Virtue Ethics is one of the three approaches of normative ethics and is attributed to its founding fathers, Plato and Aristotle. Its emphasis is on a person’s individual character when it comes to ethical thinking as opposed to consequences and actions.
There are three central concepts of Virtue Ethics, namely: eudaimonism, ethics of care and agent-based theories. Eudaimonism can be referred to as happiness or having a good life which is said to be achievable by practicing the values of an individual in daily activities and in resolving conflicts while the ethics of care is based on a principle that when it comes to autonomy and justice, men uses masculinity and women, through caring.
Agent-based theories, on the other hand, are about virtues based on intuition that uses common sense. In this concept, character traits are kindness, compassion and benevolence. However, there are four cardinal virtues included in the traditional list. These are prudence, justice, fortitude or bravery and temperance. According to theologian James Keenan, justice makes it imperative for a man to treat others equally and impartially while bravery or fortitude makes it possible for a person to aim for self-care of protecting oneself.
Fidelity, on the other hand, requires an individual to care for other people close to him or her. Prudence makes a person practice justice, self-care and fidelity. Lastly, temperance is a virtue that gives a person self-restraint or the ability to do things in moderation, particularly when it comes to eating and drinking.
Coined during the 20th century, Virtue Ethics was revived by ethicists to bring about change from deontology and consequentialism. Here are the presented strengths and weaknesses of this approach:
Strengths of Virtue Ethics
1. Character Traits
Virtue Ethics deals with a person’s virtues and how he or she uses them in making the lives of other people better. If a person has virtues, he or she can act morally and will be able to treat others with respect, compassion and love. These virtues prompt a person to do good things to others because these are innate in him or her, as opposed to the theory of Kant where people are forced to do good deeds out of duty.
2. Better People
Virtues such as generosity, honesty, compassion, friendliness, assertiveness and the like are already present in people and should be practiced in everyday living. The theory of Virtue Ethics makes it possible for people to be better individuals and members of society who are willing to help other people, thinking of others first over personal interest. With these virtues, people become better persons.
3. Broad and Holistic
Having no particular criteria, Virtue Ethics encompasses different virtues which are important live in harmony with other people. It also does not attempt to worsen the complexity of things by categorizing what are moral acts or not nut instead had developed throughout the years. Also, as compared to other ethical theories which can be a threat to morality and are confusing, Virtue Ethics is a holistic approach that it considers the totality of a person, including the skills, character traits and emotions.
Another powerful attribute of Virtue Ethics is its centeredness or focus on the character of the moral agent and not concerned on consequence and duty or obligation. This also makes it flexible since it allows an individual to decide depending on his or her moral values and not just by simply following the law.
5. Sense of Community
Virtue Ethics motivates an individual to have high regard to personal relationships and encourage or motivates a person to be sensitive of others and take care of other people.
6. Preservation of Goodness
According to Tacitus, people can be easily corrupted with power and luxury which can impede liberty. Having said this, Virtue Ethics serves as a shield against polluting the minds of individuals and making them bad people. Instead, this approach makes it possible for an individual to preserve and make better the life he or she already has and enjoy it rather than dream of a life with luxury and power.
Weaknesses of Virtue Ethics
1. Without Focus
Critics of virtue ethics say that this theory lacks focus when it comes to determining the types of actions that are morally acceptable and permitted from the ones that should be avoided. Instead, it concentrates more on the qualities an individual has to enhance or improve in order to become a good person. Virtue theorists can consider murder as an immoral act which makes it unsuitable to be used as a moral act when it comes to legislation, say in court. It is also considered to be not action-guiding.
2. Nature of Virtues
Another weakness attributed to virtue ethics is the difficulty in determining the nature if virtues. This is due to the difference in opinions and perspectives of people who are inherently different from each other and came from diverse cultures and societies. These aspects lead to differences on what is morally right or wrong for people. Thus, it is hard to identify these virtues.
According to opponents of virtue ethics, it deals with a person’s own character when it is supposed to be how the actions of an individual affect other people. Other theory of ethics expects a person to think or regard other people instead of personal gain and interest.
Those who are not in favor of virtue ethics find this theory to be misguiding when it comes to educating or motivating people. This is because it leads people to rely on luck when it comes to attaining moral maturity. Also, this can result to people asking why others are luckier to have achieved moral maturity while there will be those who are not lucky enough even if this is not brought about by their own doings.
Since Virtue Ethics concentrate on only a limited number of virtues, it is not able to help the population but only an individual. This is one of the weaknesses seen by opponents, saying that this theory is not concentrating on the bigger picture.