Virtue Ethics — Aristotle

michael-crawford-aristotle-with-a-bust-of-homer-new-yorker-cartoon

At this point, you really need to listen to the Philosopher’s Song.. so — do it.. 

That song kept me focused in grad school — during exams.. weird, huh…

Anyway, about Aristotle — The whole Virtue Ethics thing seems pretty simple, huh?  Compared to Kant and Mill, it would seem that in order to be a good person, one should do as good people do..

Wait — huh?  Yea, that’s the problem.  In a way he’s saying be good by being good.  He sees the problem and thus, gives you a way to decide what’s good –that’s the stuff about the virtuous path being the mean between the extremes.  So, to figure out what “courage” means, you think of it in the context of things that are cowardly and things that are foolhardy.  Then you do the middle thing — if it’s being courageous, honest etc.

BUT — here’s the rub, for Aristotle it isn’t enough for you to display courage ONCE, but rather it needs to be your habit for action.  SO, in the George Zimmerman (the guy who shot a black kid who was “suspicious) helps a car crash victim situation, Zimmerman isn’t quite a virtuous person yet.. because he had one supposedly courageous action (the thing is, it turned out to be kind of a hoax.. ).  In fact, the whole incident with Trevon Martin a couple of years back seems to be ample evidence that he hasn’t been all that virtuous, nor has he tried to be.

So, a couple of challenges for virtue ethics — First, it’s incomplete, in that — in order to really understand and assess an action  you end up relying on other ways to see if something is really good or not.  You may end up looking at the consequences of the action, or – in the case of Zimmerman, the motive seems to intuitively tell us that arriving late on the scene of a car accident, one to which you were called by your police buddy, and more or less posing as a courageous person really isn’t the courageous thing to do — because your motives aren’t good.

The second problem with virtue ethics comes because people are non-virtuous on a regular basis… so, how do you decide when too much non-virtuous behavior is too much?  Someone could be rotten for a long time, lying, stealing, cheating etc.. but, then in the last 10 years of their life they become a right-acting person.  They’re trying to do the right thing and be virtuous… So, if you end strong, were you a virtuous person?  How about someone who is right-acting for most of their life and slips a bit at the end?  Were they not a virtuous person?

It’s all kind of fuzzy — and perhaps that’s ok.  In ancient philosophy that was often the case.  It also can’t hurt to TRY to be a good person all the time.  Even if  you end up using other theories in specific circumstances..

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Filed under Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Ethical Theory, Ethics, Medical Ethics

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