virtue ethics

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The theory of ethics that takes the notion of virtue as primary, rather than a view either of the ‘good’, for the sake of which we act, or of duty, law or reason thought of as providing rules of action. Virtue ethics is typically modelled on the work of Aristotle (especially the Nicomachean Ethics), although other virtues than those that he recognized may be introduced. At a superficial level virtue ethics may establish more or less peaceful relationships with the ethics of Hume, Kant, the Thomist and the utilitarian traditions. But the basic theoretical difference remains that for these thinkers virtues are derivative, prized for ends they serve or duties they enable us to perform. So, for Hume for example, virtues are qualities of mind useful or agreeable to their possessor or others around him. For virtue ethics the direction of explanation must be reversed, with virtue providing the concept with which to elucidate happiness, usefulness, duty, and practical reason. This actually makes Aristotle, for whom the concept of eudaimonia is fundamental, only an impure predecessor of virtue ethics. The main problem for the approach is to account for how the virtuous agent thinks, as courses of action are contemplated, without admitting that it will be in terms of duties, or consequences, which thereby regain a certain priority.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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