Virtue-Based Ethics

Another comprehensive theory of ethics is referred to as virtue ethics. It has a long tradition and is currently receiving renewed support.

In part, virtue ethics is a contemporary reaction to the rampant relativism whereby society seems to lack a way of reaching moral agreement about ethical problems. The relativistic approach to morality seems to be based on the strength of persuasive appeals and intuitionism whereby when interests collide, one opinion is as good as another. It is almost a one-person, one-vote method to establishing what is ethical. Virtue ethics has been resurrected to counteract modern relativism.

What exactly is virtue ethics? Its key criterion is seeking to live a virtuous life. In many ways, it is a renaissance of the Greek ideal suggesting that the guiding purpose of life should be the quest for goodness and virtue.

In philosophical circles, one of the most prominent proponents of this position is Alasdair Maclntyre of the University of Notre Dame in the US. Maclntyre basically defines virtue as acquired human qualities that enable persons to achieve “the good” in their chosen vocations, that is, the developmentof personal character.

Virtue ethics differs from

  • consequence
  • duty and
  • contract-based ethics

in that the focus is on the individual and not the decision to be made or the principle to be followed. As such, virtue ethics is fundamentally different from the other theories.


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