Unit 2 DB: Ethical Theory
Now that we have learned about the three main branches of ethical theory (consequentialism, non-consequentialism, and virtue ethics), which approach would you want a President of the United States to excel at in his or her own life and work? Why do you think it is more important for a President to live in accordance with this approach to ethics as opposed to the other two?
Read and respond to two classmates’ posts, preferably two students who have argued for a different ethical theory. Let them know why you agree or disagree with them.
3.1: Act Nonconsequentialist Theories
1. 3.1 Outline the major assumption of the act nonconsequentialist theories
Just as utilitarianism falls into two categories (act and rule), so too do nonconsequentialist theories. Remember, however, that the main difference between act and rule utilitarianism and act and rule nonconsequentialism is that the former are based on consequences, whereas the latter are not. Nevertheless, some of the problems and disadvantages of the theories are similar, as we shall see.

Act nonconsequentialists make the major assumption that there are no general moral rules or theories at all, but only particular actions, situations, and people about which we cannot generalize. Accordingly, one must approach each situation individually as one of a kind and somehow decide what is the right action to take in that situation. It is the “how we decide” in this theory that is most interesting. Decisions for the act nonconsequentialist are “intuitionistic.” That is, what a person decides in a particular situation, because he or she cannot use any rules or standards, is based upon what he or she believes or feels or intuits to be the right action to take. This type of theory, then, is highly individualistic—individuals must decide what they feel is the right thing to do, and then do it. They are not concerned with consequences—and certainly not with the consequences of other situations, or with people not immediately involved in this particular situation—but they must do what they feel is right given this particular situation and the people involved in it.
This theory is characterized by two popular slogans of the 1960s: If it feels good—do it and Do your own thing. It also has a more traditional basis in intuitionistic, emotive, and noncognitive theories of morality. What these theories seem to stress is that morality in thought, language, and deed is not based upon reason. Some of these theories even suggest that morality cannot be rationalized because it isn’t based upon reason in the same way as scientific experimentation and factual statements about reality are.
The “emotive theory,” for example, states that ethical words and sentences really do only two things: 
1. Express people’s feelings and attitudes 
2. Evoke or generate certain feelings and attitudes in others
Journal: Moral Decisions in Act Nonconsequentalist Theory
The act nonconsequentialist theory allows one greater freedom in making moral decisions than other theories because it leaves moral decisions completely up to each individual’s own feelings. How free do you think individuals should be in their moral decision-making? Do you think this theory appeals to you and to what extent?

3.1.1: Intuitionism
In Right and Reason, Austin Fagothey (1901–1975) lists some general reasons for accepting or rejecting intuition as a basis for morality.1 The general reasons supporting moral intuitionism include the following:
1. Any well-meaning person seems to have an immediate sense of right and wrong
2. Human beings had moral ideas and convictions long before philosophers created ethics as a formal study
3. Our reasoning upon moral matters usually is used to confirm our more direct perceptions or “intuitions”
4. Our reasoning can go wrong in relation to moral issues as well as others, and then we must fall back upon our moral insights and intuitions. Thus these arguments present intuition as a higher form of reasoning indicating humans have deep moral insights which have values in themselves.
Arguments Against Intuitionism
There are at least four strong arguments against moral intuitionism. First, some people have described intuition as “hunches,” “wild guesses,” “irrational inspirations,” and “clairvoyance,” among other meanings lacking in scientific and philosophical respectability. It is, in short, difficult to define intuition, and it is more difficult still to prove its existence. Second, there is no proof that we have any inborn, or innate, set of moral rules with which we can compare our acts to see whether or not they are moral. Third, intuition is immune to objective criticism because it applies only to its possessor and because intuitions differ from one person to the next. Fourth, human beings who do not possess moral intuitions either have no ethics or have to establish their ethics on other grounds.
Journal: Role of Emotions in a Moral System
Analyze whether emotions or feelings play an important role in a moral system. How do they relate to morality?

3.1.2: Criticisms of Act Nonconsequentialism
The greatest problem for act nonconsequentialism would seem to be the third argument listed in the foregoing paragraph, for if intuitions differ from person to person, how can conflicts between opposing intuitions be resolved? All we can say is that we disagree with another person’s intuitions; we have no logical basis for saying, “Your intuition is wrong, whereas mine is right.” Intuitions simply cannot be arbitrated, as reasons and judgments of evidence can; therefore, any theory of morality based upon intuitions alone, such as act nonconsequentialism, is highly questionable.
Other criticisms of act nonconsequentialism are these:
1. How do we know that what we intuit—with nothing else to guide us—will be morally correct?
2. How can we know when we have sufficient facts to make a moral decision?
3. With morality so highly individualized, how can we be sure we are doing the best thing for anyone else involved in the situation?
4. Can we really rely upon nothing more than our momentary intuitions to help us make our moral decisions?
5. How will we be able to justify our actions except by saying, “Well, I had an intuition that it was the right thing for me to do”?
It would seem to be very difficult to establish a morality of any social applicability here because anyone’s intuitions can justify any action he or she might take. An angry person might kill the one who made him angry and then justify the murder by saying, “I had an intuition that I should kill her.” But how do we arbitrate the conflict between the killer’s intuition and the intense feeling of the victim’s family and friends that the act was wrong? This is moral relativism of the highest degree, and absolutely no settlement is possible when the only things we have to go on are the intuitions of a given individual at a particular time.
Another criticism of act nonconsequentialism, similar to the criticism of act utilitarianism, focuses on the questionable assumption that all situations and people are completely different, with none of them having anything in common.
There are, of course, some highly unique situations for which no rules can be set up in advance, but there are many other situations containing enough similarities so that rules, perhaps with some appended exceptions or qualifications, can be stated quite effectively. For example, all situations in which someone is murdered have at least the similarity of there being a killer and a victim; because human life is considered to be essentially valuable in itself, rules governing when killing is or is not justified are not difficult to set up. Our legal system, with its different degree charges of murder and manslaughter, is a good example of rules fraught with moral import. These generally work quite satisfactorily by condemning immoral acts while at the same time recognizing extenuating circumstances, thereby attaining a significant degree of justice and fairness for all concerned.
These two criticisms—that each act’s being completely dissimilar from every other is simply a false empirical statement and the difficulty of relying solely upon one’s individual intuitions—make act nonconsequentialism a questionable ethical system. Even an active “situationist,” Joseph Fletcher (1905–1991), author of Situation Ethics, claims that in all ethical actions there should be at least one unifying factor, namely, Christian love. Because of his religious belief, he should probably be classified as an act utilitarian rather than an act nonconsequentialist.
3.2: Rule Nonconsequentialist Theories
1. 3.2 Analyze the way various rule nonconsequentialist theories differ from each other

Rule nonconsequentialists believe that there are or can be rules that are the only basis for morality and that consequences do not matter. It is the following of the rules (which are right moral commands) that is moral, and the concept of morality cannot be applied to the consequences that ensue when one follows the rules. The main way in which the various rule nonconsequentialist theories differ is in their methods of establishing the rules.
3.3: Divine Command Theory
1. 3.3 Evaluate divine command theory with respect to morality
As described earlier, the Divine Command Theory states that morality is based not upon the consequences of actions or rules, nor upon self-interest or other-interestedness, but rather upon something “higher” than these mere mundane events of the imperfect human or natural worlds. It is based upon the existence of an all-good being or beings who are supernatural and who have communicated to human beings what they should and should not do in a moral sense. To be moral, human beings must follow the commands and prohibitions of such a being or beings to the letter without concerning themselves with consequences, self-interest, or anything else.
3.3.1: Criticisms of Divine Command Theory
The difficulties of the Divine Command Theory are inherent in the lack of rational foundation for the existence of some sort of supernatural being or beings and the further lack of proof that the support of such a being or beings is enough to make rational and useful the ethical system in question.
Even if one could prove conclusively the existence of the supernatural, how could one prove that any supernatural being is morally trustworthy? The rules themselves might be morally valid, but the justification for following them regardless of the consequences is weak indeed. Furthermore, of what validity are the rules if a person does not believe in any kind of supernatural existence? And even if we were to accept the existence of this supernatural being and its commandments, how could we be sure we were interpreting them correctly? Interpretations of the Ten Commandments vary and often conflict.2 Must there not be some clearer and generally more acceptable basis for rules than the existence of the supernatural?
Journal: Divine Command Theory
To what extend do you believe that Jews, Christians, and Muslims use the “Divine Command Theory” approach rather than egoism or act or rule utilitarianism as a basis for their ethical systems?

3.4: Kant’s Duty Ethics
1. 3.4 Examine the ethical principles of Kant’s duty ethics
Another famous rule nonconsequentialist theory, often called “
Duty Ethics
,” was formulated by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and contains several ethical principles:
1. The Good Will
2. Establishing Morality by Reasoning Alone
3. The Categorical Imperative
4. The Practical Imperative
5. Duty Rather than Inclination
3.4.1: The Good Will
Kant believed that nothing was good in itself except a good will, and he defined will as the unique human ability to act in accordance with moral rules, laws, or principles regardless of interests or consequences.
3.4.2: Establishing Morality by Reasoning Alone
After establishing good will as the most important human attribute, Kant then argued that reason was the second most important human attribute. Therefore, it was possible to set up valid absolute moral rules on the basis of reason alone, not by reference to any supernatural being or by empirical evidence but by the same kind of logical reasoning that establishes such indisputable truths in mathematics and logic as 2 + 2 = 4, “No circles are squares,” and “All triangles are three-sided.”
Kant’s first requirement for an absolute moral truth is that it must be logically 
; that is, it cannot be self-contradictory as the statement “A circle is a square” would be. Second, the truth must be universalizable; that is, it must be able to be stated so as to apply to everything without exception, not just to some or perhaps even most things. This is exemplified by the statement “All triangles are three-sided,” for which there are no exceptions. Triangles may be of different sizes and shapes, but they are by definition indisputably and universally three-sided. If moral rules could indeed be established in this same manner, as Kant thought, then they too would be indisputable and therefore logically and morally binding upon all human beings. Of course, some people might disobey these rules, but we could clearly brand such people as immoral.
In some ways, Kant’s ideas were brilliant. For example, he could establish the fact that living parasitically would be immoral because it would also be illogical. He could say that the commandment “Always be a parasite, living off of someone else” is illogical because if all people lived like parasites, then off whom could they live? It is easy to see that it is in conflict with the principle of universalizability that causes the inconsistency here. Obviously some people can be parasites, but not all. Now, if one could find such moral absolutes, then a completely irrefutable system of ethics could be established, and the obeying of the rules of this system would be what is moral, regardless of the consequences to self or others. The major way that Kant gave us to discover these moral absolutes was by means of his Categorical Imperative.
3.4.3: The Categorical Imperative

The Categorical Imperative
 may be stated in several ways, but basically it asserts that an act is immoral if the rule that would authorize it cannot be made into a rule for all human beings to follow.3 This means that whenever someone is about to make a moral decision, he or she must, according to Kant, ask first, “What is the rule authorizing this act I am about to perform?” and, second, “Can it become a universal rule for all human beings to follow?” For example, if a lazy person is thinking, “Why should I work hard in order to live; why don’t I just steal from everyone else?” and if this person is aware of Kant’s requirement, he or she will have to ask himself or herself what the rule is for this contemplated action. The rule would have to be, “I shall never work, but steal what I need from other human beings.” If the person attempts to universalize this statement, then it will read: “No human being should ever work, but all human beings should steal what they need from each other.” But if no one worked, there would be nothing to steal. How then would human beings live? Who would there be to steal from? It is obvious that some human beings can steal from others, but that not all human beings can do so. According to Kant, stealing must therefore be immoral because it cannot be applied to all human beings.
Another, more crucial, example of Kant’s Categorical Imperative concerns killing another human being. Kant argued that one could not kill another human being without violating a moral absolute because in order to do so one would have to establish a rule that would be 
: “Everyone must kill everyone else.” Because the meaning of life is to live, everyone killing everyone else would contradict that meaning and would therefore violate the Categorical Imperative and fail to universalize. Killing, then, is immoral, and one should not kill.
3.4.4: The Practical Imperative
Another important principle in Kant’s ethical system is that no human being should be thought of or used merely as a means for someone else’s end, that each human being is a unique end in himself or herself, morally speaking at least. This principle sometimes is referred to as Kant’s “
Practical Imperative
.” It certainly seems to be an important principle if we consider fairness and equal treatment to be necessary attributes of any moral system. Incidentally, this principle also can operate as an antidote to the “cost–benefit analysis,” or “end-justifies-the-means,” problem found in connection with both forms of utilitarianism.
Let’s take an example of how this Practical Imperative might work in practice from the field of medical ethics in the area of human experimentation. Kant would oppose using a human being for experimental purposes “for the good of humanity” or for any other reason that would lead us to look upon a human being as merely a “means” to an “end.” Thus, in the case of experimentation on 100 babies now to save 10 million children’s lives in the future, Kant definitely would brand such experimentation as immoral. On the other hand, if an experimental procedure were the only way to save a child’s life and it also would furnish doctors with information that might well save lives in the future, Kant probably would allow it because in this case a human being would not merely be used as a means to an end but considered an end in himself or herself. That is, the experimental procedure would be therapeutic for the human being involved—in this case, the child.
3.4.5: Duty Rather Than Inclination
Kant next spoke about obeying such rules out of a sense of duty. He said that each human being is inclined to act in certain ways. That is, each of us is inclined to do a variety of things such as give to the poor, stay in bed rather than go to work, rape someone, or be gentle to children. Because 
, according to Kant, are irrational and emotional and because we seem to be operating upon a basis of whim rather than reason when we follow them, people must force themselves to do what is moral out of a sense of duty. In other words, we have many inclinations of various sorts, some of which are moral and others immoral. If we are to act morally, however, we must rely on our reason and our will and act out of a sense of duty.
Kant even went so far as to say that an act simply is not fully moral unless duty rather than inclination is the motive behind it. A person who is merely inclined to be kind and generous to others is not to be considered moral in the fullest sense in which Kant uses the word. Only if this person, perhaps because of some unexpected tragedy in his life, no longer is inclined to be kind and generous toward others, but now forces himself to be so out of a sense of duty, only then is he acting in a fully moral manner. This strikes most people as being a very harsh approach, but it does reveal Kant’s emphasis on his concept of duty as it pertains to following clearly established and absolute moral rules. Kant believed that he had established moral absolutes, and it seemed obvious to him that to be moral one should obey them out of a sense of duty.
Journal: Duty and Morality
How much importance do you think duty ought to have in relation to morality?

3.4.6: Summary and Illustration of Kant’s System
With the last point established, it appears we finally have an airtight moral system, one that cannot be successfully attacked in any way. We have “proved” that there are absolute moral rules that can be established irrefutably by reason, that one should obey them out of a sense of duty in order to be moral, and that all persons must be considered to be unique individuals who are never to be used for anyone else’s purposes or ends. But let us continue.
In order to show how Kant carried his theory into practice, it is important to present here one of his several “illustrations.” Kant describes a man who, in despair yet still in possession of his reason, is contemplating suicide. Using Kant’s system, the man must discover whether a maxim of his action could be made into a universal law for all human beings, so he frames the maxim as follows: “From self-love I should end my life whenever not ending it is likely to bring more bad than good.” Kant then states that this cannot be universalized because it is 
 to end life by the very feeling (self-love) that impels one to improve it. Therefore, the maxim cannot possibly exist as a universal law for all human beings because it is wholly inconsistent in itself and with the Categorical Imperative.
It also violates Kant’s Practical Imperative—that every human being is an end in himself or herself—because if the man destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a means to maintain tolerable conditions up to the end of his life. However, Kant maintains that people are neither things nor means for anyone else’s ends but are ends in themselves; therefore, the suicidal man cannot destroy a person (whether it be himself or another) without violating this principle.4

3.5: Criticisms of Kant’s Duty Ethics
1. 3.5 Analyze the criticisms of Kant’s concept of absolute rules


Consistency and Conflicts of Duties
As you might suspect, there are several significant criticisms of Kant’s system. He did show that some rules, when made universal, would become inconsistent and, therefore, could be said to be immoral because of their inconsistency. However, this does not tell us which rules are morally valid. Kant promulgated several Ten Commandment–like moral prohibitions based upon his moral system, such as “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” and “Do not break promises.”
He argued, for example, that one should not break a promise because it would be inconsistent to state, “I promise that I will repay you in 30 days, but I don’t intend to keep my promise.” Also, Kant reasoned, you cannot universalize the rule “Never break promises except when it is inconvenient for you to keep them,” because promises then would have no meaning—or at least we wouldn’t know when they did or did not. Kant asked what meaning a contractual agreement would have if after having said, “I promise to do 1, 2, 3, and 4,” clause 5 read, “But I can break this agreement any time at my convenience.”
Suppose, however, that not breaking a promise would result in someone being seriously injured or even killed. According to Kant, we have to keep the promise, and because consequences do not matter, an innocent person would simply have to be hurt or killed. But which is, in fact, more important: keeping a promise or preventing an innocent person from being injured or killed? One of the problems here is that Kant never tells us how to choose between conflicting duties so as to obey different but equally absolute rules. We have a duty not to kill and a duty not to break promises, but which takes precedence when the two duties conflict?
Another criticism of universalizability and consistency, as criteria of morality, is that many rules of questionable moral value can be universalized without inconsistency. For example, is there anything inconsistent or nonuniversalizable about “Never help anyone in need?” If a society were made up of fairly self-sufficient individuals, there would be nothing immoral about not helping anyone. But even if there were people in need, what would establish the necessity of helping them? If 100 people in a group were self-sufficient and 15 were in need, would it be inconsistent or nonuniversal for the 100 to keep what they had and survive, allowing the other 15 to die? It might not be moral under some other kind of rules or principles, but it would not be inconsistent to state such a rule.
Journal: Consistency in a Moral Code
Rule nonconsequentialist theories stress consistency in their moral systems and codes, whereas the act nonconsequentialist theory seems to imply variety and inconsistency. Is consistency in a moral system or code, or for a person important?

3.5.1: The Reversibility Criterion
Kant answered this type of criticism by introducing the criterion of reversibility; that is, if an action were reversed, would a person want it to be done to him? This is otherwise known as “the Golden Rule concept.” For instance, Kant would ask of the rule “Never help anyone in need,” what would you want done to or for you if you were in need? You would want to be helped; therefore such a rule, although universalizable, would not be morally universalizable, because it would not meet the reversibility (would-you-want-this-done-to-you) criterion. This criterion helps to eliminate further what seem to be immoral rules, but isn’t it a rather cagey way of smuggling in consequences? Isn’t Kant really saying that although “Never help anyone in need” is universalizable, it isn’t morally acceptable because the consequences of such a rule might backfire on the person stating it? This of course is no problem for the consequentialist (the rule utilitarian who would be the closest to Kant’s theory were it not for the fact that the utilitarian considers consequences important), but Kant has said that absolute moral rules, not consequences, are the basis of morality. Isn’t it inconsistent of him—especially because he has made such an issue of consistency—to allow consequences to creep into his theory?

3.5.2: Qualifying a Rule versus Making Exceptions to It
Another criticism of the concept of absolute rules is that it leaves open to question whether a qualified rule is any less universalizable than one that is unqualified. Kant never distinguished between making an exception to a rule and qualifying that rule. For example, if the rule is stated, “Do not break promises, but I believe that I can break them any time I want to,” I would be making an unfair exception of myself to the rule. Kant felt that one should not make an exception to a general rule and certainly not for one’s self alone. However, what if the rule is qualified so that it applies to everyone: “Do not break promises except when not breaking a promise would seriously harm or kill someone”? Here the exception applies to the rule itself rather than to some individual or individuals. Kant certainly had a strong point to make about not making exceptions; after all, what good is a rule if one can make an exception of one’s self at any time one wants to? However, “Do not kill except in self-defense” is not any less universalizable than “Do not murder,” and the former rule would seem to relate to the history of human values and also to a doctrine of fairness much better than the latter.
Journal: Moral Absolutes
The rule nonconsequentialist theories essentially state that there are certain moral absolutes that should never be violated (e.g., rules against killing, mutilating, stealing, and breaking promises). To what extent do you agree or disagree with this idea? Are there certain do’s and don’ts to which human beings should always adhere and what are they? Why should they adhere to these moral principles, and what are the reasons behind this view of yours?

3.5.3: Duties versus Inclinations
There is still another criticism having to do with the inclination–duties conflict that Kant described, and that is, what happens when your inclinations and duties are the same? For example, what if you are inclined not to kill people, a tendency that fits well with Kant’s rule “Do not kill,” which it is your duty to obey. Does this mean that because you are not inclined to kill, you are not a moral person because your duty is not pulling you away from your inclinations? Many moralists disagree with the idea that people are not moral merely because they are inclined to be good rather than always struggling with themselves to be so. Kant did not believe that a person who acts morally from inclination is immoral, but he did believe that such a person is not moral in the truest sense of the word.
It is true that on many occasions the real test of personal morality comes when human beings must decide whether to fight against their inclinations (e.g., to steal money when no one can catch them) and act out of a sense of duty (they should not steal because it is wrong or because they would not want someone else to steal from them). But is this any reason to consider people as being not fully moral if they lead a good life, do no harm to others because they do not want to, and also think it is their duty not to? Which type of person would you feel safer with, the person who is inclined not to harm or kill others or the person who has a strong inclination to kill others but restrains himself merely out of a sense of duty? It would seem that society has a better chance of being moral if most people in it have become inclined to be moral through some sort of moral education. One other inconsistency in Kant’s Duty Ethics is that he was strongly against killing and yet he was in favor of capital punishment.

3.6: Ross’s Prima Facie Duties
1. 3.6 Analyze the positives and negatives of Ross’s prima facie duties
Sir William David Ross (1877–1940) agreed with Kant that morality basically should not rest on consequences, but he disagreed with the unyielding absolutism of Kant’s theories. One might place Ross somewhere in between Kant and the rule utilitarians, in that he believed that we have certain prima facie duties that we must always adhere to unless serious circumstances or reasons tell us to do otherwise. In such exceptional circumstances an individual’s actual duty might be different from one’s prima facie duty. In other words, he did not believe that consequences make an action right or wrong, but he did think that it is necessary to consider consequences when we are making our moral choices.
Prima Facie Duties
The term 

prima facie

 literally means “at first glance” or “on the surface of things.” A prima facie duty, then, is one that all human beings must obey in a general way before any other considerations enter into the picture. Table 3.1 describes some of Ross’s Prima Facie Duties.
Table 3.1: Ross’s Prima Facie Duties

Thus, Ross, like Kant, thought that there are rules all human beings should adhere to because it is their moral obligation to do so. He also improved on Kant a great deal in the area of what to do when duties (especially Prima Facie Duties) conflict.
Principles to Resolve Conflicting Duties
Ross established two principles that we may call upon when attempting to deal with the conflict of Prima Facie Duties:
1. Always do that act in accord with the stronger prima facie duty.
2. Always do that act that has the greatest degree of prima facie rightness over prima facie wrongness.6
3.6.1: Criticisms of Ross’s Theories
Clearly, there are some prima facie problems with Ross’s theories.
Selecting Prima Facie Duties
How are we to decide which duties are indeed prima facie? Ross did list some of these duties for us, but on what basis did he do so, and what justification in either evidence or reasoning has he given us? When confronted with questions as to how we should select prima facie duties, Ross said that he was claiming that we know them to be true.
To me it seems as self-evident as anything could be, that to make a promise, for instance, is to create a moral claim on us in someone else. Many readers will perhaps say that they do not know this to be true. If so I certainly cannot prove it to them. I can only ask them to reflect again, in the hope that they will ultimately agree that they also know it to be true.7
What Ross actually is basing this selection of such duties on, then, is intuition. That is, there is no logic or evidence to justify his choices, but we are to accept what he says on the basis of intuition. If we do not have the same intuitions as he, then we are to keep trying until we do! This, of course, is both highly speculative and vague in its application with all of the attendant problems we encountered when discussing and evaluating the intuitive basis for act nonconsequentialism.
Deciding Which Prima Facie Duty Takes Precedence
A second problem arises when we look at the way in which Ross tries to resolve the decision-making difficulty of choosing the correct prima facie duty when it conflicts with another. Both of Ross’s principles are difficult to apply. He does not really tell us how we are to determine when one obligation is stronger than the other. Further, he does not give us a clear rule for determining the “balance” of prima facie rightness over wrongness. Therefore, there seems to be no clear criteria either for choosing which duties are prima facie or for deciding how we are to distinguish among them after they have been established.
Journal: Ranking Morals in Order of Importance
Do you think it is important to rank moral rules in order of importance (e.g., Ross’s Prima Facie Duties)? How will you rank your own ethical rules or those of any other system of which you are aware?

3.7: General Criticisms of Nonconsequentialist Theories
1. 3.7 Evaluate the general criticisms of the nonconsequentialist theories
The criticism of nonconsequentialist theories in general is this: Can we, and indeed, should we really avoid consequences when we are trying to set up a moral system? In addition, rule nonconsequentialist theories raise the following problems.
1. Why should we follow rules if the consequences of following them could be bad even for a few, but also, in some cases, for all concerned?
2. How can we resolve conflicts among rules that are all equally and absolutely binding?
3. Is there such a thing as a moral rule with absolutely no exceptions, given the complexities of human behavior and experience? If so, what is it?
A good example of this type of dead-end reasoning is the antiabortionist argument that under no circumstances may a life be taken and that life begins at conception. How can one argue for the saving of the mother’s life, or consider the kind of life either mother or baby will live if such absolutes already have been established? On the other side of the coin, how can one argue for the value of the life of a fetus if the prochoice advocate has taken as an absolute a woman’s right over her own body, regardless of what that body contains? What justification can either arguer give for the validity of these absolutes and for why there can be no exceptions to them under any circumstances?
When people are arguing consequences, they may at least be able to show that one action will have more good consequences than another, but when they are merely presenting “absolutes,” there can be no counterarguments made that will serve to justify exceptions. If we simply adopt an arbitrary, nonconsequentialist, absolute moral rule, then all arguments both from consequentialists and others are simply excluded. Closing off debate in this fashion is destructive to the search for truth and understanding in other areas, such as science, but it is disastrous in the sphere of morality, where the need to arrive at right answers is more crucial than in any other area of human experience.
Journal: Consequences in Moral Systems
Assess whether consideration of consequences can be safely eliminated from any moral system? Why do you think so?

4.1: Virtue Ethics Definitions
1. 4.1 List the key terms associated with virtue ethics
The dictionary defines 


 as “the quality of moral excellence, righteousness, and responsibility . . . a specific type of moral excellence or other exemplary quality considered meritorious; a worthy practice or ideal.”1 It further lists the “cardinal” or “natural” virtues as “justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance.”2
A dictionary of philosophy describes the term virtue as it is employed in Aristotle’s philosophy as being
“That state of a thing which constitutes its peculiar excellence and enables it to perform its function well . . . in man [it is] the activity of reason and of rationally ordered habits.”3
As you can see, the emphasis is on the good or virtuous character of human beings themselves, rather than on their acts or the consequences of their acts, or feelings, or rules. In other words, it is the development of the good or virtuous person that is important in this moral theory, not abstract rules or consequences of acts or rules except as they derive from a good or virtuous person or cause that person to be good or virtuous.
4.2: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

1. 4.2 Examine the teleological character of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics


Virtue Ethics derives from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (named for his son, Nicomachus). Such ethics are teleological in character (i.e., aim toward some end or purpose). As Aristotle put it,
“Every art and every inquiry, every action and choice, seems to aim at some good . . . [and] the good has rightly been defined as that at which all things aim.”4
For example, a doctor’s art aims at health, seamanship aims at a safe voyage, and economy aims at wealth. He goes on to say that the end of human life is happiness, and the basic activity of human beings is to reason—a virtuous activity; therefore, the aim of human beings, according to Aristotle, is to reason well for a whole or complete life.
Journal: Human Beings as Teleological
Do you believe that human beings are teleological, which means they have a purpose? Explain why or why not.

4.2.1: Emphasis on Goodness of Character
Aristotle is concerned with action, not as being right or good in itself, but as it is conducive to human good. In ethics, he starts from the actual moral judgments of human beings and says that by comparing, contrasting, and sifting them, we come to the formulation of general principles. Notice how this differs from the Divine Command Theory and the theories of Kant and Ross, as to the way in which principles are established. In the latter three theories, ethical principles are objective to, or outside of, human beings and are established by the supernatural or by abstract reason itself. Aristotle presupposes that there are natural ethical tendencies implanted in human beings and that to follow them with a general attitude of consistent harmony and proportion constitutes an ethical life.
4.2.2: Development of the Good or Virtuous Human Being
Aristotle describes his ethical system as being eminently commonsense based, for the most part, founded as it is on the moral judgments of the ideal human being who, based upon reason, is considered good and virtuous. He states that humans begin with a capacity for goodness, which has to be developed by practice. He says we start by doing acts that are objectively virtuous, without a knowledge that the acts are good and without actively or rationally choosing them ourselves. As we practice these acts, we come to realize that the virtue is good in and of itself. For example, a child is taught to tell the truth (objectively a virtue) by her parents, and she does so because they have taught her she should. Eventually she recognizes that truth telling is a virtue in and of itself, and she continues to tell the truth because she knows that it is virtuous to do so.
This process would seem to be circular, except that Aristotle makes a distinction between those acts that create a good disposition (e.g., telling the truth without knowing this to be a virtue) and those that flow from the good disposition once it has been created (e.g., telling the truth because a person has come to know it to be a virtue). Aristotle further states that virtue itself is a disposition that has been developed out of a capacity by the proper exercise of that capacity.
Journal: Human Beings as Virtuous
Do you know anyone whom you think is an “ideal, virtuous person”? Describe that person’s character and explain why you think about him or her in that manner.

4.2.3: What Is Virtue and How Does It Relate to Vice?
According to Aristotle, virtue is a mean between two extremes, both of which are vices—either excess or deficiency (or defect). Moral virtue, then, is defined by Aristotle as being “a disposition to choose by a rule . . . which a practically wise man would determine” to be the mean between the two extremes of excess or deficiency.5 And, according to Aristotle, practical wisdom is the ability to see what is the right thing to do in any circumstance. Therefore, a person must determine what a “practically wise, virtuous man” would choose in any circumstance calling for moral choice and then do the right thing. Obviously, Aristotle attaches much more importance to an enlightened conscience than to prior theoretical rules (again differing from the Divine Command theorist, Kant, or Ross).
4.2.4: How to Determine the Proper Mean?
What is the mean between excess and deficiency, and how does one determine it?
Some examples of means between two extremes, established by Aristotle and tabulated by Sir William David Ross (who established the ethical theory of Prima Facie Duties), are in the following table. This partial list will give you some idea of what Aristotle means by the mean between two extremes, but it doesn’t really show what the mean “relative to us” would actually be. It does, however, provide us with some general guidelines that we can refer to as we attempt to determine the mean “relative to us.”
Table 4.1: Examples of Mean between two Extremes

Feeling or Action








Sensual Pleasure








Giving Amusement




Truth Telling About Oneself








4.3: Confucian Moral Self-Cultivation
1. 4.3 Relate Confucian moral self-cultivation to the refinement of social virtuosity
At the heart of Chinese theories of moral self-cultivation is the concept of virtue. The Chinese term 
, “virtue,” can be traced back to the Shang dynasty in the twelfth century b.c.e. where it was understood to be “a kind of power that accrued to or resided within an individual that acted favorably toward a spirit or another person.”8 In later etymologies, the term de, “virtue,” meant to “have a hold upon” someone, but this power to influence others was such that it could not be used to manipulate others in order to satisfy one’s own self-interest.9 De is the inherent power or tendency to affect others and is hence most commonly translated as either “virtue” or “power.”
But it was believed that de could be cultivated and developed in ways that would lead to a self-transformation necessary to live an ethically fulfilled life. The lives of such transformed individuals would in turn have a positive, dramatic, and powerful effect upon others. The term thus carries the sense of self-realization in that it signifies all that a person can do or be as a member of a community. As such the term “excellence” might be a better translation of de. It connotes an individual excelling at becoming all that one can be in the sense of doing the best with what one has. That which each person has inherently is de, but the excellence is to develop it fully in the context of one’s life and society.
From the time of the Zhou dynasty in approximately the eleventh century b.c.e. virtue was intimately connected with statecraft. The ancient sage kings governed through ritual propriety and customs (
) and not by law and force, for good rulers displayed heartfelt reverence for their past and were concerned to look after the material and spiritual well-being of the people and to maintain harmony between heaven and earth. Proper cultivation of royal virtue or de was necessary to accomplish this in the proper way because it allowed the ruler to gain the endorsement of heaven, attract and retain good and capable ministers, and ensure the respect and loyalty of subjects.
Kongzi or “Confucius” (551–479 b.c.e.) said,
“Governing with excellence (de) can be compared to being the North Star: The North Star dwells in its place, and the multitude of stars pay it tribute.”10
It was by way of the proper cultivation of de that an excellent leader was enabled to exert such a powerful and sweeping effect on society. It was Confucius and his followers who worked out the foundations for a comprehensive program of moral self-cultivation.

4.3.1: The Confucian Analects

No thinker has influenced the ethics of Asia more than Confucius. He is China’s greatest teacher and his lessons are profoundly humanistic, emphasizing the responsibilities people have to each other for the purpose of producing and maintaining a just and orderly society. Confucius lived during a time of political upheaval and chaos known as the Spring and Autumn Period, a time that immediately preceded the Warring States Period, and his moral insights prevailed and became the basis for China’s long stability as both a civilization and a nation.
For Confucius, human beings are fundamentally social in nature. One is born into a family and is a member of a community and a nation that was regarded as an extended or “big” family. In other words, one’s identity is at all times tied to the group and one’s relationships within the social order. As a relational self, the individual occupies certain social roles that carry corresponding responsibilities. In a Chinese world the fundamental unit is the family, while the state is, in effect, the family WRIT LARGE. Enmeshed in, and a part of, this social structure one is expected to exercise mutual consideration in all human relationships. In Confucianism there are five cardinal relationships, chiefly patriarchal and hierarchical in nature, that specify duties and privileges. It is within the structure of these relationships that the virtues and attitudes that would enhance daily life were carried out.

4.3.2: The Five Confucian Cardinal Relationships
In a Confucian world, five cardinal, constant relationships help define family and social roles, order family life and promote social harmony. The five Confucian cardinal relationships are:
1. Ruler and subject
2. Father and son
3. Husband and wife
4. Elder brother and younger brother
5. Friend and friend
The relationship between ruler and subject was discussed earlier in the presentation of royal virtue (de) and ritual propriety and customs (li). In the Analects Confucius puts it this way:
Lead the people with administrative injunctions (zheng) and keep them orderly with penal law (xing), and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence (de) and keep them orderly through observing ritual propriety (li) and they will develop a sense of shame, and moreover, will order themselves.11
Confucius sees a clear difference between doing the right thing and being a good person.
All the Confucian relationships are governed by the practice of 
, “reciprocity.” The father is to care for the son, give protection, and provide education. In return the son is to practice filial piety; accept instruction, guidance, and direction from the father; and care for him in old age. In addition, the eldest son was to conduct the burial ceremony according to customary procedures and to honor ancestors.
As husband, the man is to head the household and take care of family duties and provide for his wife and family. Moreover, he was to be honorable and faithful. The wife’s position is subordinate to her husband. She is to look after the home and be obedient to her husband. There is an old saying in China: “The husband sings and the wife harmonizes.” Additionally, the wife is expected to meet the needs of her husband and care for children. The elder brother is to set an example of good behavior and cultivate refinement for the younger children. The younger brother in turn shows respect to the elder brother because of his experience and character.
Friendship is a reciprocal relationship of respect among equals. It is the only cardinal relationship that is not hierarchical. The nature of the Confucian relationships tells us that while we must show respect equally to all, not everyone is equal. There is a place for legitimate authority, and it is proper to show deference to that position of authority. Over time the relationships and their corresponding roles and responsibilities change—the elder son becomes a husband and father and children become parents. In the Confucian relationships each person understands his or her place in relation to others, and virtue only makes sense within interpersonal relationships. The Confucian virtues thus are decidedly social in nature.
4.3.3: Confucian Harmony
A study of Chinese thought suggests that its aim is to achieve a grand harmony. In light of this notion of harmony we will discuss the two chief Confucian virtues, namely, ren, translated variously as:
· “human-heartedness,” “benevolence,” “goodness,” or “humaneness” and
· li, “rites,” “ritual propriety,” or “appropriateness.”

Ren etymologically referred to
“Members of a clan” as opposed to those outside of the clan or aliens. Within the clan it referred to the forbearance toward other members that was not extended to those outside the clan. Their behavior was humane and eventually became a general term for human being, thus, distinguishing the “human” from the “animal” and suggesting conduct worthy and befitting of a human as distinct from brutes. It is characterized by the Confucian Silver Rule: “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.”

The Virtue of Ren


Ren is the chief Confucian virtue and highlights and enhances the natural relationship between the individual and the community. In fact, the term ren is actually composed of two Chinese characters: The first represents the individual person and the second is the character for the number two. Hence, the ideogram for ren is “one-being-with-others.”12 The Chinese self is a relational self. One is an “individual” only in relation to others, and those relationships constitute one’s identity. Confucian scholar Roger Ames (1947–) puts it this way:
The community is a project of disclosure. This inseparability of personal integrity and social integration collapses the means/end distinction, rendering each person both an end in himself or herself and a condition or means for everyone else in the community to be what they are. The model is one of mutuality.13

Ren attempts to harmonize individual interests with the good of the community. However, in all cases primacy is extended to the common good. This last point leads logically to a consideration of li.

The Virtue of Li



, “ritual propriety,” is the Confucian virtue that must be cultivated if one is to be a full participant in the community, which by way of li is itself ritually constituted. Li refers to all meaning-invested roles and life forms within the community that are transmitted by way of custom and tradition from generation to generation. If the cultivation of the virtue ren results in the proper dispositional attitude that, as a human being, one brings to human relationships, then li makes it possible for the individual to exhibit appropriate conduct in any specific situation from conducting oneself in the presence of a ruler, to dress, table manners and etiquette, patterns of greeting, to graduations, weddings, funerals, and ancestor worship. “Li is the concretized expression of humanness.”14 Li is the personal appropriation of the tradition and hence of the community in a way that is not merely formal and perfunctory but also authentic, heartfelt, and personal. Li brings social stability to a society and allows it to run well without excessive imposition of laws and threats of punishment.

Mengzi’s Idealized Confucianism
Confucius’ disciple Mengzi or “Mencius” (391–308 b.c.e.) presented an idealized Confucianism and argued that human beings are innately good. That is, people have a natural disposition toward goodness. As such moral self-cultivation involves the development and bringing forth of one’s true nature. Like “sprouts,” virtue needs to be tended and cultivated into full bloom. However, an equally great figure in the Confucian tradition, Xunzi (310–219 b.c.e.), offered what he considered a realistic rendering of Confucian thought. Master Xun taught that human nature is evil. Human nature is evil because people are not, as Mengzi taught, naturally disposed to goodness but are inclined to self-interest. Since goods are limited and people desire the same things, there will be conflict and evil. Thus, virtuous conduct that leads to a stable and good society involves disciplined cultivation. In contrast to Mencius who describes moral self-cultivation utilizing the agricultural metaphor of tending sprouts, Xunzi describes moral self-cultivation metaphorically in terms of the severe processes of straightening crooked wood and sharpening metal on a grindstone. That is to say, becoming virtuous is nonnatural, but strictly conventional.
In any case, all Confucians agree that the virtues are developed through moral self-cultivation until they become habits and attitudes of character. This process is a process of not only becoming a good person but also, in fact, of becoming fully human. This moral ideal is embodied in the person of the 
, “superior person,” or “cultivated individual” (similar in some respects to Aristotle’s “practically wise, virtuous man”). In Confucian thought, moral self-cultivation is always an exercise in, and refinement of, social virtuosity.

4.4: Confucian Role Ethics
1. 4.4 Compare the Confucian “role ethics” with the traditional consequentialist, nonconsequentialist, and virtue ethics theories
Qualities of excellence and, indeed, the institution of morality in the Confucian tradition are grounded in the cultivation of family reverence. The Analects of Confucius states,
It is a rare thing for someone who has a sense of family reverence and fraternal responsibility (xiaoti) to have a taste for defying authority. And it is unheard of for those who have no taste for defying authority to be keen on initiating rebellion. Exemplary persons (junzi) concentrate their efforts on the root, for the root having taken hold, the proper way (dao) will grow therefrom. As for family reverence and fraternal responsibility, it is, I suspect, the root of consummate conduct (ren). (1.2)15
Family reverence is the root of ren which may also be translated as goodness or humanity.
Roger Ames (1947–) and Henry Rosemont, Jr. (1934–) have identified this Confucian system of morality as “role ethics.” Here is what they say:
Given this centrality of family feeling in the evolution of a Confucian moral sensibility, we have tried on the basis of the Xiaojing—the Classic of Family Reverence—and supplemental passages found within the other early philosophical writings to articulate what we take to be a specifically Confucian conception of “role ethics.” This role ethics takes as its starting point and as its inspiration the perceived necessity of family feeling as ground in the development of the moral life.16
Ames and Rosemont are, in effect, putting forth role ethics as a theory distinctively different from the basic moral theories that have emerged in the course of the Western ethical tradition.
In this text, Confucian “role ethics” is also considered as a “new” type of ethical theory along with, but distinct from, traditional consequentialist, nonconsequentialist, and virtue ethics theories. The argument here is that because the Chinese world assumes an entirely different, nonessentialist, ontology, a dynamic cosmos and a human world in which all relationships are characteristically familial, Confucian role ethics is distinct as an ethical theory and must be understood on its own terms. Confucian role ethics has no Western equivalent. The early Chinese lexicon contains almost none of the terms utilized in Western moral discourse. For example, the Chinese relational self is fundamentally different than the Enlightenment and contemporary Western view of an individual as a “free, rational, autonomous moral agent.” Thus, the Confucian does not consider abstract individuals but places the focus of attention and ethical decision making on concrete persons in a matrix of role relationships with others. The ground of this ethic is “family reverence” or “family feeling” (
). The Chinese character xiao (pronounced “sheeow”) represented a stylized picture of an old, gray-haired person and a young child, and thus, it reflects generational deference and the reverence that it engenders. It has traditionally been translated as “filial piety,” but such a translation does not resonate well with modern readers.
Concerning the centrality of xiao in a theory of role ethics, Ames and Rosemont are explicit:

Xiao is the foundation for all Confucian teachings, for without feeling reverence for and within one’s family, the moral and spiritual cultivation necessary for becoming “a consummate human being (ren)” and a socially and politically engaged “exemplary person (junzi)” would not be possible. Significantly, this Confucian “role ethics”—how to live optimally within the roles and relations that constitute one—originates in and radiates out, from the concrete family feelings that constitute the relations between children and their elders and the interdependent roles that they live. Such family feeling is at once ordinary and everyday, and yet at the same time is arguably the most extraordinary aspect of the human experience.17
Family reverence, then, is both the ground and the glue that permeates all Confucian relationships. And, it is through family and social (extended family) roles that one exercises responsibility, achieves humanity, and, thereby, extends the way (
). Through various roles and relationships, one is able to actualize virtues such as ren, li, and shu, to give examples. Because Confucian role ethics is an ethic of responsibilities that require action, it is a robust ethic that calls forth a creative moral imagination that enables the individual to put oneself in the place of another in order to determine to put forth one’s best effort to achieve the most appropriate result under the particular circumstances.

4.5: Contemporary Analysis of Virtue Ethics
1. 4.5 Report how the contemporary theories of consequentialism and Kantianism oppose the moral theories.
Contemporary theories of Virtue Ethics are primarily a reaction against moral theories that attempt to fit our moral experience into an established system of rules or preestablished ideals.
That is to say, contemporary theories of Virtue Ethics stand in opposition to the moral theories that have come to dominate the modern world, specifically 
 and Kantianism. Suggestions have been made that modern moral philosophy is bankrupt, misguided, overformalized, and incomplete. Proponents of Virtue Ethics hold that a consideration of character provides a more adequate and comprehensive understanding of moral experience because it more adequately captures the issues and concerns of ordinary life. There is a wide variety of contemporary theories of Virtue Ethics, and although most draw heavily from the ideas of Aristotle, these theories are chiefly concerned with overcoming the perceived weaknesses of modern moral theory based largely on rules. There has been increased interest in, and a revival of, Confucian views of ethics too.

4.5.1: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Analysis of Virtue Ethics
Probably the most significant and prominent contemporary analysis of Virtue Ethics, especially Aristotle’s version of it, may be found in Alasdair MacIntyre’s (1929– ) book After Virtue. In analyzing Aristotle’s intentions, MacIntyre states that virtues are dispositions not only to act in particular ways but also to feel in particular ways, which obviously emphasizes the creation of a virtuous character in oneself, not merely the following of rules or the calculation of good consequences. One must create virtuous feelings or inclinations within, not merely act virtuously. MacIntyre further stated that to act virtuously is not to act against inclination (as Kant thought), but rather to act from inclinations that have been formed through the cultivation of the virtues.18 The idea, then, is to decide what the practically wise and virtuous human being would do in any situation involving moral choice, and then do likewise. As MacIntyre says, human beings must know what they are doing when they judge or act virtuously, and then they should do what is virtuous merely because it is so.19

Creating the Good Human Being
Virtue Ethics attempts to create the good or virtuous human being, not just good acts or rules and not just a robot who follows preestablished rules or a person who acts on whim or tries to achieve good consequences. It seeks to inculcate virtue by urging human beings to practice virtuous acts in order to create the habitually virtuous or good person who will then continue to act virtuously. Many ethicists see this as constituting one of our major problems today: We have rules and laws and systems of ethics, but we still do not have ethical or virtuous human beings. These ethicists believe that until we create ethical or virtuous people, our chances of creating a moral society will remain minimal. After all, they say, we have had rules, laws, and regulations for at least several millennia and have even more nowadays, but still badness, immorality, viciousness, cruelty, and vice seem to be getting worse rather than better. It is generally agreed that virtues are beneficial to individuals and the community.
An example of this debate may be drawn from the passing of laws against racial discrimination. When President Harry Truman (1884–1972) proposed the racial integration of the U.S. military, some argued that “you cannot legislate morality”; that is, you may pass laws that force people to behave in certain ways or to act differently than they want to or have done in the past, but laws cannot change the way people feel inside. Until you change their feelings, they said, you will never really change people’s morals. This idea has its point; however, many people’s moral views did change when racial integration became the law of the land. Many others’ views, of course, still haven’t changed, and critics of this view ask, “Isn’t it too idealistic to think you can change people’s morality to the point where everyone becomes a virtuous person?” Also, they add that rules and laws often do help to create virtuous people, or at least force them to act virtuously, and perhaps that’s the best we can do.

Unifying Reason and Emotion
Both act nonconsequentialism and Kant’s theories attempt to separate reason from emotion or feelings. Virtue Ethics, on the other hand, attempts to unify them by stating that virtues are dispositions not only to act in certain ways but also to feel in certain ways—virtuously in both cases. The purpose again is to use reasoning (practical wisdom) to cause people to do what is virtuous, while at the same time inculcating that virtuousness within so that humans not only reason virtuously but also begin and continue to feel virtuous. None of the other theories attempt to do this.
Kant eschews acting on inclination almost to the point of absurdity so that the critical question to be propounded against his theory is, “What if people are inclined to be virtuous? Shouldn’t they act upon those inclinations?” Kant seems to say that such people wouldn’t be as moral as they would have been if they had acted virtuously against their bad inclinations. On the other hand, the act nonconsequentialist says that we should act only on a basis of emotion—that is, what feels right or virtuous at any particular moment or in any particular situation. Aristotle, like Kant, would be aghast at such a theory of morality because he believed that human beings’ major activity was to reason well so as to achieve a complete life; however, he tried much more than Kant did to integrate emotion or feelings with reason, without excluding the former.

Emphasizes Moderation
Virtue Ethics, at least Aristotle’s version of it, gives us a way to achieve moderation between excess and deficiency. Many ethicists believe, along with the Greeks, that “moderation in all things” is what human beings ought to strive for. Aristotle attempts to set up means to achieve moderation by codifying what constitutes excess, defect, and the mean between them, as described in Ross’ table shown earlier. He also encourages freedom by allowing individuals to decide upon the appropriate mean relative to themselves. Again he seems to encourage an integration between feeling and reason by urging individuals to use both their reason and their feelings to decide upon the appropriate mean for them. For Confucius, the virtues contribute both to harmony between reason and feelings and to harmony between the individual and society.
Journal: Moderation in Virtues
Do you believe that moderation is always a virtue? Should people always strive to reach the mean between two extremes? Why, or why not?

Do Human Beings Have an End?
One of Aristotle’s first assumptions is that all things have a purpose or end at which they aim. He then goes on to say that the end of human life is happiness, and that all human beings aim at that. First, is it true or proven that all things have an end or purpose? Many people argue that they do, but many also argue that it is not clear that they do. For example, some argue that the world and everything in it has occurred by chance or randomly and that it is not at all clear that anything in such a universe aims toward any end except its own death or dissolution. Even if we assume that everything has an end toward which it aims, what proves that the end of human life is happiness? Couldn’t it just as well be knowledge, spirituality, death, suffering, or other things? Aristotle’s assumption is just that—an assumption. Many would also argue that happiness is not an appropriate end for human life but that something more “noble” is appropriate, such as love of God and the hope of being with Him. Furthermore, some argue that “to reason well for a complete life” might be a philosopher’s view of what the human aim is, but why couldn’t it be other things as well? Again, Aristotle has made another assumption, but religionists might argue that being spiritual is the human aim, and other philosophers might argue that feelings or emotions are the aim. Many contemporary proponents of Virtue Ethics do not agree with Aristotle that the ultimate aim is happiness, but something else, for example, responding well to the “demands of the world” as a matter of disposition. It is appropriate to question Aristotle’s assumption about the ultimate end for human beings, but the challenges to Aristotle’s view do not present a fatal flaw for Virtue Ethics.
Are Morals Naturally Implanted?
A second major assumption by Aristotle is that the tendency to be moral is naturally implanted in human beings. What evidence is there to support that claim? Many would argue that morality is not some innate characteristic or idea, but rather something that is taught and learned from experience. The only tendency humans have is to be able to reason, and reason in and of itself does not necessarily imply morality, although it is thought by many, Aristotle included, to be its basis. Is it really true, however, that human beings have a natural, innate tendency to be moral? Some argue in the affirmative and some argue the opposite, but there is no clear evidence or proof that Aristotle’s assumption is true. The Confucian scholar Xunzi, as we saw earlier, made the opposite assumption as the basis of his account of virtue and moral self-cultivation.
What Is Virtue and What Constitutes the Virtues?
One of the most significant problems with this theory, however, centers around the following questions: What is virtue, what are the virtues, and what is the ideal, or who is the virtuous human being we are supposed to emulate when choosing our virtues? Some, including Aristotle, argue that all we need to know and provide is an account of what human flourishing and well-being consist of; then the virtues can be adequately characterized as those qualities needed to promote such flourishing and well-being. According to MacIntyre, however, there have been, and still are, deep conflicts as to what is involved in human flourishing and well-being.20
He goes on to say that different periods in history and historical figures from those periods present us with several sets of virtues:
1. In ancient Homeric Greece, a man was what he did; that is, a man and his actions were considered to be identical. Morality and social structure were one in heroic societies; the ideal virtuous man was the warrior, and the virtues were strength and courage.
2. For Aristotle, Aquinas (1225–1274), and the New Testament, virtue is a quality that enables one to move toward the achievement of a specifically human end (natural or supernatural). For Aristotle, this was rationality and the ideal virtuous man was the Athenian gentleman. For Aquinas and the New Testament, the virtues are faith, hope, charity (or love), and humility, and the ideal virtuous man is the saint.
3. For Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), virtue is a quality that has utility in achieving earthly and heavenly success. His concept of virtue was teleological, like Aristotle’s, but utilitarian in character. To Franklin the virtues were cleanliness, silence, industry, and chastity, among many.21
4.6: Who Is the Ideal Virtuous Person?
1. 4.6 Analyze the image of the ideal virtuous person


Finally, because Aristotle states that we ought to decide what a virtuous act or person is by modeling ourselves after the ideal virtuous person, how do we determine who and what that person is? It is possible that we could each name an ideal person we feel we ought to emulate, but wouldn’t we come up with a lot of different ones, depending upon our own backgrounds, experiences, and desires? For example, the Homeric ideal of a virtuous human being would appeal to some people, as would the humble saint to others, or the person of intellect to still others, but wouldn’t we all act differently depending upon what traits we admired? No claim is made that we couldn’t agree upon some sort of composite virtuous person, but the claim is that it wouldn’t be easy. How would we be able to say that we ought to act in connection with such an ideal when it would be just that: an abstract ideal of a human being? Also, how would we know that we had come up with the truly virtuous ideal person?
Certainly one of the goals of the teaching of ethics would seem to be the creation of a virtuous or ethical person; however, it is one thing to try to get people to act ethically and another to assume that they will do ethical acts because they are already virtuous. It hasn’t worked successfully to hold up certain public figures and say, “Here is the ideal virtuous person; now act as he or she does.” History has shown that many of our socalled heroes have had feet of clay, or at least not always acted virtuously. Look at the number of corrupt “scholar–officials” who have characterized much of China’s long history. These men received extensive training in the Confucian classics as a requirement for public service. Look at how many of our nation’s famous founders owned slaves, for instance. Look at how many presidents have not been perfect in their private and their public lives. Many of them have still done some good for the country and the people in it, but they have not necessarily fit any pattern of the “ideal virtuous person.”
Some contemporary theorists of Virtue Ethics, such as Christine Swanton, argue that the requirements for virtue are not set by one standard, for example, that attainable by Aristotle’s “practically wise, virtuous man” or Confucian junzi. Standards for virtuous conduct, she holds, should reflect the human condition marred by assorted troubles and the difficulty of attaining (full) virtue. Her view is that virtue is a concept that must always be understood and applied contextually. “A 
,” Swanton says, “is a good quality of character, more specifically a disposition to respond to, or acknowledge, items within its field or fields in an excellent or good enough way.”22 Now the notion of a “good enough way” is vague and thus problematic. For Swanton, it means that one’s response must appropriately meet the demands of the world in a particular situation in which virtue applies. In Aristotelian terms, one might say that between the extremes of excess and deficiency there is a range of possible responses that may be considered virtuous relative to a particular situation.
Journal: The Ideal Virtuous Person
Do you believe people are born virtuous or are groomed to be like that? If you believe they are born that way, what evidence or proof can you cite in support of your belief? If people are taught to be virtuous, what methods should be used to make them so?

Virtue Ethics helps us see that an overall theory of ethics must provide an understanding of moral character. Clearly, modern moral philosophy has failed to do this and thus is incomplete. But, theories of Virtue Ethics are also incomplete in the opposite way because they do not tell us what we should do in specific situations. That is, virtues do not provide specific directives for right conduct. Furthermore, theories of Virtue Ethics do not help us analyze moral issues or to effectually engage in moral reasoning. This last point is especially important because the world in which we live is becoming increasingly nontraditional. Moreover, the world is driven by high-speed technological and social change that creates issues of increasing novelty and complexity. The ability to reason well about complicated ethical issues and to think through global moral problems and multicultural contexts should be a primary concern of moral education. What we need is rational moral education (not indoctrination into a specific ethical code) that will enable people to learn what moral issues are and how to deal with them. With such an education, hopefully they will at least know how to act virtuously and ethically.

4.6.1: Vice and Virtue
Vices such as cowardice, jealousy, envy, greed, gluttony, and spite are examples of undesirable character traits. These traits become imbedded in an individual’s life through the indulgence of degrading appetites, lack of self-discipline and education, and the habitual practice of immoral conduct. Because of vice the possessor is rendered base and ignoble. Such a person is ruled, not by reason, but by impulse. The vicious person is discontent and anxiety ridden and lives a life tormented by inner tension and chaos. This stormy inner life manifests itself in conduct that is corrupt, ignoble, and immoral. Some hold the life of the vicious person is defective.
In contrast, virtues are “human excellences.” They consist of those traits of character that should be fostered in human beings, such as honesty, loyalty, courage, wisdom, moderation, civility, compassion, tolerance, and reverence. This is only a partial list. The life of the virtuous person is characterized by inner strength, contentment, happiness, and purpose.
St. Augustine’s Vices
St. Augustine (354–430) is one of the great Christian philosophers in the Western tradition. In “The Depths of Vice,” St. Augustine looks at the anatomy of evil. In his discussion, he lists a number of vices and describes the various manifestations of these vices:

pride imitates loftiness of mind . . .
what does ambition seek, except honor and glory . . .
the cruelty of the mighty desires to be feared . . .
the caresses of the wanton call for love . . .
curiosity pretends to be a desire for knowledge . . .
ignorance itself and folly are cloaked over the names of simplicity and innocence . . .
sloth . . . seeks rest . . .
luxury of life desires to be called plenty and abundance . . .
prodigality casts but the shadow of liberality
avarice desires to possess many things
envy contends for excellence . . .
anger seeks vengeance . . .
fear shrinks back at sudden and unusual things threatening what it loves . . .
sadness wastes away over things now lost in which desire once took delight . . .
(and), the soul commits fornication when it is turned away from you (God).23

Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues


Perhaps no American made the most of what he had than Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). A true “universal man”—philosopher, scientist, political sage, printer, business and civic leader, musician, and inventor—Franklin desired to achieve moral excellence. In order to fulfill his purpose, he chose, from among the many enumerations of the virtues that he had encountered in his personal reading and study, 13 virtues. To each he annexed a short precept that he felt fully expressed the extent he assigned to its meaning. The names of Franklin’s virtues and their precepts are
Franklin’s Virtues
· Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
· Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.
· Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
· Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
· Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, waste nothing.
· Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
· Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
· Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
· Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
· Tolerate no uncleanness in body, cloths, or habitation.
· Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
· Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
· Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin’s plan was to make each of the 13 virtues a habit by focusing his attention on only one at a time until he had achieved mastery. With that aim in mind, Franklin arranged the virtues in the order in which they appear.
Journal: The List of Virtues
Think of someone whom you think is an “ideal, virtuous person.” Describe that person’s character and explain why you think about him or her in that manner.

Why Choose Us

  • 100% non-plagiarized Papers
  • 24/7 /365 Service Available
  • Affordable Prices
  • Any Paper, Urgency, and Subject
  • Will complete your papers in 6 hours
  • On-time Delivery
  • Money-back and Privacy guarantees
  • Unlimited Amendments upon request
  • Satisfaction guarantee

How it Works

  • Click on the “Place Order” tab at the top menu or “Order Now” icon at the bottom and a new page will appear with an order form to be filled.
  • Fill in your paper’s requirements in the "PAPER DETAILS" section.
  • Fill in your paper’s academic level, deadline, and the required number of pages from the drop-down menus.
  • Click “CREATE ACCOUNT & SIGN IN” to enter your registration details and get an account with us for record-keeping and then, click on “PROCEED TO CHECKOUT” at the bottom of the page.
  • From there, the payment sections will show, follow the guided payment process and your order will be available for our writing team to work on it.