Virtue ethics

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:

Moral Virtues

  • 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

Intellectual Virtues

  • 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.

Related Courses

Behavioral Ethics
Ethical Frameworks in Accounting