Deontology Criticisms Too absolutist, inflexible, severe no exceptions to moral rules

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  • Doesn’t tell you what to do when two duties conflict

  • The consequences do seem to matter in extreme cases

Virtue Ethics

Defines ethics in terms of

  • the good person vs. the right act

  • the characteristics of an ideal individual

  • successful living

Virtue Ethics

  • Based on human nature

  • Goal of life = Eudaimonia (success)

  • Mistranslated “happiness”

  • means doing well what you were meant, designed to do.

  • Teleological system (based on purpose, function)

Virtue Ethics

  • Purpose or Function

  • What is a good X?

  • What is it supposed to do?

  • What is its characteristic activity or function?

  • What sets it apart from other things?

  • What characteristics allow it to perform its function well?

Virtue Ethics

Purpose in nature (teleology)

The purpose or function of

  • The eye: to see

  • The heart: to pump blood

  • A fin: to swim

  • Bacteria: to decompose

Virtue Ethics


  • Nutrition

  • Growth

Animals = plants plus…

  • Sensation

  • Locomotion

Humans = animals plus…


Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics

  • Goal of life = success, actualizing one’s natural potential

  • Humanity defined by reason

  • Success for humanity therefore defined by intellectual activity

Virtue Ethics

  • The ideal life = scholar, scientist, intellectual

  • This life best actualizes one’s potential as a rational animal

Virtue Ethics

  • Aristotle is a realist

  • Being an intellectual requires certain things

  • Friends to philosophize with

  • Not being hideously deformed

  • Wealth for food, servants, avoiding non-intellectual work (i.e. manual labor)

  • Avoiding serious illness or financial ruin (luck)

Virtue Ethics

  • Do natural things have purposes?

  • Can you discover their purposes by looking at what they do?

  • If human beings have purposes, must they be the same?

  • Is what humans do characteristically or best REASON?

Virtue Ethics

  • Virtue (arete): A Disposition of character which lead to success (eudaimonia)

  • Disposition: a tendency to act a particular way

Virtue Ethics

  • Virtue is a mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency.

  • Virtue is learned through good upbringing and practice as an adult

  • One learns courage through attempting to act courageously

  • No distinction between the good life in the natural and moral senses

Virtue Ethics

Virtue means doing something at the right time in the right amount.

Example virtues: Courage, Temperance, Honesty, Pride, Generosity


Virtue Ethics

  • Ethics empirically justified

  • No egoism/altruism dichotomy

  • What’s good for you is good for others

  • Aristotle understands the role of unquantifiable judgment

Virtue Ethics


  • Underlying teleology - purpose in nature?

  • Is there a virtue for every moral value?

  • Is Aristotle universalizing his bourgeois intellectual values or those of Greek culture?

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