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Virtue 2

  • The following summary of Virtue 2 is taken largely from Rosalind Hursthouse. While she extensively qualifies each of these theses in her own version of virtue ethics, these points comprise an excellent summary of Virtue 2 which starts with G.E.M. Anscombe's article, "Modern Moral Philosophy," and continues on into the present. Hursthouse presents this characterization of Virtue 2 in her book, On Virtue Ethics (2001) U.K.: Oxford University Press: 17.
  • Virtue 2 is agent centered. Contrary to deontology and utilitarianism which focus on whether actions are good or right, V2 is agent centered in that it sees the action as an expression of the goodness or badness of the agent. Utilitarianism focuses on actions which bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number; deontology seeks those actions that respect the autonomy of individuals and carry out moral obligations, especially duties. These theories emphasize doing what is good or right. Virtue 2, on the other hand, focuses on the agent's becoming or being good.
  • Can Virtue 2 tell us how to act? Because V2 is agent-centered, critics claim that it cannot provide insight into how to act in a given situation. All it can say is, "Act the way a moral exemplar would act." But what moral standards do moral exemplars use or embody in their actions? And what moral standards do we use to pick out the moral exemplars themselves? Hursthouse acknowledges that this criticism hits home. However, she points out that the moral standards come from the moral concepts that we apply to moral exemplars; they are individuals who act courageously , exercise justice , and realize honesty . The moral concepts "courage," "justice," and "honesty" all have independent content that helps guide us. She also calls this criticism unfair: while virtue 2 may not provide any more guidance than deontology or utilitarianism, it doesn't provide any less. Virtue 2 may not provide perfect guidance, but what it does provide is favorably comparable to what utilitarianism and deontology provide.
  • Virtue 2 replaces Deontic concepts (right, duty, obligation) with Aretaic concepts (good, virtue) . This greatly changes the scope of ethics. Deontic concepts serve to establish our minimum obligations. On the other hand, aretaic concepts bring the pursuit of excellence within the purview of ethics. Virtue ethics produces a change in our moral language that makes the pursuit of excellence an essential part of moral inquiry.
  • Finally, there is a somewhat different account of virtue 2 (call it virtue 2a) that can be attributed to Alisdair MacIntyre. This version "historicizes" the virtues, that is, looks at how our concepts of key virtues have changed over time. (MacIntyre argues that the concept of justice, for example, varies greatly depending on whether one views justice in Homeric Greece, Aristotle's Greece, or Medieval Europe.) Because he argues that skills and actions are considered virtuous only in relation to a particular historical and community context, he redefines virtues as those skill sets necessary to realize the goods or values around which social practices are built and maintained. This notion fits in well with professional ethics because virtues can be derived from the habits, attitudes, and skills needed to maintain the cardinal ideals of the profession.

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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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