” between two extremes: one of excess and one of deficiency. 2. Example: bravery (e.g. on a battlefield) Involves how much we let fear restrict or modify our actions. Bravery is the mean or intermediate between cowardliness and rashness.

What type of theory is virtue ethics? ›

Virtue Ethics (or Virtue Theory) is an approach to Ethics that emphasizes an individual's character as the key element of ethical thinking, rather than rules about the acts themselves (Deontology) or their consequences (Consequentialism).

Why are virtues required for good life? ›

Virtues are important because they are the basic qualities necessary for our well being and happiness. By recognizing the importance of virtues, in our lives, it will lead to better communication, understanding and acceptance between us and our fellow man.

What is good and right in ethics? ›

Article Summary. 'Right' and 'good' are the two basic terms of moral evaluation. In general, something is 'right' if it is morally obligatory, whereas it is morally 'good' if it is worth having or doing and enhances the life of those who possess it.

What is the most important virtue do you think should be exercised and developed by the nurse? ›

Caring and compassion remain the core virtue ethics of the nursing profession and their relevance remains obvious. The essence of caring as a nurse is that you recognize the value and worth of those you care for and that the patient and his or her experience MATTERS to you (Benner & Wrubel, 1989).

What is the most important virtue do you think should be exercised and developed by teacher? ›

1. Patience. More than anything, teachers need patience. It is important to remember that not everyone learns at the same speed and that things are going to happen in the classroom that you have no control over.

Why is it important to look at the moral character of the person? ›

Moral character is the foundation of personal acceptance and growth, healthy relationships and success. Without it, our kids will have great difficulty achieving true peace of mind, making morally-driven decisions, building solid, long-lasting relationships or finding true success in their endeavors or career.

Videos

1. Values and Virtues
(The Atlas Society, Ltd)
2. Virtue Ethics
(Brandon Gillette)
3. On Virtue Ethics
(SisyphusRedeemed)
4. Virtue Ethics 🧭 How personal Virtues help us own our own life- The Compass of Life.
(Puzzling Life)
5. Your Experience with Stoicism & Virtue Ethics
(52 Living Ideas)
6. What are the intellectual and moral virtues and how do they differ and why do they matter?
(Dave Palmer)

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