Lecture 3: Virtue Ethics & Introduction to Natural Law Theory. Basic Framework of Virtue Ethics:. Premise 1: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.
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Premise 1: An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.
Premise 1a: A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, i.e., one who has and exercises the virtues.
Premise 2: A virtue is a character trait a human being needs to flourish or live well.
Rather than focusing on what we ought to do, Virtue ethics offers a distinctive approach whereby we focus on human character asking the question, “What should I be?” Thus, ethical life involves envisioning ideals for human life and embodying those ideals in one’s life. Virtues are ways in which we embody those ideals.
Virtue is an excellence of some sort. Originally the word meant “strength” and referred to as “manliness.” In Aristotle’s ethics (arete) is used which is trans. as “excellences of various types.”
Aristotle says there are 2 types of virtue: intellectual virtues:
excellences of the mind (e.g., ability to understand, reason, & judge well);
moral virtues: learned by repetition (e.g., practicing honesty we become honest. To be virtuous requires knowledge, practice, & consistent effort at character building.
To be virtuous we must understand what contributes to our overall good & have our desire (appetitive; workers), spirit (warriors), & reason (ruler-guardians) educated properly so they will aggregate with the guidance provided by the rational part of the soul (Books 2 & 3 of Republic). When these 3 parts of the soul conflict with each other, it might move us to act in ways that go against the greater good (become incontinent).
Socrates: Virtue is Knowledge. No one intentionally pursues what is wrong;. Ignorance and forgetfulness are at fault when one does.
Plato (c. 427-347) is concerned with the quality of a person’s inner state & he prized beauty, health, harmony, & strength of a soul as the virtues we should emulate. We must have a well-ordered soul whereby our appetites (temperance), emotions (courage), and reason (wisdom) operate in their respective roles. When reason governs, justice manifests itself from out of the well-ordered person.
Aristotle (384-322): The function of man is reason (the good of the thing is when it performs its function well) which is peculiar to him. Thus, the function of man is reason and the life that is distinctive of humans is the life in accordance with reason. If the function of man is reason, then the good man is the man who reasons well This is the life of excellence (eudaimonia; human flourishing & well-being).
Aristotle: “Must have knowledge, second he must choose the acts and choose them for their own sakes, & finally his actions must proceed from a firm character” (1105a).
Plato believed our natural desires are greedy and depraved. Thus, they must
be held in tight check by the powers of reason. He compared the human soul to
a city-state made up of ruler-guardians, guardians, and the peasants/artisans.
Every reality is an archetype of a corresponding eternal form. The goal of life is to
actualize one’s true nature together with one’s many innate potentialities.
So long as the individual is governed by the power of reason, and reason is assisted by courage and will power (guardians), the unruly desires can be suppressed.
4 primary integrated virtues: Wisdom: corresponds to reason; courage: corresponds to the will: temperance, corresponds to desire: justice: links individual to society.
If reason for a moment lets down its guard, then the desires will exert their power, seize control, and lead the person to corruption and immorality.
The highest good is the well-ordered whole to which each part contributes according to its own capacity. A thing in reality is good insofar as it participates in & corresponds to the form of the good (which is the high point of the forms).
Plato views social justice exactly parallels his notion of individual justice. There are three parts of the soul and three corresponding divisions in the social order. The social order is constructed as follows:
Though we are naturally suited to moral goodness, we don’t automatically develop such inclinations
Your habits & inclinations develop with practice; what you sow is what you reap.
Carefully cultivate moral goodness by rigorous practice.
Ideal of virtue is doing the right thing because you want to do the right thing: you desire to act virtuously.
In order to desire to act virtuously you must carefully and consistently practice doing right until it becomes habitual & natural.
If you act selfishly then you will become a selfish person. Eventually what feels right to you may be very wrong.
With practice & diligence you can develop the habits & inclinations of a virtuous person.
Thus, choose to be virtuous. Desire + judgment must agree.
Virtue Ethics emphasizes the development of character as its central theme rather than trying to define 'goodness' or 'rightness'. It is a eudaimonistic theory as it holds 'happiness' to be our highest goal. According to Aristotle, we attain happiness by cultivating both intellectual and moral virtue. We become virtuous by habit: we deliberately and consistently choose the mean between excess and deficiency until it becomes second-nature.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
~ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
On Becoming Agathos & EudaimonFrom Aristotle’s Point of View:Cited from Michael Boylan, Basic Ethics (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000), 52.
Step 1:Master the functional requirements within a given type of task or behavior.
Step 2:Possess the habitual mastery of the functional requirements to an appropriate degree.
Step 3:Steps 1 & 2: excellence in that task or behavior.
Step 4:Possess habitual excellence in a number of key tasks or behavior.
Step 5:Possess habitual excellence in those tasks or behavior that the common opinion judges to be the most worthy.
Step 6:Steps 4 & 5 leads to agathos.
Step 7:Possessing Agathos leads to eudaimon.
Thus, on balance, excellent traits in human character generally produce excellent actions.
What is a virtue?
A virtue is a habit of excellence, a beneficial tendency, a skilled disposition that enables a person to realize the crucial potentialities that constitute proper human flourishing (eudaimonia).
What is a habit? A disposition to think, feel, desire, and act in a certain way without having a tendency to consciously will to do so.
What is a character: The sum-total of one’s habits, tendencies, and well-being.
Four cardinal virtues: temperance, courage, prudence, and justice. Piety (reverence to the gods) is sometimes considered a fifth virtue.
A.Virtue (arete): A habit of excellence, a beneficial tendency, a skilled disposition that enables a person to realize the crucial potentialities that constitute proper human flourishing.
C. Eudaimonia (Human Flourishing; Successful Living):
C.Phronesis (practical wisdom): How?
A Character Trait is a Virtue IFF it is conducive to eudaimonia: The Golden Mean:
Virtue Excess Deficiency Sphere
MagnificenceVulgarityPenny pinchingGreat wealth
PrideVanityHumilityHonor & self-respect
Right AmbitionOverly ambitiousLack of ambitionHonor
Good temperNo emotionQuick-temperInsult
Righteous SpiteEnvyFortune of others
MODERATION IN ALL THINGS IS PARAMOUNT!
In the virtuous person, desire and judgment agree whereby the choices and actions will be free of the conflict and pain that inevitably accompany those who are akratic and/or enkratic:
The enkratic is the morally strong person who shares the akratic agent’s desire to do other than what he knows ought to be done, but acts in accordance with his better judgment.
The akratic is the morally weak person who desires to do other than what he knows ought to be done and acts on this desire against his better judgment.
In neither kind of choice are desire and judgment in harmony. In the virtuous desire and judgment agree.
The fully virtuous do what they should without a struggle against contrary desire; possess practical wisdom (phronesis) which is the knowledge or understanding that enables its possessor to do just that in any given situation. Most contend that phronesis comes out of at least three sources:
1.Comes only with the experience of life. The virtuous are mindful of the consequences of possible actions. How could they fail to be reckless, thoughtless and short-sighted if they were not? Moreover, they have developed the capacity to recognize some features of a situation as more important than others, or indeed, in that situation, as the only relevant ones. The wise do not see things in the same way as the nice adolescents who, with their imperfect virtues, still tend to see the personally disadvantageous nature of a certain action as competing in importance with its honesty or benevolence or justice.
2.They mimic, follow the virtuous person.
* We might add that it also takes a certain set of external goods (e.g., right background, right education, right financial resources, right community, etc).
1.Given to us by God;
2.Is required by Natural Law (theistic connection);
B.Secular (though can still be connected to God):
1.Is laid on us by reason.
2.Is required by rationality;
3.Would command universal acceptance;
4.Would be the object of choice of all rational beings.
In sum, we should choose actions based on their inherent, intrinsic worth; evangelical approaches to ethics are deontological because it presupposes Scripture as revelation.
“Deontological” comes from the Greek word “deon”, meaning that which is binding, in particular a binding duty. So, you are bound to your duty.
For example, a deontologist might argue that a promise ought to be kept simply because it is right to keep a promise, regardless whether the doing so will have good or bad consequences.
In contrast, a utilitarian will argue that we should keep our promises only when keeping them results in better consequences than the alternatives.
It holds that acts are right or wrong in and of themselves because of the kinds of acts they are and not simply because of their ends or consequences.
- The ends do not justify the means.
- A good end or purpose does not justify a bad actions.
- You are duty-bound; binding is not dependent on consequences, no matter if it is painful or pleasurable.
1.You are duty-bound to keep your promise to be faithful to your spouse, even if a more attractive person comes along.
2.You are duty-bound to always telling the truth, even if it cost you a job.
Duty is not based on what is pleasant or beneficial, but rather upon the obligation itself.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
~ Galileo Galilei.
1.It is moral law presumed to be grounded in nature itself. A natural law is a norm for ethical behavior that is deemed binding on all humans because it coheres with the human essence or with the structure of the universe (grounded in nature itself), perhaps because it was legislated by God.
2.Insofar as natural law can be known by reason alone, without special revelation, they provide guidance for all humans, and when followed they enhance the common good, but also render each person morally responsible to a divine judge.
3. The idea initially arose among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, esp. promoted by Judaism and Stoics. But it came to the foreground in the Christian tradition as thinkers drew from both philosophy and the Bible to devise a theory of morality and politics that could be understood to be universally applicable.
Natural Rights: Entitlements with which humans are endowed by nature or by virtue of their status as being human.