In desire but according to values and

this situation, the ideally virtuous person would likely advise Laura to take
the course of action that she believes will provide the greatest happiness and
grant the ability to both want to act with virtue and know what it is to be
virtuous. It is, in fact, one of the central principles of Virtue Ethics that
no-one agrees on the correct course of action. Virtue is defined as the moral
excellence of a person. According to Hursthouse, the morally excellent person
has a character made up of intrinsically good qualities; ‘not only a tendency
to do what is honest or generous, but a character trait’1.
for example, they display honesty, courage and kindness. Because of these
positive character traits, the virtuous person is committed to doing the right
thing regardless of the personal expense, and does not act out of impulse or
desire but according to values and principles. Ultimately, the onus lies upon
Laura to decide what is the most virtuous action, though this is likely to mean
taking the volunteering position over her favoured career path, as Laura
believes that she would be able to do significantly more on this project than
on any other currently on offer.


ethics, or otherwise Virtue Ethics, is a form of normative ethical theories
that emphasises virtues of mind and character (habitual qualities that make
someone good). Aristotle considered a virtue to be ‘the Golden Mean’ between
two vices, or extremities of character (e.g. recklessness, impatience), which
are the opposite of virtues. Unlike deontological and teleological ethical
theories which ask how we ought to act, Virtue Ethics does not focus on the
nature or consequences of the act itself to determine whether it is morally permissible
but rather on the qualities or virtues that make someone (the agent) holistically
good. A virtuous person is someone who always acts with excellence (Greek: arête) and fulfils their purpose of
eudaimonia (flourishing). Plato considered the virtues of temperance, justice,
prudence (Greek: phronesis- practical
wisdom) and courage to be the most important and central virtues to his
argument, which he called the Cardinal Virtues. In Aristotle’s Nichomachean
Ethics, he develops a further twelve to add to this list, and argues that when
an individual takes some action it is for an end purpose- somewhat
consequentialist in its worldview therefore2.
His belief is that the ultimate end of all ends is the greatest good, which he
calls eudaimonia, and is perceived as the life-long pursuit for happiness by all
humans. Aristotle defines two different groups of virtues, the moral and
intellectual, and believes that if we had only one sort we would not be capable
of achieving eudaimonia. In order to come to this conclusion, he creates the
Function Argument that points out that we don’t actually pursue subordinate
goods such as health or wealth because they are wellbeing, but because our human
reason shows us that they promote wellbeing. Like Plato before him, Aristotle argued
that people who act without virtue do so only because they are ignorant of its
knowledge and, therefore, flourishing must be attained through the constant pursuit
and study of virtue until virtuosity is habitual. Aristotle illustrates that
once virtuosity has been achieved it is also critical to be able to control
one’s emotional and behavioural disposition towards others in order to maintain
and develop such virtuous characters across a lifetime.

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contemporary proponent of Virtue Ethics, Alasdair MacIntyre, follows a similar
viewpoint to Aristotle in the sense that he places great significance on the
development of moral wisdom, but differs in that he notes how virtuosity also
benefits society as a whole3. Virtuous individuals
generally promote the development of virtuous societies, which is important for
the future prosperity of mankind. Examples of virtues in this sense may include
courage or fidelity, or selflessness in Laura’s pursuit of volunteering, which
when displayed demonstrate admirable, universal qualities on an individual
level that have the ability to be extrapolated across an entire society.


Foot also discusses how human beings sometimes disagree with virtues, and
supports MacIntyre’s belief that it is most important for humans to develop
virtues on a societal level as well as personally4. Foot identifies the
pursuit of virtue in human nature as being equally important to physical
wellbeing for example; health is an excellence of the body in the sense that
anything less than being physically healthy is an imperfection, in the same
sense that virtues are excellences of will. Foot agrees with Aristotle’s
condition that both sorts of virtue are required in order to be truly excellent.
She also notes that those virtuous individuals are not only virtuous for acting
accordingly, but also because they have the ability to fight away temptation,
‘we both are and are not inclined to think that the harder a person finds it to
act virtuously the more virtue he shows if he acts well’. This is best
illustrated through the example of theft, Foot noting that persons who are
tempted to steal when given the opportunity and do not are virtuous, but not as
virtuous and morally developed as persons who have the same opportunity and
action where the temptations and need is much stronger- for example stealing
food to feed a starving family. In both cases, while the act of amounting goods through theft might make the
persons happy and satisfy the need for food, Foot would argue that it does
nothing for human development.


The greatest moral
issue that perhaps confronts Laura’s decision in relation to Virtue Ethics is
that of disguised selfishness. In vignette 4, Bill’s view is that it is
diminishing to enjoy virtuosity, however virtue
ethicists such as Philippa Foot generally uphold that taking pleasure in doing
good does not mean that the action is egotistical- performed in order to
experience personal pleasure; that is clearly no more than a side-effect5. Virtue Ethics emphasises
that the emotional disposition can be habituated over time to fall in synch
with reason so that the virtuous person has minimal internal conflict; just
because virtuosity enhances eudaimonia (flourishing), it does not mean that
good is performed for the sole purpose of improving personal wellbeing. The
eudaimonic life can include love of family and friends and doing good to
others, and therefore it should make no moral significance should Laura gain satisfaction from acting


In applying all this to the case at hand, Laura would be advised
to pursue the action which she believes to be most virtuous and benefiting to
achieving the final end of eudaimonia. Suppose for instance that it is obvious
that someone in need should be helped, as in the case of the charity; a virtue
ethicist points to the fact that helping the person is demonstrating the
quality of benevolence, which is cast as virtuous. At the same time, it is
pivotal that Laura’s actions are reasoned and in accordance with the Golden Mean
principle, which entails avoiding behaviour which could be deemed as vices of
excess or deficiency. For example, if she decides to pursue the volunteering
role she would be encouraged to demonstrate virtuous characteristics such as
benevolence and courage, but not in excess- it would be foolish of her to give
all of her money away to help others as she would be left herself in similar impoverished
circumstances or to work in a war-torn or instable area where she could be
putting herself at risk, for example. In accordance with the character-based
nature of Virtue Ethics, the virtuous person chooses to do the right
thing because they desire to be virtuous.


In conclusion, it is
evident from the argument presented that Virtue Ethics is much different to