Virtue ethics involves the study of the nature of virtues and how they are applied to real world situations. Thus, a virtue ethicist wants to understand how virtues are acquired and how they can be applied to specific real world situations. The underlying concepts of virtue ethics were originally developed by Socrates, and then expanded upon by Plato and Aristotle.
A virtue is defined as a positive character trait that makes a person a good human being. Since a virtue is exhibited over a long period of time, it is different from a single action. Thus, morality is based on the intrinsic virtues of a person. Since morality comes from a person’s innate virtues, it logically follows that virtue should be pursued through lifelong education and discussions with others.
The philosophers have debated the nature of the various virtues. Plato described four cardinal virtues, which are wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Aristotle identified a longer list of virtues that a person needs in order to be a well-rounded human being, which he broke down into moral virtues and intellectual virtues. A moral virtue is the mean between two corresponding vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. An intellectual virtue is a mental skill or habit through which the mind arrives at a truth. These virtues are as follows:
Courage in the face of fear
Temperance in the face of pleasure or pain
Liberality with one’s wealth and possessions
Magnificence with great wealth and possessions
Magnanimity with great honors
Proper ambition with normal honors
Truthfulness with self-expression
Wittiness in conversation
Friendliness in social conduct
Modesty in the face of shame or shamelessness
Righteous indignation in the face of injury
Intelligence, which discerns fundamental truths
Science, which is skill with inferential reasoning
Theoretical wisdom, which enhances reasoning skills
Someone who has developed a strong set of virtues is in an excellent position to discern an ethical problem and deal with it in an effective manner.