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Virtue Ethics

Philosophy Standard Level Presentation

George Burns

on 3 September 2013

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Transcript of Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics holds its Western origins in Platonic philosophy under the Greek Philosopher Plato. However Virtue Ethics was further evolved in Aristotle's time,

Virtue Ethics consists of three ideas, arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom) and eudaimonia (flourishing).
Virtue Ethics Origins:
Virtue Ethics originated in Chinese philosophy, the main idea being that ethics is based off of one's character and virtues.

It is one of the three main Normative Ethical approaches; in contrast to Deontological Ethics and Consequentialist Ethics.

Though the origins of Virtue Ethics are in the East, it was mostly developed in the West.
Virtue Ethics was the prevalent ethical theory during ancient and medieval ages.

However it fell out of favour during the early modern periods such as the Rationalist Age and the Enlightenment Age when Aristotelianism declined.

It was replaced by the other two opposing ethical Normative Ethics: Deontological and Consequentialist.

It must be noted that Virtue Ethics is NOT in opposition to the other two Normative Ethics.
Is defined in its essence as being excellence of any kind. It specifically refers to the idea of fulfilling a purpose or function.

Basically it means 'being the best you can be'

This does raise questions however as to if it is in terms of functions or purpose, what is our purpose or function to fulfill to the best we can.
Phronesis means wisdom or intelligence, a more accurate translation though would be 'practical wisdom'.

Ultimately this is the idea of gaining experience through life so as to know how to act in/at a certain place/time.

An example would be honesty, if you know you should be honest because that fulfills our arete, however being honest all the time would cause problems by being too blunt, therefore your phronesis of the situation tells you when to be honest or not.
Often translated as meaning happiness or welfare, however more likely to mean 'Human Flourishing'.

Eudaimonia is what is achieved by following arete and by extention phrosis. By being virtuous and having practical wisdom you will achieve eudaimonia.

There are many views of what eudaimonia is dating back to Socrates, however Aristotle classified it as good character and rational activity. With a particular focus on action and reason.
Though it declined in the west, confucianism was arguably a version of Virtue Ethics utilised by the dynastys and combined with Taoism and Buddhism.

However while Greek Virtue Ethics focused on individual virtue, and belief about 'being the best you can be' confucianism focuses on the idea of fulfilling a role to the best degree.
Normative Ethics
Kantian Ethics is a deontological ethical theory created by Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Holds a similar idea to that of Virtue Ethics, however focuses on Duty not Virtue.

A key difference would be that Deontological and Consequentialist Ethics focus on 'what makes an action right?'. While Virtue Ethics focuses on 'what sort of character would the virtuous person have?'. Therefore as stated before they aren't necessarily contradictory.

A good example would be; Deontologists might argue that 'lying is always wrong' and Consequentialists might argue that 'lying is wrong if it causes x phenomena' but a Virtue Ethicist would debate 'what does the decision to tell or not tell a lie say about our moral character and behaviour'.
Virtue Ethics in the 'New World'
Virtue Ethics declined over the years post Aristotle. However it has reemerged, however it is very different to how Plato or Aristotle would have viewed Virtue.

Plato and Aristotle's view of Virtue would have differed as well, with Plato seeing it as an end to achieve, while Aristotle seeing it as a 'safeguard' human relations.

In modern day, Virtue Ethics is applicable to a large number of fields; Social Ethics, Political Ethics and Philosophy of Education.

Ultimately though it is the search for the definition of a 'virtuous' person.
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