Virtue Ethics Deontology Emphasizes Importance Essay

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But what of children who are told to do morally reprehensible actions by their parents? It is also considered a moral duty to obey the laws of the state. But does that mean that all acts of civil disobedience are evil? What of Thoreau's refusal to pay his taxes during the Mexican-American war? Or the civil rights demonstrators' acts of civil disobedience when engaging in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters? Or the hiding of Anne Frank during World War II? All of these actions were transgressions of the notion that we must obey the laws of the land. Some deontologists might argue that in these instances, the laws were contrary to the moral code we should universally obey; but this seems to presuppose some need for a virtuous character to make this subjective distinction.

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Of course, virtue ethics can be problematic as well, given the extent to which definitions of virtue have varied over the ages. What constituted a 'virtuous woman' in the Victorian era would have been very different in modernity. 'Goodness' and moral decision-making are highly situational in nature and character traits which are viewed as admirable in one society (such as the individualism of the United States) may not be seen as such universally (many other societies prize collectivism and the moral obligations to the community as virtuous). Also, there are questions about how to achieve that moral character, given that people within the same society or even the same families can receive the same educations, and yet reach different moral conclusions about moral dilemmas spanning from personal life to politics.

Essay on Virtue Ethics Deontology Emphasizes Importance Assignment

However, a similar objection could be raised with regards to deontology: different societies have constructed radically different moral systems. The 'eye for an eye' ethos of early societies has given way to a far more complex and nuanced legal code. Deontology presupposes a certain self-evident nature to what constitutes ideal laws of conduct and obligation, just as much as virtue ethics suggests there are universal character traits that lead to a moral world.

Although neither are perfect moral systems, ultimately virtue ethics is more flexible and better-equipped to deal with changing situations. Deontologists invariably find themselves confronted with the unexpected, and this can lead to the need to follow moral laws that their human instincts tell them are reprehensible. Virtue ethics is more ambiguous, but also more feasible to follow in a consistent fashion. Although it can be swayed by unconscious self-interest to a greater degree than deontology, it is also founded upon sympathy, compassion and reasoned judgment in a more balanced fashion. It allows for the moral actor to continually use his or her critical faculty when making decisions. And hopefully, this self-reflection about the question 'how should I be good' reinforces the need to have an objective and reasoned perspective upon one's moral actions.


Alexander, Larry and Moore, Michael. "Deontological Ethics." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Fall 2008 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.). 22 Nov 2012. .

Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Virtue Ethics." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012

Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.). 22 Nov 2012.


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Virtue Ethics Deontology Emphasizes Importance.  (2012, November 22).  Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

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