An Introduction to Virtue Ethics William J. Frey College of Business Administration UPRM
Why Study Virtue? • It provides new insights into moral education • Approach moral learning as a skill • Involves the whole self: attitudes, knowledge, skill, emotion • It reorients moral theory toward excellence • Utilitarianism and Deontology tend to focus on the moral minimum—what is the least we should be doing • Virtue ethics focuses on different kinds of excellences • It reorients moral thought from the actions we perform to ourselves as agents • Not, is this action right or wrong, good or bad but… • Can this action be integrated into the moral career of a good, virtuous, person?
But Virtue Ethics Requires Rethinking Basic Ideas • In what follows, we will rework basic concepts associated with action around virtue or excellence: • Eudaimonia (Happiness) • Arete (Virtue or Excellence) • Mean between extremes of excess and defect • Ethos (Character) • Aisthesis of the Phronimos (Perception of the wise or good human) • Bouleusis (Deliberation) • Akrasia ( Incontinence or Weakness of Will) • Logos (Reasoning)
Virtue vs. Other Approaches • Do the results justify the action? • Which act produces the most benefits and the least harms? • What duties pertain to this situation? • Who are the stakeholders and what are their rights? • If things go bad, who is to blame? • Robert Solomon sets forth these questions in Ethics And Excellence • Does the action focus on the good of the community? • Does it promote excellence in our and others’ work? • Does it square with the requirements of my role in the community? • Does it reflect integrity on my part? • Have I exercised careful judgment in perceiving the problem? • Does it tend to isolate one aspect of myself from others?
Happiness • Utilitarians formulate happiness hedonistically as many pleasure states combined with few pain states • Deontologists remove happiness from consideration in moral deliberation. • Happiness, for Aristotle, • A life spent fulfilling the intellectual and moral virtues. • Virtues are auto-telic, that is, they contain their own ends. • By carrying out the moral and intellectual virtues for a lifetime, we realize ourselves as human beings. • Happiness is a whole state of the person involving thought, perception, habit, and emotion
Excellence • Arete is the Greek word translated into virtue. But it really conveys excellence. • The happy life is the one devoted to moral and intellectual excellence • Do we really understand excellence in business? • Fuerstein—Manager of Maldin Mills who rebuilt plant after a fire rather than moving it oversees • Arete = Life devoted to excellence • Cultivation of knowledge, skill, habits, perceptual modes, and emotions that consistently hit upon excellence. • Focus is on one’s deeds throughout life—a career of excellence
Aristotle on Excellence • Arete does not always entail heroic sacrifice or super-human accomplishment • Aristotle characterizes arete as a settled disposition to choose the mean between the extremes of excess and defect, all relative to person and situation. • Courage (the virtue) is the mean between the extremes of… • Rashness (excess: too much courage) and… • Cowardess (defect: too little courage)
Character • Ethos translates as character which is the seat of the virtues. • Character manifests itself through the actions it gives rise to. • Publicity Test: Character is manifested through its actions. • Cowardly actions reveal a cowardly character • Responsible actions reveal a responsible character • Moral education becomes organized around building character around these excellences: courage, responsibility, reasonableness, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness • Moral Exemplar Test: • What would moral exemplar X (a person of good character) do?
Moral Exemplars Reveal Virtues • Aisthesis of the Phronimos or perception of the wise, moral person • Practice and experience crucial to Aristotle’s virtue theory. • One becomes good by first doing good deeds. • Moral development requires guided practice • Practice develops a cluster of capacities in perception, thought, habit, and emotion that integrate to produce moral action
Skillful action, not deliberation • Bouleusis translates as "deliberation." • But moral skill does not deploy extensive deliberation • (careful, exhaustive thinking about reasons, actions, principles, concepts, etc.) • Virtuous individuals, for Aristotle, are surprisingly unreflective. • They act virtuously without thought because it has become second nature to them.
Moral Motivation • Akrasia = weakness of will. • For Aristotle, knowing virtue does not entail doing what it demands. • There are those who are unable to translate knowledge into resolution and then into action. • Aristotle emphasis the cultivation of proper emotions to motivate virtuous action. • Later ethicists such as Kant oppose emotion and right action by means of an intellectual approach to morality
Logos is Reason Plus • Ethicists treat reason as the ability to bracket and set aside perception and emotion and apply theory • Kant’s problem of how reason can enter into the will and become a motive to duty • For Aristotle, reason is much fuller. It is compatible with emotion and can inform and shape emotion and perception so that these motivate and assist moral action • Verified by moral exemplar studies. Exemplars talk more of doing what is required, of community support, of helpful mentors. Their careers show obstacles but little agonizing over moral dilemmas.
Virtue 2 • MacIntyre, a modern theorist, brings out the communitarianism in Aristotle • “A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tend to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods. • So…what is a practice?
Practice • Participants • Formed of individuals whose activities, attitudes, and goals are integrated, shared, or overlap in significant ways • Rules and Procedures • Participants occupy roles which outline tasks and procedures. Roles in a practice are coordinated so that they combine to bring about complex ends beyond the capabilities of isolated individuals • Boundaries • Boundaries such as disciplinary and theoretical principles surround practices and serve to distinguish one from the other • External Goals • Engineering serves public wellbeing. Medicine health. Law justice. Business commerce. • Internal Goals • Engineering has the internal goals of faithful agency (to client), collegiality (to peers), and loyalty (to the profession or practice itself)
A fuller version of this activity • Outline the constituents of business and engineering as practices • Who are their participants (corporations in business?), roles and procedures, boundaries, external goals, and internal goals. • Working with external and internal goals, describe those “settled dispositions” of action that consistently bring about these goods. • These constitute the virtues or excellences of the profession or practice
Moral Exemplars • Individuals who exhibit a lifetime achievement of moral and professional excellence • Are all moral exemplars leaders? Charismatic leaders? • Huff identifies two kinds of moral exemplars
Craftspersons vs. Reformers Not a true type system, but a useful tool for illuminating the way they navigated their careers. • Craftspersons • User/Customer focused • Drew on values inherent in computing industry • Reformers • System focused • Attempting to change values of computing industry For a March 17, 2005 talk at Notre Dame CSE
Craftspersons • Focused on users or customers • Viewed users/customers as having a need • Took the role of providers of service/product • Viewed barriers as inert obstacles, puzzles to be solved • Believed they were effective in their role • Were most positive in emotional tone • Were designing computing technology towards ethical ends For a March 17, 2005 talk at Notre Dame CSE
Reformers • Focused on the social system. • Took the role of moral crusader. • Viewed individuals as victims of injustice. • Viewed barriers as active opposition. • Believed in the necessity of systemic reform. • Were most negative in emotional tone. For a March 17, 2005 talk at Notre Dame CSE
Making Virtue Tables • Why is 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? • 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. • Identify the corresponding vices of excess and defect • Identify the obstacles arise that prevent professionals from practicing your virtue? • Do well-meaning professionals lack power or technical skill? • Identify a moral exemplar for your virtue. Make use of the exemplars described in the Moral Exemplars in Business and Professional Ethics module. • Go back to task #2. Redefine your description of your obstacles and moral exemplar • Does your virtue stand alone or does it need support from other virtues or skills? For example, integrity might also require moral courage.
Exercise Two in Module • Think about the questions raised in this section as you debrief on your virtues • Thanks to Chuck Huff for slides from presentation on Good Computing: Skill, Excellence, & Virtue in Software Design delivered March 17, 2005 at Notre Dame CSE. • Robert Solomon, Ethics and Excellence, Oxford University Press. • See Hursthouse, Crisp, MacIntyre, and other virtue references in this module.