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Virtue ethics. PHI 2630. The “Big T hree”. Normative Ethical Theories. Ethics of Right Action (what to do ). Ethics of Character (how to be ). Results-Focused. Rule/Duty-Focused. Character-Focused. Rule Consequentialism. Kantian Deontology. Virtue Ethics. Act Consequentialism.

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Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics

PHI 2630

The “Big Three”

Normative Ethical Theories

Ethics of Right Action (what to do)

Ethics of Character (how to be)




Rule Consequentialism

Kantian Deontology

Virtue Ethics

Act Consequentialism

Action focus vs character focus
Action-Focus vs. Character-Focus

  • Action-focused theories (consequentialism and deontology) start with the question “what should I do?”

  • The answer to that question determines the answer to the follow-up question “how should I be?”

  • Character-focused theories (virtue ethics) start with the question “how should I be?”

  • The answer to that question determines the answer to the follow-up question “what should I do?”

Virtue ethics and right action
Virtue Ethics and Right Action

An act is morally right just because it is one that a virtuous person, acting in character, would do in that situation.






  • The right thing to do is what the virtuous person would do. (But who is the virtuous person?)

  • The virtuous person is the one who consistently does the right thing. (But what is the right thing to do?)

  • The right thing to do is what the virtuous person would do. (But who is the virtuous person?)

  • The virtuous person is…






Is there something else that determines who is a virtuous person, other than the fact that he or she consistently performs right actions?


What’s a good widget like?


  • A good bear sleeps well (hibernation is an important part of being a bear)

  • A good lion hunts well (because hunting prey is an important part of being a lion)

  • A good shark swims fast (because swimming is an important part of being a shark)

  • A good person…?


What makes some thing good depends on what sort of thing it is.

So, in order to determine what it means to be a good human being, we need some understanding of human nature.



Human Nature





Human Nature



Human nature and virtue
Human Nature and Virtue

Humans are rational, empathetic, social, curious, cooperative, etc.

A virtuous person exercises rationality well, is bothered when others suffer, cooperates socially with other humans, is an avid reader, etc.

Human Nature



Virtue and right action
Virtue and Right Action

Once we have a rich picture of the virtuous person, we are better equipped to figure out what he or she would do in a given situation.

Accurate reflection of human moral experience?

Virtuous Person

Right Action

Beyond right action
Beyond Right Action

Action-focused ethics misses much of our moral experience.

Beyond right action1
Beyond Right Action

  • We don’t just want to DO good, we want to BE good

  • Acting WELL vs. acting RIGHTLY

  • Emotions

  • Motivations

  • Habits/consistency

  • Wisdom

Components of virtue
Components of Virtue

1. Habits

  • Consistent and reliable

  • Developed over time (not over night)

  • Strongly entrenched

Components of virtue1
Components of Virtue

2. Emotions

  • Your emotions guide you in the right direction

    • Human suffering tugs at your heart and compels you to take action

    • You celebrate the achievements of loved ones

  • But you have them under control

    • Anger management

    • Impulse control

Components of virtue2
Components of Virtue

3. Natural inclination to act well

  • Virtuous behavior is an expression of your deep desires and values

  • No need to battle against contrary inclinations

  • Virtue > Self-Control

Components of virtue3
Components of Virtue

4. Practical Wisdom

  • The ability to reason well about complicated problems in the real complex world

  • More than book smarts, calculation skills, or IQ

  • Requires life experience

  • Children cannot be fullyvirtuous