Virtue Ethics: The Good Essay

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"To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)" (Hursthouse 2010). The great advantage to virtue ethics' stress upon the person, not the action, is that it allows for a certain flexibility of decision-making. There may be a principle of "do not lie," that a deontologist would argue must be obeyed inflexibly, which a consequentialist would argue should be enforced only when this promoted the majority's welfare. A virtue ethicist would see situations in which small lies might be permissible to promote the social order, although lies in certain contexts would be abhorrent and against the general good.

The fact that virtue ethics tends to focus upon creating 'states of being' rather than discrete actions also makes it an ethical system that seems to promote a continual state of community harmony over a focus upon a single result (consequentialism) or a narrow set of rules (deontology). Virtuous people who value honesty are assumed to act at all times in a manner that promotes honesty, including choosing virtuous friends, working at virtuous occupations, and engaging in public life that promotes such virtues (Hursthouse 2010). Ethical actions are not 'blocked off' into a single facet of the person's life, nor are they always conscious actions.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Perhaps the greatest benefit of virtue ethics is that it frees the actor from the straightjacket of both consequentialism and deontology, which rarely seem to mirror how individuals make decisions in 'real life.' Most ethical decisions are made fairly spontaneously, based upon past knowledge, of which the moral actor's education is a part. It also does not seem to have the dangerous inflexibility of either ethical system, resulting in a cold calculation that less deaths might occur if a particular action is taken in a utilitarian fashion, or ignoring common sense and logic simply to follow a rule in the case of deontology. However, critics state that in its own way, virtue ethics can be just as unrealistic in the standards it sets for moral actors. "The fully virtuous do what they should without a struggle against contrary desires; the continent have to control a desire or temptation to do otherwise" (Hursthouse 2010). A truly ethical, virtuous person only desires to do good, and thus does not have moral conflicts about what he or she should have done otherwise. But much like a good rule can lead someone astray in deontology, "someone's compassion might lead them to act wrongly, to tell a lie they should not have told, for example, in their desire to prevent someone else's hurt feelings" (Hursthouse 2010). The precise balance between discipline and compassion seems impossible to achieve, at least in such an instinctive manner.

Another objection to virtue ethics is the question of how to educate the moral actor to create such an ideal, virtuous person. Such a system of moral education seems impossible, particularly in a world where the ideal morals do not seem as clear as they did during the era of Aristotle and Plato. Critics further note that virtue ethics has some of the problems of both deontology and consequentialism. Like deontology, it cannot reconcile when cultures have different values, or when values conflict with one another. Just like a deontological system cannot cope with rules that contradict one another, a virtue ethicist cannot resolve the dilemma of when compassion should trump honesty, or vice versa. Like consequentialism, it must justify what it considers 'the Good' in all instances, although virtue ethics frames it as 'the Good Character.'


Alexander, Larry & Michael Moore. (2007). Deontological ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved:

Hursthouse, Rosalind. (2010). Virtue Ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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APA Style

Virtue Ethics: The Good.  (2012, March 3).  Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

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"Virtue Ethics: The Good."  3 March 2012.  Web.  25 February 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Virtue Ethics: The Good."  March 3, 2012.  Accessed February 25, 2021.