Virtue Ethics Notes

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  • Virtue ethics is a type of moral theory that emphasises the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to approaches that emphasise duties (deontology) or consequences (consequentialism).

  • This is the main approach to ethics taken by ancient thinkers (e.g. Aristotle [384-322 BC] in his Nicomachean Ethics).

  • A virtue-ethical account of moral rightness: An act is right if and only if it is what a virtuous agent (i.e., a person with excellent character traits) would characteristically (i.e., acting in character) do in the circumstances.

  • What sort of person should I be in order to “live well” or “flourish” as the kind of being I am (to possess eudaimonia)?


  • Aristotle: what we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such private and social goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honour and wealth fit together as a whole, and the ability to sustain an appropriate balance of such goods, by using reason.
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  • We are essentially rational and social creatures.

  • Correct emotional, affective and motivational responses are a  part of rationality.

  • Living well consists not in a static condition, but in doing something. It includes (but isn’t exhausted by) virtuous activity directed by reason.


  • The virtues: qualities of character that play a central role in sustaining a well-lived life.
  • Aristotle’s examples: courage, self-control, generosity, justice, modesty etc. (E.g., although one may also need wealth for a well-lived life, wealth is no good if you lack self-control.)

  • The vices: qualities ...

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