10: Virtue Ethics


Plato and Aristotle

Key Terms

Virtue Ethics
Moral Exemplar
Golden Mean

  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as Eudaimonia and Golden Mean
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with virtue ethics
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

I. Crito

  • A. Socrates’ Last Days
    • Imprisoned and sentenced to death
    • Crito argues he should escape
    • Socrates disagrees
  • B. Socrates’ Argument
    • I’d be breaking the law
    • One must perform right actions. Wrong actions damage the soul, and the soul is the most valuable part of the self
    • It is never right to do wrong, even if one has been wronged

II. Virtue Ethics

  • A. Contextualizing Virtue Ethics
    • Wide variety of ethical approaches
    • Return to the classical approach in the mid 1900s
  • B. What Sort of Person Should I Strive to Be?
    • Virtue ethics is concerned with character
    • A moral exemplar has to have good judgment, be able to contemplate and debate all sides of a moral issue, have the strength to act on knowledge of the right thing
    • A virtuous person has prudence, the ability to choose wisely
    • A person discovers virtue in childhood and develops virtue through a lifetime of training, experience and practice
    • One becomes virtuous by being virtuous
    • Moral virtue is a trait of character, performed habitually, that would be good for anyone to have
    • The Teleology (or purpose) of Human Life
      • Inevitably, all things are desired for something else
        • Food for health, money for security and social opportunity...
        • ...until you get to 'happiness'
      • Eudemonia (Happiness/Human Flourishing) desired for its own sake
      • This makes eudaimonia the highest good
      • Happiness is a way of being in the world
      • One seeks Happiness by being a virtuous person
      • You reach your highest potential by seeking the moral Golden Mean

Crash Course

III. Moral Virtue and the Golden Mean

  • Aristotle defines Virtue as the Golden Middle State between two moral extremes
  • Greek emphasis on balance and proportion
  • The virtuous person is one who has found balance
  • The Golden Mean represents the highest quality of life and human flourishing
  • Decoding what is virtuous is prudence
  • How to Be a Moral Person
    • Know what you’re doing
    • Deliberately choose for its own sake
    • Act consistently

IV. Advantages to Virtue Ethics

  • Moral motivation
  • Doubts the “ideal” of impartiality

V. Objections to Virtue Ethics

  • Founded on a tautology
  • Difficult to define character traits
  • Does not consider overall consequences 
  • Difficult to choose between opposing virtues