Athanassoulis, Nafsika, and . Virtue Ethics

2004, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Introduction: 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. A virtue ethicist is likely to give you this kind of moral advice: “Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation.” Most virtue ethics theories take their inspiration from Aristotle who declared that a virtuous person is someone who has ideal character traits. These traits derive from natural internal tendencies, but need to be nurtured; however, once established, they will become stable. For example, a virtuous person is someone who is kind across many situations over a lifetime because that is her character and not because she wants to maximize utility or gain favors or simply do her duty. Unlike deontological and consequentialist theories, theories of virtue ethics do not aim primarily to identify universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. And virtue ethics theories deal with wider questions—“How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”

Comment: A good preliminary introduction to the concept of virtue ethics, including a useful taxonomy of different types of virtue ethics including care ethics and eudaimonism as distinguished from agent-based approaches, information which is occasionally omitted from other sources. It also provides some historical background on the modern development of virtue ethics. It would be valuable as a starting point for examining various issues in virtue ethics, and any of the sections could be assigned individually for an introduction to specific topics.

Battaly, Heather, and . Developing virtue and rehabilitating vice:Worries about self-cultivation and self-reform

2016, Journal of Moral Education, 45(2): 207-222.

Abstract: Aristotelian virtue theorists have emphasized the role of the self in developing virtue and in rehabilitating vice. But this article argues that, as Aristotelians, we have placed too much emphasis on self-cultivation and self-reform. Self-cultivation is not required for developing virtue or vice. Nor will sophia-inspired self-reform jumpstart change in the vicious person. In each case, the external environment has an important role to play. One can unwittingly acquire virtues or vices from one’s environment. Likewise, a well-designed environment may be the key ingredient for jumpstarting change in the vicious person. Self-cultivation and late-stage self-reform are not ruled out, but the role of the self in character development and rehabilitation is not as exalted as we might have thought.

Comment: This is an interesting article offering a new view on promoting virtue and avoiding vice. Battaly believes that self-cultivation is not a necessary component of virtue. While her view is against most of virtue theories offered in the past, it is well founded and likely to provoke controversy in class.

Hursthourse, Rosalind, and . On Virtue Ethics

2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and . Virtue Ethics

2009, E. N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy [electronic resource]

Introduction: Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism). Suppose it is obvious that someone in need should be helped. A utilitarian will point to the fact that the consequences of doing so will maximize well-being, a deontologist to the fact that, in doing so the agent will be acting in accordance with a moral rule such as “Do unto others as you would be done by” and a virtue ethicist to the fact that helping the person would be charitable or benevolent.
Three of virtue ethics’ central concepts, virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia are often misunderstood. Once they are distinguished from related but distinct concepts peculiar to modern philosophy, various objections to virtue ethics can be better assessed.

Comment: This text provides a good introduction to virtue ethics and an excellent bibliography of related and further readings.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and . Normative Virtue Ethics

1996, in Roger Crisp (ed.), How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues. Oxford University Press. 19-36.

Abstract: Shows that virtue ethics can specify right action and defends the view that the sort of practical guidance it provides accommodates several conditions of adequacy that any normative ethics should meet. It is argued that (1) it generates an account of moral education, (2) it incorporates the view that moral wisdom cannot simply be acquired from textbooks, and (3) it can resolve resolvable dilemmas or moral conflicts but is not committed in advance to there being no such things as irresolvable dilemmas.

Introduction: A common belief concerning virtue ethics is that it does not tell us what we should do. This belief is sometimes manifested merely in the expressed assumption that virtue ethics, in being ‘agent-centred’ rather than ‘act-centred’, is concerned with Being rather than Doing, with good (and bad) character rather than right (and wrong) action, with the question ‘What sort of person should I be?’ rather than the question ‘What should I do?’ On this assumption, ‘virtue ethics’ so-called does not figure as a normative rival to utilitarian and deontological ethics. Anyone who wants to espouse virtue ethics as a rival to deon­tological or utilitarian ethics will find this common belief voiced against her as an objection: ‘Virtue ethics does not, because it can­not, tell us what we should do. Hence it cannot be a normative rival to deontology and utilitarianism.’ This paper is devoted to defending virtue ethics against this objection.

Comment: This is an easy-to-understand, concise argument in favour of the viability of virtue ethics. It is a useful illustration of the practical application of Aristotelian moral theory and would aid students understanding of that type of view and its implications if assigned as a supplement. Easy to understand even for those relatively unfamiliar with the issues, it is suitable as part of a first introduction to virtue ethics for undergraduates.

Swanton, Christine, and . Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

2003, Clarendon Press.

Publisher’s Note: This book offers a comprehensive virtue ethics that breaks from the tradition of eudaimonistic virtue ethics. In developing a pluralistic view, it shows how different ‘modes of moral response’ such as love, respect, appreciation, and creativity are all central to the virtuous response and thereby to ethics. It offers virtue ethical accounts of the good life, objectivity, rightness, demandingness, and moral epistemology.

Comment: This book offers an interesting, distinctive form of virtue ethics. It would be valuable as a different perspective and an illustration of the different directions one can take virtue theory. Due to its complexity, it is best taught to graduate students or upper-level/honours undergraduates, who have already received a grounding in the fundamentals of virtue ethics.