Virtue Ethics highlight the principle of a person’s character rather than some other factors when it comes to determining his moral value and philosophy. Basically, virtue ethics is a person-based ethics. It focuses on what type of person one should become and what kind of life a person should live with. According to virtue ethics, certain ideals that are only discovered through reflection, such as dedication and excellence, must be attained to whole-heartedly experience humanity. A person chooses to be morally good solely because it is innate in his character.
Virtue ethics speaks of an individual’s character but it is only one of the many kinds of ethics. To understand how this is different from the others, we must compare it with some of the well-known ethics which include pragmatism, deontology, contextualism, intuitionism, subjectivism or relativism and consequentialism. Pragmatism is a descriptive theory which establishes a basis from which moral behavior is evaluated. This basis is developed through continued correction of norms against each other. In other words, pragmatism emphasizes the role of society in the determination of ethical standards. If people in the society believe an act to be unethical, then it also follows that committing the same act is considered immoral. Under deontology, ethical standards are determined by the rules and duties that are already laid down upon the people. Deontologists follow this duty-based principle. It is a simple matter of determining whether an act is prohibited or not. If a particular action is prohibited by these rules, then it is always wrong to do so with no exceptions.
On the other hand, contextualism deals with ethical standards based on the context. An action in each case is determined to be right or wrong by analyzing the situation independently. It does not approve of predetermined rules or decisions unlike how we deal with it under deontology. It provides a more flexible approach on ethics and is primarily situation-based. Intuitionism teaches that the moral principles from which we determine right from wrong can be understood by relying on a person’s intuition. Daily decisions related to actions questioned to be moral or immoral can be practically decided by making moral judgments and considering alternative choices. Under relativism, moral truths cannot be determined objectively because moral statements are nothing but descriptions about how a person’s attitude towards a particular action. Therefore, there can be no determining whether an action is right or wrong can be difficult because morality is subjective. Finally, under consequentialism, ethical standards are based on each action’s consequences or outcomes. If an act results to more positive effects, it even becomes more right as a choice. Therefore, this theory asserts a results-based approach in determining what is moral and what is not. Utilitarianism is also related to consequentialism in that utilitarians are basically consequentialists whose focus is more on the welfare or happiness of the individual.
Aristotle presented two kinds of virtues: moral and intellectual. He tells of intellectual virtue as something that is derived from teaching which requires experience, effort and time to master. Intellectual virtues explained by Aristotle include intelligence, which is the origin of scientific knowledge and pertains to the a person’s insight, scientific knowledge, which is a permanent and essential truth and pertains to a person’s capacity to demonstrate and conclude, wisdom, which is highly regarded as the perfect form of knowledge, art, which is considered as reasonable production, prudence, a character that enables man to rationally act is good or bad matters, understanding and good sense. On the contrary, moral virtue is likened to arts in that it requires constant repetition of the act to attain mastery. In other words, it is only by habit that one truly acquires moral virtue. This kind of virtue cannot be exactly prescribed. As such, Aristotle introduced his Doctrine of the Mean which provides that moral virtues lie in between the extremes of excess and deficiency.
The lists of moral virtues which Aristotle took to be appropriate for people include courage, temperance, generosity, munificence, right ambition, friendliness, wittiness and modesty. Courage stands in between cowardice and rashness. Temperance lies in between insensibility and self-indulgence. Generosity stands in between greed and extravagance. Munificence lies in between pettiness and vulgarity. Right ambition stands in between want of ambition and over-ambition. Friendliness lies in between surliness and obsequiousness. Wittiness stands in between boorishness and buffoonery. Modesty lies in between shamelessness and bashfulness. Sincerity stands in between ironical depreciation and boastfulness.
I believe the most important among these is generosity. Nature always seeks to create balance. We humans, as a part of it, must not go against this balance. If we do, others may see us in a negative light. Generosity promotes balance when it comes to social relationships in that it puts others into consideration. It does not give too much that it results to excess gratification by others or give too little that it leaves room for further satisfaction. If everyone can become truly generous, we can be at ease because we can always rely on this balance that if we are suddenly in need, others will be able to heolp us. Likewise, we can be more fulfilled that if others would seek our help, we can at least do something for them in our own capacity.
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