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Ethical Theory: Virtue Ethics

Updated on May 30, 2016

The ethical theory that I think is the most valid is virtue ethics. I will attempt to prove my stand by comparing virtue ethics with the two other main theories under normative ethics: utilitarianism and categorical imperative (deontology). Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which says that the right to do is that which maximizes pleasure, also called as well-being or happiness, for the greatest number of people. It sees actions as a way of means to an end, the end being genuine happiness for people thus its name “utilitarianism” from the root word “utility” which means tool. Meanwhile, categorical imperative is an offshoot of deontology from Kant’s teachings. A “categorical imperative” was defined as a way of evaluating motivations for action. In other words, the categorical imperative is what we know as “rules”. It is the criteria for assessing whether an act is right or wrong. For deontologists, a set of rules is the ultimate determinant of whether an act is acceptable of not. To compare, virtue ethics holds that the true factor that determines the rightness or wrongness of an act is the thought that if that it was a virtuous person will be do.

Personally, I think virtue ethics is the most fair and most helpful in assessing the different ethical challenges that we face every day. It is a pure ethical way because it puts aside the rules and the consequences of a certain act and instead goes ahead and does what a virtuous person would do. The main problem here is defining what a “virtuous” person is. It can be argued that various standards may be applied and indeed that is the case. One such example is the assumption that the virtuous person is honest. An honest person can tell the truth always and end up doing harm to another if the thing is not properly given enough thought. One can also argue that a virtuous is the one who does no wrong to another. Here we can see an overlapping of two characters that is said to define virtuous people. The only solution here is to state that the factors are not close but are rather open-ended and are subject to change and varying interpretations.

Virtue ethics is particularly helpful in resolving ethical issues which call for a sense of humanity or the questions which touch on the issue of what it is to be human. For example, in the discussion on animal rights it was raised by utilitarianism that animals have rights because they are part of the same world that we humans belong in and as such should have a stake when we are assessing who the “majority” will comprise. However, utilitarianism was also used in a way that took into account the welfare of all involved, particularly the “offenders”. It could have been argued, for the sake of an example, that the offender was a poor man who had to feed his family and could not find any source of meal because his two minimum-wage jobs just doesn’t provide enough for his family. Nevertheless, they have a dog which was fully vaccinated from the time when they still had financial stability. With no prospects of finding a way to provide food in their table that night, he decided to kill their dog, so they can have something to eat. One might argue that for utilitarianism, he did the right thing because he was thinking about the welfare and happiness of his family. As for deontology, it is wrong because he did not follow the rules which state that animals have rights. For a virtue ethics advocate, killing the dog is seen as wrong because a virtuous person would not kill animals no matter how small they may be.


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