Introduction to Ethics Phil 140 @ Binghamton University, Win '11


Writing Prompt 3: Virtue Ethics

Aristotle emphasizes the importance of an individual's character and virtues. A person is not virtuous based off the actions that are committed, but they are virtuous based off the act itself and what sort of quality it shows about the person's moral character. Virtues cannot be determined from any specific actions of an individual because that is not how an individual is represented, but rather from the choices that are made. Unlike other ethics, it is not about determining what is the greater good or figuring out an individual's duties, but virtue ethics is more about the virtues of a person. It is believed in this ethics that the highest and ultimate goal of a person's life is to reach eudaimonia, or happiness. According to Aristotle, achieving eudaimonia requires an individual to be virtuous in character and in their acts. Therefore, the important element in virtue ethics that needs to be ethically judged is an individual's actions to determine whether or not they are virtuous.

The action's that are done by an individual are due to the choices that they make. The way an individual generally makes a decision or choice is based off their experience and knowledge. So in order to judge a person's action one must have experience and knowledge about the action that is being judged. An individual with more experience and knowledge are usually the one's that are better off making a virtuous decision and judgments, than an individual who is less experienced, like a child. Another way to judge a person's actions is through two extremes. Aristotle uses two extremes to figure out the middle point of what is being judged in order to help determine and judge a person's virtues. Once an individual makes a virtuous choice does not mean that they will be virtuous forever. You need to keep on making virtuous choices in order to maintain a virtuous character and make it somewhat a habit. In this theory, by continuously being virtuous, an individual can achieve eudaimonia.

It says that in order to reach eudaimonia or happiness, an individual must be virtuous in character and in order to be virtuous they must be able to make choices based off experience and knowledge. According to this ethics, this means that people with cognitive impairment cannot reach eudaimonia because they are not able to make decisions to be virtuous due to their lack of knowledge and reason. It shows that this theory doesn't consider people with certain disabilities to be fully functional to make rational and moral decisions, and so they cannot choose to act in a virtuous manner. So this idea is flawed because it cannot be applied to every being alive, it only applies to those who are capable of knowledge and reasoning.

This theory is problematic because of the fact that it doesn't apply to everyone. As discussed about people with disabilities, this ethical theory suggests that those with cognitive impairment aren't capable of reasoning and so they are not capable of reaching eudaimonia. What makes people with certain disabilities less qualified to reach a state of happiness? Eudaimonia, or happiness, should be attainable to all regardless of their circumstances or situation. While a lot of what virtue ethics says can be a used as a very good guide, achieving eudaimonia isn't bound to only those guidelines. A person's happiness can be attained in many ways, and most of the time they are different from others. There is no right way to achieve happiness because of the fact that everyone is different. A person with cognitive impairments is different from a normal person, so their form of achieving happiness is also different.

The flaw also lies with not assuming everyone is being capable of virtue, which means that some people are not capable of doing virtuous acts. The moral element in virtue ethics is based off the acts an individual commits and to determine whether or not the act itself is virtuous, but what happens when an individual cannot act virtuously due to disabilities? Just because a person cannot be virtuous does not mean that they are not capable of reaching happiness. Virtue is not the only method and theory that should be followed in order to reach happiness, it is only one way that can be followed. So while virtue ethics lays important guidelines on how one can reach eudaimonia it doesn't mean it is the right way for everyone to follow because each individual is different and has different ways of reaching eudaimonia or happiness.

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  1. I think it is interesting that you think there could be different levels of eudaimonia. I think Aristotle might think that the cognitively impaired might be able to achieve some form of happiness, but because they aren’t able to cognitively function the way that ‘we’ are means they can’t achieve eudaimonia. This would also go for women, slaves, and any other impoverished, underrepresented group in Aristotle’s society.

    I personally think that Virtue Ethics has too high of a threshold that works to exclude other groups who may not have the means to cultivate all of the virtues that Aristotle mentions. (He insists that to be a truly moral being one must cultivate all of the virtues.) I don’t think he accounts for others that are different in circumstance, but may, nonetheless, be able to cultivate their own form of eudaimonia. This most likely results from a class-oriented society of which Aristotle was in the upper-tier.

    • I like how you brought up the different classes in society and I think Aristotle might have been a little biased in his writings because he was in the ‘upper-tier’. Which is why I believed that some of this theories really looked down on the ones that were unfortunate.

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