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This module provides activities that allow students to develop insights into the ethical approach commonly called virtue ethics. A previous module on moral exemplars has helped students to reflect on the characteristics and skills that make up individuals who consistently act for the good. This module builds on these insights and helps students identify and develop profiles for virtues pertinent to the occupational and professional domains. Students are provided with background information on virtue theory with emphasis on Aristotle's classical formulation and MacIntyre's recent attempt to see virtues as skills and traits cultivated to realize goods internal to a practice. In its original form, this module assigns virtues to small groups of 3 to 5 students. Students use a table format to "flesh out" their assigned virtue. Each group provides the others with copies of its virtue table. The result from students debriefing on their virtues and exchanging their virtue tables is a small virtue handbook that can be employed in subsequent decision-making exercises. This module is being developed as a part of an NSF-funded project, "Collaborative Development of Ethics Across the Curriculum Resources and Sharing of Best Practices," NSF SES 0551779.

Based on material presented by Chuck Huff (St. Olaf College) and William Frey at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics in 2005 at San Antonio, TX. Preliminary versions were distributed during this presentation.

Module introduction

This module uses materials being prepared for Good Computing: A Virtue Approach to Computer Ethics, to set up anexercise in which you will identify and spell out virtues relevant to your professional discipline. After identifying thesevirtues, you will work to contextualize them in everyday practice. Emphasis will be placed on the Aristotelian approach to virtues which describes a virtue as the disposition toward the mean located between the extremes of excess and defect. You will also be asked to identify common obstacles that preventprofessionals from realizing a given virtue and moral exemplars who demonstrate consistent success in realizing these virtues and responding to obstacles that stand in the way of their realization. In a variation on this module you could be asked to compare the virtues you have identified for your profession with virtues that belong to other moral ecologies such as those of the Homeric warrier.

Three versions of virtue ethics: virtue 1, virtue 2, and virtue 3

Virtue ethics has gone through three historical versions. The first, Virtue 1, was set forth by Aristotle in ancient Greece. While tied closely to practices in ancient Greece that no longer exist today, Aristotle's version still has a lot to say to us in this day and age. In the second half of the twentieth century, British philosophical ethicists put forth a related but different theory of virtue ethics (virtue 2) as an alternative to the dominant ethical theories of utilitarianism and deontology. Virtue 2 promised a new foundation of ethics consistent with work going on at that time in the philosophy of mind. Proponents felt that turning from the action to the agent promised to free ethical theory from the intractable debate between utilitarianism and deontology and offered a way to expand scope and relevance of ethics. Virtue 3 reconnects with Aristotle and virtue 1 even though it drops the doctrine of the mean and Aristotle's emphasis on character. Using recent advances in moral psychology and moral pedagogy, it seeks to rework key Aristotelian concepts in modern terms. In the following, we will provide short characterizations of each of these three versions of virtue ethics.

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Source:  OpenStax, Modules linking to computing cases. OpenStax CNX. Jul 26, 2007 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col10423/1.2
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