Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics - Sam Black, PHIL 120 LECTURES ON VIRTUE...

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Sam Black, PHIL 120 LECTURES ON VIRTUE ETHICS Background on Virtue Ethics There is no agreed on definition of virtue ethics but only on part of what that view holds: i) Good character is central to ethics (what Mayo calls an ‘ethics of Being vs Doing’) ii) Moral pluralism: there is more than one valid moral principle (contrast Kant and Utilitarianism) iii) Uncodifiability: a person’s final duty – what their moral duty is all- things-considered – cannot be inferred from valid moral principles, but involves the exercise of judgment. (The opposite extreme is illustrated by a legal system that codifies rules about which acts are not permitted, and permits everything else. A legal system is not an ethical theory. Utilitarian and Kantian ethics provide examples of ethical theories where people can deduce what their duty is all- things-considered from a single principle.) These claims are assumed to be related as follows: (a) there is no alternative to relying on judgment because multiplicity of conflicting principles make it impossible to compute final duties using a formula that can be publicly scrutinized, (b) only people with good character will be able to reliably identify their moral duties. A.I: Mayo Illustration: Mayo – what ought I to do? i) Duty is connected to acting in ways characteristic of a person with good character (a virtuous person): “Instead of quoting a rule, we quote a quality of character, a virtue: we may say ‘Be brave,’ or ‘Be patient,’ or ‘Be lenient.’ We may even say ‘Be a man’: if I am in doubt, say, whether to take a risk, and someone says ‘Be a man,’ meaning a morally sound man, in this case a man of sufficient 1
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courage.’ (121) Mayo claims VE ‘gains a practical simplicity which offsets the greater logical simplicity of the ethics of principle’. (121) Expl: VE lacks ‘logical simplicity’ b/c a person’s final duties cannot be deduced from a single principle. VE has ‘practical simplicity’ b/c presumably all members of our society have a grasp of what’ involved in being ‘patient,’ ‘lenient,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘kind,’ ‘a man,’ etc. The def’n of right action according to VE: An action is right if that action would be chosen in a circumstance C by a virtuous person reflecting on what to do in C. Note, that this proposal is formal and empty until we know two things: i) What kind of character traits does a virtuous person possess? ii) What weight do they assign to different traits? ii) What kind of person should I be like?: Mayo -- ‘saints and heroes’ Mayo claims we should be guided by an ‘ideal-type of character’ which can be a fiction or an actual person representative of that ideal. These examples comprise ‘saints and heroes’ and include: Aristotle’s man of practical wisdom [if you can figure out who s/he is], ‘the American way of life,’ ‘Socrates,’ ‘Christ,’ ‘Buddha,’ ‘St. Francis,’ etc. (122).
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Virtue Ethics - Sam Black, PHIL 120 LECTURES ON VIRTUE...

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