Virtue ethics stresses the character of the individual, rather than the consequences or ethical rules that are emphasized by consequentialism and deontology. These three differing views on ethics all tend to focus on the approach of the dilemma rather than the conclusion.
When evaluating the morality of cheating, a consequentialist argues that cheating is wrong because negative outcomes are inevitable and a deontologist would argue against cheating because it is one of the moral rules that is recognized as “just plain wrong” regardless of the situations produced from it.
Meanwhile, a virtue ethicist emphasizes not whether it is right or wrong to cheat, but instead determines the moral behavior of one’s consideration. It is debated between these three theories of ethics as to which one is most morally sound and the character that creates the most ethical being. It would be hasty to say that a moral character is the most ethical way of life once evaluating eudaimonia (happiness), as there are many advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered.
The good life is the eudaimon life, a life where a person lives in happiness through means of all characteristics. The advantages of ethical behavior are happiness and praise by all others. Aristotle states that people who are praised by others possess certain virtues which can be identified as the mean of two extremes (or vices).
For example, if courage is a mean, then the deficiency vice would be cowardness and the excess vice would be foolhardiness. However, it is more dependent on how naturally this mean comes to a person, rather than the individual having to be fake in a sense to gain praise. However, some of our natural characters may be beyond control, such as illness and poverty, which contributes to an individual’s overall character.
The advantage of being a virtue ethicist is that it does not ask what one should do, but rather how one should live. This is where another means of ethics would fail, deontology in particular. Virtue ethics would say it is acceptable to steal from a cheating, selfish rich man to help save the lives of many families struggling in poverty, while deontology says stealing is unacceptable at any level. The second advantage of virtue ethics is the emotional aspect it revolves around.
Essentially, it is more realistic than other ethical systems. Someone’s initiative to act or not act because of their emotions may potentially make them less admirable than someone who acts naturally with virtue ethics, which is, acting after evaluating the situation instead of just doing it. An example would be a parent helping their child with their homework not because they feel they have to, but enjoy helping and watching their child learn and grow.
The problem with virtue ethics is that it does not directly indicate which actions are virtuous. What may seem virtuous to one person may not be to the next. Everyone has their own idea of virtue in any situation once it is assessed, and even if they act with good intentions, it may not bring out the best in the situation.
Considering the advantages and disadvantages of virtue ethics, it seems to be the most logical and morally sound of the three ethics. The disadvantage listed above can be cleared up with Aristotle’s explanation, which is that there are no absolute rules in ethics. Virtue ethics attempts to bring out the best in any individual, in hopes that they act with the appropriate emotional response to the situation at hand.
What would be a better way to enhance your self-image and conscience than trying to imitate the lifestyles of such prudent individuals like Ghandi or Mother Teresa? Repetition is the key to making actions habit, and once these virtuous acts become second nature then that person had become virtuous through virtue ethics.
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