What Is Virtue Ethics?

What Is Virtue Ethics?

5.2 What Is Virtue Ethics? Let’s review the way that we distinguished ethical theories in Chapter 1. We can regard human actions as consisting of three parts:

1. The nature and character of the person performing the action. 2. The nature of the action itself 3. The consequences of the action

The main difference between moral theories has to do with which part they believe to be most important when thinking about ethics. The three moral theories can thus be distin- guished in this way:

1. Virtue ethics focuses on the nature and character of the person performing the action. 2. Deontological ethics focuses on the action itself. 3. Consequentialism focuses on the consequences of the action.

Virtue ethics maintains that the most important consideration for morality is first and fore- most what it means to be a good person, which is described in terms of possessing certain character traits that enable us to live well. These character traits are called virtues.

Generally, when we say that someone or something is good or doing well, we have some idea of what that person or thing is supposed to do; in other words, we understand its function or purpose. For instance, if we call something a good car, then it must be running well, by which we mean that the engine is humming, it drives smoothly, it can get you from point A to point B without trouble, and so on. This is because the purpose of the car is to be a reliable form of transportation. If the tires aren’t aligned or the radiator leaks, then the car as a whole won’t be running well and we won’t say that it’s a good car. If the car is used for racing, then a good car must also be fast and have good handling. If the car is used for transporting children, then

it must have certain safety features. If one’s car is a status symbol, then it may need to be flashy, unique, or expensive. Whatever the purpose, a good car has to have its parts working in harmony, doing what they are supposed to be doing, each contributing to how the whole functions.

Similarly, when we say that a student is doing well in school, we mean he or she is learning concepts and skills, behaving in appropriate ways, earning good grades, and so on. If the student is learning but not getting good grades, getting good grades but misbehaving, or getting good grades but not learning much, then we would be reluctant to say the student is doing well in school. To succeed in school and to be a good student, one must have the discipline needed to complete the required work,

be able to internalize and process the information that is given, have the commitment to per- severe when things are difficult, and maintain an open mind when confronted with new and challenging ideas. Otherwise, he or she will be unable to succeed as a student.

Transtock/SuperStock While the virtues of this car might make it well-suited to racing, it would certainly not be a good choice for a family with young children.

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