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Virtue tables

The table just below provides a format for spellingout individual virtues through (1) a general description, (2) the correlative vices of excess and defect, (3) the skills and mentalstates that accompany and support it, and (4) real and fictional individuals who embody it. Following the table are hints on how toidentify and characterize virtues. We start with the virtue of integrity:

Virtue Description Excess Defect Obstacles to realizing the virtue in professional practices Moral Exemplar
Integrity A meta-virtue in which the holder exhibits unity of character manifested in holding together even in the face of strong disruptive pressures or temptations Excess: Rigidity--sticking to one´s guns even when one is obviously wrong(2,3) Defect: Wantonness. A condition where one exhibits no stability or consistency in character Individual corruption: Individuals can be tempted by greed toward the vice of defect. Lack of moral courage can also move one to both extremes Saint Thomas More as portrayed in Robert Bolt´s A Man for All Seasons. More refuses to take an oath that goes against the core beliefs in terms of which he defines himself.
Institutional Corruption: One may work in an organization where corruption is the norm. This generates dilemmas like following an illegal order or getting fired.

Exercise 1: construct virtue tables for professional virtues

  1. Discuss in your group why the virtue you have been assigned is important for the practice of your profession. What goods or values does the consistent employment of this virtue produce?
  2. Use the discussion in #1 to develop a general description of your virtue. Think along the following lines: people who have virtue X tend to exhibit certain characteristics (or do certain things) in certain kinds of situations. Try to think of these situations in terms of what is common and important to your profession or practice.
  3. Identify the corresponding vices. What characterizes the points of excess and defect between which your virtue as the mean lies?
  4. What obstacles arise that prevent professionals from practicing your virtue? Do well-meaning professionals lack power or technical skill? Can virtues interfere with the realization of non-moral values like financial values? See if you can think of a supporting scenario or case here.
  5. Identify a moral exemplar for your virtue. Make use of the exemplars described in the Moral Exemplars in Business and Professional Ethics module.
  6. Go back to task #2. Redefine your description of your virtue in light of the subsequent tasks, especially the moral exemplar you identified. Check for coherence.
  7. Finally, does your virtue stand alone or does it need support from other virtues or skills? For example, integrity might also require moral courage.

Exercise 2: reflect on these concluding issues

  • Did you have trouble identifying a moral exemplar? Many turn to popular figures for their moral exemplars.Movies and fiction also offer powerful models. Why do you think that it is hard to find moral exemplars in your profession? Is itbecause your profession is a den of corruption? (Probably not.) Do we focus more on villains than on heroes? Why or why not?
  • What did you think about the moral leaders portrayed in the Moral Exemplars in Business and Professional Ethics module?
  • Did you have trouble identifying both vices, i.e., vices of excess and defect? If so, do you think this because some virtues may not have vices of excess and defect? What do you think about Aristotle's doctrine of the mean?
  • Did you notice that the virtue profiles given by your group and the other groups in the class overlapped? Is this a problem for virtue theory? Why do our conceptions of the key moral values and virtues overlap?
  • Did you find the virtues difficult to apply? What do you think about the utilitarian and deontological criticism of virtue ethics, namely, that it cannot provide us with guidelines on how to act in difficult situations? Should ethical theories emphasize the act or the person? Or both?
  • The most tenacious obstacle to working with virtue ethics is to change focus from the morally minimal to themorally exemplary. “Virtue” is the translation of the Greek word, arête. But “excellence” is, perhaps, a better word. Understandingvirtue ethics requires seeing that virtue is concerned with the exemplary, not the barely passable. (Again, looking at moralexemplars helps.) Arête transforms our understanding of common moral values like justice and responsibility by moving fromminimally acceptable to exemplary models.

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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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