Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics (or aretaic ethics[1] /ˌærəˈteɪ.ɪk/, from Greek ἀρετή (arete)) are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.

Key concepts

The western tradition's key concepts derive from ancient Greek philosophy. These theories include arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing).

A virtue is generally agreed to be a character trait, such as a habitual action or settled sentiment.[2] Specifically, a virtue is a positive trait that makes its possessor a good human being. A virtue is thus to be distinguished from single actions or feelings. Rosalind Hursthouse says:

A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable” character trait. It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say “goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker—but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)

Practical wisdom is an acquired trait that enables its possessor to identify the thing to do in any given situation.[3] Unlike theoretical wisdom, practical reason results in action or decision.[4] As John McDowell puts it, practical wisdom involves a "perceptual sensitivity" to what a situation requires.[5]

Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) is a state variously translated from Greek as 'well-being', 'happiness', 'blessedness', and in the context of virtue ethics, 'human flourishing'.[6] Eudaimonia in this sense is not a subjective, but an objective, state. It characterizes the well-lived life. According to Aristotle, the most prominent exponent of eudaimonia in the Western philosophical tradition, eudaimonia is the proper goal of human life. It consists of exercising the characteristic human quality—reason—as the soul's most proper and nourishing activity. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, like Plato before him, argued that the pursuit of eudaimonia is an "activity of the soul in accordance with perfect virtue",[7] which further could only properly be exercised in the characteristic human community—the polis or city-state.

Although eudaimonia was first popularized by Aristotle, it now belongs to the tradition of virtue theories generally. For the virtue theorist, eudaimonia describes that state achieved by the person who lives the proper human life, an outcome that can be reached by practicing the virtues. A virtue is a habit or quality that allows the bearer to succeed at his, her, or its purpose. The virtue of a knife, for example, is sharpness; among the virtues of a racehorse is speed. Thus, to identify the virtues for human beings, one must have an account of what the human purpose is.

History of virtue

Like much of the Western tradition, virtue theory seems to have originated in ancient Greek philosophy.

Virtue ethics began with Socrates, and was subsequently developed further by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.[8][9][10] Virtue ethics refers to a collection of normative ethical philosophies that place an emphasis on being rather than doing. Another way to say this is that in virtue ethics, morality stems from the identity or character of the individual, rather than being a reflection of the actions (or consequences thereof) of the individual. Today, there is debate among various adherents of virtue ethics concerning what specific virtues are morally praiseworthy. However, most theorists agree that morality comes as a result of intrinsic virtues. Intrinsic virtues are the common link that unites the disparate normative philosophies into the field known as virtue ethics. Plato and Aristotle's treatment of virtues are not the same. Plato believes virtue is effectively an end to be sought, for which a friend might be a useful means. Aristotle states that the virtues function more as means to safeguard human relations, particularly authentic friendship, without which one's quest for happiness is frustrated.

Discussion of what were known as the Four Cardinal Virtueswisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance – can be found in Plato's Republic. The virtues also figure prominently in Aristotle's moral theory (see below). Virtue theory was inserted into the study of history by moralistic historians such as Livy, Plutarch, and Tacitus. The Greek idea of the virtues was passed on in Roman philosophy through Cicero and later incorporated into Christian moral theology by St. Ambrose of Milan. During the scholastic period, the most comprehensive consideration of the virtues from a theological perspective was provided by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae and his Commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics.

Though the tradition receded into the background of European philosophical thought in these centuries, the term "virtue" remained current during this period, and in fact appears prominently in the tradition of classical republicanism or classical liberalism. This tradition was prominent in the intellectual life of 16th-century Italy, as well as 17th- and 18th-century Britain and America; indeed the term "virtue" appears frequently in the work of Niccolò Machiavelli, David Hume, the republicans of the English Civil War period, the 18th-century English Whigs, and the prominent figures among the Scottish Enlightenment and the American Founding Fathers.

Contemporary "aretaic turn"

Although some Enlightenment philosophers (e.g. Hume) continued to emphasise the virtues, with the ascendancy of utilitarianism and deontology, virtue theory moved to the margins of Western philosophy. The contemporary revival of virtue theory is frequently traced to the philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe's 1958 essay "Modern Moral Philosophy". Following this:

The aretaic turn in moral philosophy is paralleled by analogous developments in other philosophical disciplines. One of these is epistemology, where a distinctive virtue epistemology has been developed by Linda Zagzebski and others. In political theory, there has been discussion of "virtue politics", and in legal theory, there is a small but growing body of literature on virtue jurisprudence. The aretaic turn also exists in American constitutional theory, where proponents argue for an emphasis on virtue and vice of constitutional adjudicators.

Aretaic approaches to morality, epistemology, and jurisprudence have been the subject of intense debates. One criticism that is frequently made focuses on the problem of guidance; opponents, such as Robert Louden in his article "Some Vices of Virtue Ethics", question whether the idea of a virtuous moral actor, believer, or judge can provide the guidance necessary for action, belief formation, or the decision of legal disputes.

Lists of virtues

There are several different lists of particular virtues. Socrates argued that virtue is knowledge, which suggests that there is really only one virtue.[12] The Stoics concurred, claiming the four cardinal virtues were only aspects of true virtue. John McDowell is a recent defender of this conception. He argues that virtue is a "perceptual capacity" to identify how one ought to act, and that all particular virtues are merely "specialized sensitivities" to a range of reasons for acting.[13]

Aristotle's list

Aristotle identifies approximately eighteen virtues that enable a person to perform their human function well.[14] He distinguished virtues pertaining to emotion and desire from those pertaining to the mind.[15] The first he calls "moral" virtues, and the second intellectual virtues (though both are "moral" in the modern sense of the word). Each moral virtue was a mean (see golden mean) between two corresponding vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. Each intellectual virtue is a mental skill or habit by which the mind arrives at truth, affirming what is or denying what is not.[16] In the Nicomachean Ethics he discusses about 11 moral virtues:

Moral Virtues

1. Courage in the face of fear

2. Temperance in the face of pleasure and pain

3. Liberality with wealth and possessions

4. Magnificence with great wealth and possessions

5. Magnanimity with great honors

6. Proper ambition with normal honors

7. Truthfulness with self-expression

8. Wittiness in conversation

9. Friendliness in social conduct

10. Modesty in the face of shame or shamelessness

11. Righteous indignation in the face of injury

Fear and Confidence Rashness Courage Cowardice
Pleasure and Pain Licentiousness/Self-indulgence Temperance Insensibility
Getting and Spending(minor) Prodigality Liberality Illiberality/Meanness
Getting and Spending(major) Vulgarity/Tastelessness Magnificence Pettiness/Stinginess
Honour and Dishonour(major) Vanity Magnanimity Pusillanimity
Honour and Dishonour(minor) Ambition/empty vanity Proper ambition/pride Unambitiousness/undue humility
Anger Irascibility Patience/Good temper Lack of spirit/unirascibility
Self-expression Boastfulness Truthfulness Understatement/mock modesty
Conversation Buffoonery Wittiness Boorishness
Social Conduct Obsequiousness Friendliness Cantankerousness
Shame Shyness Modesty Shamelessness
Indignation Envy Righteous indignation Malicious enjoyment/Spitefulness
Intellectual virtues
  1. Nous (intelligence), which apprehends fundamental truths (such as definitions, self-evident principles)
  2. Episteme (science), which is skill with inferential reasoning (such as proofs, syllogisms, demonstrations)
  3. Sophia (theoretical wisdom), which combines fundamental truths with valid, necessary inferences to reason well about unchanging truths.

Aristotle also mentions several other traits:

  • Gnome (good sense) -- passing judgment, "sympathetic understanding"
  • Synesis (understanding) -- comprehending what others say, does not issue commands
  • Phronesis (practical wisdom) -- knowledge of what to do, knowledge of changing truths, issues commands
  • Techne (art, craftsmanship)

Aristotle's list is not the only list, however. As Alasdair MacIntyre observed in After Virtue, thinkers as diverse as: Homer; the authors of the New Testament; Thomas Aquinas; and Benjamin Franklin; have all proposed lists.[17]


Some philosophers criticise virtue ethics as culturally relative. Since different people, cultures and societies often have different opinions on what constitutes a virtue, perhaps there is no one objectively right list.

For example, regarding what are the most important virtues, Aristotle proposed the following nine: wisdom; prudence; justice; fortitude; courage; liberality; magnificence; magnanimity; temperance. In contrast, one modern-era philosopher proposed as the four cardinal virtues: ambition/humility; love; courage; and honesty.[18]

As another example, regarding virtues once supposedly applicable to women, many would have once considered a virtuous woman to be quiet, servile, and industrious. This conception of female virtue no longer holds true in many modern societies. Proponents of virtue theory sometimes respond to this objection by arguing that a central feature of a virtue is its universal applicability. In other words, any character trait defined as a virtue must reasonably be universally regarded as a virtue for all sentient beings. According to this view, it is inconsistent to claim for example servility as a female virtue, while at the same time not proposing it as a male one.

Other proponents of virtue theory, notably Alasdair MacIntyre, respond to this objection by arguing that any account of the virtues must indeed be generated out of the community in which those virtues are to be practiced: the very word ethics implies "ethos". That is to say that the virtues are, and necessarily must be, grounded in a particular time and place. What counts as virtue in 4th-century Athens would be a ludicrous guide to proper behavior in 21st-century Toronto, and vice versa. To take this view does not necessarily commit one to the argument that accounts of the virtues must therefore be static: moral activity—that is, attempts to contemplate and practice the virtues—can provide the cultural resources that allow people to change, albeit slowly, the ethos of their own societies. MacIntyre appears to take this position in his seminal work on virtue ethics, After Virtue. One might cite (though MacIntyre does not) the rapid emergence of abolitionist thought in the slave-holding societies of the 18th-century Atlantic world as an example of this sort of change: over a relatively short period of time, perhaps 1760 to 1800, in Britain, France, and British America, slave-holding, previously thought to be morally neutral or even virtuous, rapidly became seen as vicious among wide swathes of society. While the emergence of abolitionist thought derived from many sources, the work of David Brion Davis, among others, has established that one source was the rapid, internal evolution of moral theory among certain sectors of these societies, notably the Quakers.

Another objection to virtue theory is that the school does not focus on what sorts of actions are morally permitted and which ones are not, but rather on what sort of qualities someone ought to foster in order to become a good person. In other words, while some virtue theorists may not condemn, for example, murder as an inherently immoral or impermissible sort of action, they may argue that someone who commits a murder is severely lacking in several important virtues, such as compassion and fairness. Still, antagonists of the theory often object that this particular feature of the theory makes virtue ethics useless as a universal norm of acceptable conduct suitable as a base for legislation. Some virtue theorists concede this point, but respond by opposing the very notion of legitimate legislative authority instead, effectively advocating some form of anarchism as the political ideal. Others argue that laws should be made by virtuous legislators. Still others argue that it is possible to base a judicial system on the moral notion of virtues rather than rules.

Some virtue theorists might respond to this overall objection with the notion of a "bad act" also being an act characteristic of vice. That is to say that those acts that do not aim at virtue, or stray from virtue, would constitute our conception of "bad behavior". Although not all virtue ethicists agree to this notion, this is one way the virtue ethicist can re-introduce the concept of the "morally impermissible". One could raise objection with Foot that she is committing an argument from ignorance by postulating that what is not virtuous is unvirtuous. In other words, just because an action or person 'lacks of evidence' for virtue does not, all else constant, imply that said action or person is unvirtuous.

Subsumed in deontology and utilitarianism

Martha Nussbaum has suggested that while virtue ethics is often considered to be anti-Enlightenment, "suspicious of theory and respectful of the wisdom embodied in local practices",[19] it is actually neither fundamentally distinct from, nor does it qualify as a rival approach to deontology and utilitarianism. She argues that philosophers from these two Enlightenment traditions often include theories of virtue. She pointed out that Kant's "Doctrine of Virtue" (in The Metaphysics of Morals) "covers most of the same topics as do classical Greek theories", "that he offers a general account of virtue, in terms of the strength of the will in overcoming wayward and selfish inclinations; that he offers detailed analyses of standard virtues such as courage and self-control, and of vices, such as avarice, mendacity, servility, and pride; that, although in general he portrays inclination as inimical to virtue, he also recognizes that sympathetic inclinations offer crucial support to virtue, and urges their deliberate cultivation."[19]

Nussbaum also points to considerations of virtue by utilitarians such as Henry Sidgwick (The Methods of Ethics), Jeremy Bentham (The Principles of Morals and Legislation), and John Stuart Mill, who writes of moral development as part of an argument for the moral equality of women (The Subjection of Women). She argues that contemporary virtue ethicists such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Bernard Williams, Philippa Foot, and John McDowell have few points of agreement, and that the common core of their work does not represent a break from Kant.

Utopianism and pluralism

Robert B. Louden criticises virtue ethics on the basis that it promotes a form of unsustainable utopianism. Trying to come to a single set of virtues is immensely difficult in contemporary societies as, according to Louden, they contain "more ethnic, religious, and class groups than did the moral community which Aristotle theorized about" with each of these groups having "not only its own interests but its own set of virtues as well". Louden notes in passing that MacIntyre, a supporter of virtue-based ethics, has grappled with this in After Virtue but that ethics cannot dispense with building rules around acts and rely only on discussing the moral character of persons.[20]

Topics in virtue ethics

Virtue ethics as a category

Virtue ethics can be contrasted to deontological ethics and consequentialist ethics by an examination of the other two (the three being together the most predominant contemporary normative ethical theories).

Deontological ethics, sometimes referred to as duty ethics, places the emphasis on adhering to ethical principles or duties. How these duties are defined, however, is often a point of contention and debate in deontological ethics. One of the predominant rule schemes utilized by deontologists is the Divine Command Theory. Deontology also depends upon meta-ethical realism, in that it postulates the existence of moral absolutes that make an action moral, regardless of circumstances. For more information on deontological ethics refer to the work of Immanuel Kant.

The next predominant school of thought in normative ethics is consequentialism. While deontology places the emphasis on doing one's duty, which is established by some kind of moral imperative (in other words, the emphasis is on obedience to some higher moral absolute), consequentialism bases the morality of an action upon the consequences of the outcome. Instead of saying that one has a moral duty to abstain from murder, a consequentialist would say that we should abstain from murder because it causes undesirable effects. The main contention here is what outcomes should/can be identified as objectively desirable. The Greatest Happiness Principle of John Stuart Mill is one of the most commonly adopted criteria. Mill asserts that our determinant of the desirability of an action is the net amount of happiness it brings, the number of people it brings it to, and the duration of the happiness. He also tries to delineate classes of happiness, some being preferable to others, but there is a great deal of difficulty in classifying such concepts.

Virtue ethics differs from both deontology and consequentialism as it focuses on being over doing. A virtue ethicist identifies virtues, desirable characteristics, that the moral or virtuous person embodies. Possessing these virtues is what makes one moral, and one's actions are a mere reflection of one's inner morality. To the virtue philosopher, action cannot be used as a demarcation of morality, because a virtue encompasses more than just a simple selection of action. Instead, it is about a way of being that would cause the person exhibiting the virtue to make a certain "virtuous" choice consistently in each situation. There is a great deal of disagreement within virtue ethics over what are virtues and what are not. There are also difficulties in identifying what is the "virtuous" action to take in all circumstances, and how to define a virtue.

Consequentialist and deontological theories often still employ the term 'virtue', but in a restricted sense, namely as a tendency or disposition to adhere to the system's principles or rules. These very different senses of what constitutes virtue, hidden behind the same word, are a potential source of confusion. This disagreement over the meaning of virtue points to a larger conflict between virtue theory and its philosophical rivals. A system of virtue theory is only intelligible if it is teleological: that is, if it includes an account of the purpose (telos) of human life, or in popular language, the meaning of life. Obviously, strong claims about the purpose of human life, or of what the good life for human beings is, will be highly controversial. Virtue theory's necessary commitment to a teleological account of human life thus puts the tradition in sharp tension with other dominant approaches to normative ethics, which, because they focus on actions, do not bear this burden.

Virtue ethics mainly deals with the honesty and morality of a person. It states that practicing good habits such as honesty, generosity makes a moral and virtuous person. It guides a person without specific rules for resolving the ethical complexity.

Virtue and politics

Virtue theory emphasises Aristotle's belief in the polis as the acme of political organisation, and the role of the virtues in enabling human beings to flourish in that environment. Classical republicanism in contrast emphasises Tacitus' concern that power and luxury can corrupt individuals and destroy liberty, as Tacitus perceived in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire; virtue for classical republicans is a shield against this sort of corruption and a means to preserve the good life one has, rather than a means by which to achieve the good life one does not yet have. Another way to put the distinction between the two traditions is that virtue ethics relies on Aristotle's fundamental distinction between the human-being-as-he-is from the human-being-as-he-should-be, while classical republicanism relies on the Tacitean distinction of the human-being-as-he-is from the human-being-as-he-is-at-risk-of-becoming.[21]

Applied virtue ethics

Virtue ethics has a number of contemporary applications.

Social and political philosophy

Within the field of social ethics, Deirdre McCloskey argues that virtue ethics can provide a basis for a balanced approach to understanding capitalism and capitalist societies.[22]


Within the field of philosophy of education, James Page argues that virtue ethics can provide a rationale and foundation for peace education.[23]

Health care and medical ethics

Thomas Alured Faunce has argued that whistleblowing in the healthcare setting would be more respected within clinical governance pathways if it had a firmer academic foundation in virtue ethics.[24][25] He called for whistleblowing to be expressly supported in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.[26] Barry Schwartz argues that "practical wisdom" is an antidote to much of the inefficient and inhumane bureaucracy of modern health care systems.[27]

Technology and the virtues

In her book Technology and the Virtues,[28] Shannon Vallor proposed a series of 'technomoral' virtues that people need to cultivate in order to flourish in our socio-technological world: Honesty (Respecting Truth), Self-control (Becoming the Author of Our Desires), Humility (Knowing What We Do Not Know), Justice (Upholding Rightness), Courage (Intelligent Fear and Hope), Empathy (Compassionate Concern for Others), Care (Loving Service to Others), Civility (Making Common Cause), Flexibility (Skillful Adaptation to Change), Perspective (Holding on to the Moral Whole), and Magnanimity (Moral Leadership and Nobility of Spirit).

See also


  1. ^ David Carr, Jan Steutel (eds.), Virtue Ethics and Moral Education, Routledge, 1999, p. 22.
  2. ^ Hursthouse, Rosalind (2013-01-01). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Virtue Ethics (Fall 2013 ed.).
  3. ^ Pincoffs, Edmund (1971). Quandary ethics. _Mind_ 80 (320):552-571.
  4. ^ Kraut, Richard (2016-01-01). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Aristotle's Ethics (Spring 2016 ed.).
  5. ^ McDowell, John. "Virtue and Reason". _The Monist_. 1979.
  6. ^ Pojman, L.P. & Fieser, J. (2009). Virtue Theory. In Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (pp. 146-169). (6th ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  7. ^ Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. pp. Book I.
  8. ^ P Gardiner - A virtue ethics approach to moral dilemmas in medicine Journal of Medical Ethics / Volume 29, Issue 5 Accessed November 24th, 2017
  9. ^ J. Bowin - Aristotle's Virtue Ethics University of Santa Cruz (California) Accessed November 24th, 2017
  10. ^ T. Chappell (2010) - Plato: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide p.10 ISBN 019980902X Accessed November 24th, 2017
  11. ^ Stocker, Michael (1976). "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories". The Journal of Philosophy. 73 (14): 453–466. doi:10.2307/2025782. JSTOR 2025782.
  12. ^ Plato, Meno.
  13. ^ McDowell, John. "Virtue and reason." The monist 62.3 (1979): 331-350.
  14. ^ Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.
  15. ^ Nicomachean Ethics, Book II.
  16. ^ Nicomachean Ethics Book VI
  17. ^ MacIntyre, After Virtue, chp 16.
  18. ^ Kaufmann, W., 1961. The Faith Of A Heretic. Doubleday & Co., pages 317-338.
  19. ^ a b Nussbaum, Martha C. (1999). "Virtue Ethics: A Misleading Category?". The Journal of Ethics. 3 (3): 163–201. doi:10.1023/A:1009877217694. JSTOR 25115613.
  20. ^ Louden, Robert B. (July 1984). "On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics". American Philosophical Quarterly. 21 (3): 227–236. JSTOR 20014051.
  21. ^ J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment
  22. ^ McCloskey, D. The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. (2007) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-55664-2.
  23. ^ Page, James S. (2008) Peace Education: Exploring Ethical and Philosophical Foundations. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59311-889-1.
  24. ^ Faunce TA Developing and Teaching the Virtue-Ethics Foundations of Healthcare Whistle Blowing Monash Bioethics Review 2004; 23(4): 41-55
  25. ^ Faunce TA and Jefferys S. Whistleblowing and Scientific Misconduct: Renewing Legal and Virtue Ethics Foundations Journal of Medicine and Law 2007, 26 (3): 567-84
  26. ^ Faunce TA and Nasu H. Normative Foundations of Technology Transfer and Transnational Benefit Principles in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human RightsJournal of Medicine and Philosophy, 0 : 1 – 26, 2009 doi:10.1093/jmp/jhp021
  27. ^ Schwartz, Barry. "Our loss of wisdom". Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  28. ^

Further reading

  • Crisp, Roger; Slote, Michael (1997). Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hursthouse, Rosalind (1997). On Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Devettere, Raymond J. (2002). Introduction to Virtue Ethics. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
  • Taylor, Richard (2002). An Introduction to Virtue Ethics. Amherst: Prometheus Books.
  • Darwall, ed., Stephen (2003). Virtue Ethics. Oxford: B. Blackwell.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Swanton, Christine (2003). Virtue Ethics: a Pluralistic View. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gardiner, ed., Stephen M. (2005). Virtue Ethics, Old and New. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Russell, ed., Daniel C. (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Virtue: Confucius and Aristotle by Jiyuan Yu

External links

After Virtue

After Virtue is a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre provides a bleak view of the state of modern moral discourse, regarding it as failing to be rational, and failing to admit to being irrational. He claims that older forms of moral discourse were in better shape, particularly singling out Aristotle's moral philosophy as an exemplar. After Virtue is among the most important texts in the recent revival of virtue ethics.

The book was first published in 1981 and has since gone through two subsequent editions, which have added to, but not changed, the original text. The second edition, published in 1984, adds a postscript replying to critics of the first edition; the third edition, published in 2007, contains a new prologue entitled "After Virtue After a Quarter of a Century".

Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (; born 12 January 1929) is a Scottish philosopher, primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy, but also known for his work in history of philosophy and theology. MacIntyre's After Virtue (1981) is widely recognised as one of the most important works of Anglophone moral and political philosophy in the 20th century. He is senior research fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics (CASEP) at London Metropolitan University, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and Permanent Senior Distinguished Research Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. During his lengthy academic career, he also taught at Brandeis University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and Boston University.


Aristotelianism ( ARR-i-stə-TEE-lee-ə-niz-əm) is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. This school of thought, in the modern sense of philosophy, covers existence, ethics, mind and related subjects. In Aristotle's time, philosophy included natural philosophy, which preceded the advent of modern science during the Scientific Revolution. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school and later on by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle's writings. In the Islamic Golden Age, Avicenna and Averroes translated the works of Aristotle into Arabic and under them, along with philosophers such as Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi, Aristotelianism became a major part of early Islamic philosophy.

Moses Maimonides adopted Aristotelianism from the Islamic scholars and based his famous Guide for the Perplexed on it and that became the basis of Jewish scholastic philosophy. Although some of Aristotle's logical works were known to western Europe, it was not until the Latin translations of the 12th century that the works of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators became widely available. Scholars such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas interpreted and systematized Aristotle's works in accordance with Christian theology.

After retreating under criticism from modern natural philosophers, the distinctively Aristotelian idea of teleology was transmitted through Wolff and Kant to Hegel, who applied it to history as a totality. Although this project was criticized by Trendelenburg and Brentano as non-Aristotelian, Hegel's influence is now often said to be responsible for an important Aristotelian influence upon Marx. Postmodernists, in contrast, reject Aristotelianism's claim to reveal important theoretical truths. In this, they follow Heidegger's critique of Aristotle as the greatest source of the entire tradition of Western philosophy.

Recent Aristotelian ethical and "practical" philosophy, such as that of Gadamer and McDowell, is often premissed upon a rejection of Aristotelianism's traditional metaphysical or theoretical philosophy. From this viewpoint, the early modern tradition of political republicanism, which views the res publica, public sphere or state as constituted by its citizens' virtuous activity, can appear thoroughly Aristotelian.

The most famous contemporary Aristotelian philosopher is Alasdair MacIntyre. Especially famous for helping to revive virtue ethics in his book After Virtue, MacIntyre revises Aristotelianism with the argument that the highest temporal goods, which are internal to human beings, are actualized through participation in social practices. He juxtaposes Aristotelianism with the managerial institutions of capitalism and its state, and with rival traditions — including the philosophies of Hume and Nietzsche — that reject Aristotle's idea of essentially human goods and virtues and instead legitimate capitalism. Therefore, on MacIntyre's account, Aristotelianism is not identical with Western philosophy as a whole; rather, it is "the best theory so far, [including] the best theory so far about what makes a particular theory the best one." Politically and socially, it has been characterized as a newly "revolutionary Aristotelianism". This may be contrasted with the more conventional, apolitical and effectively conservative uses of Aristotle by, for example, Gadamer and McDowell. Other important contemporary Aristotelian theorists include Fred D. Miller, Jr. in politics and Rosalind Hursthouse in ethics.

Cardinal virtues

Four cardinal virtues were recognized in the Bible, Old Testament, classical antiquity and in traditional Christian theology:

Prudence (φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudentia; also Wisdom, Sophia, sapientia), the ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time.

Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitudo): also termed fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation

Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia): also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation tempering the appetition. Sōphrosynē can also be translated as sound-mindedness.

Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia): also considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue; the Greek word also having the meaning righteousnessThese principles derive initially from Plato in Republic Book IV, 426–435 (and see Protagoras 330b, which also includes piety (hosiotes)). Cicero expanded on them, and Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas adapted them while expanding on the theological virtues.

The term cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (hinge); virtues are so called because they are regarded as the basic virtues required for a virtuous life. They also relate to the Quadrivium.

Character Strengths and Virtues

Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) is a book by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004) that attempts

to present a measure of humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner.

In the same way that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used to assess and facilitate research on mental disorders, CSV is intended to provide a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology.


Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Consequentialism is primarily non-prescriptive, meaning the moral worth of an action is determined by its potential consequence, not by whether it follows a set of written edicts or laws. One example would entail lying under the threat of government punishment to save an innocent person's life, even though it is illegal to lie under oath.

Consequentialism is usually contrasted with deontological ethics (or deontology), in that deontology, in which rules and moral duty are central, derives the rightness or wrongness of one's conduct from the character of the behaviour itself rather than the outcomes of the conduct. It is also contrasted with virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the act (or omission) itself, and pragmatic ethics which treats morality like science: advancing socially over the course of many lifetimes, such that any moral criterion is subject to revision. Consequentialist theories differ in how they define moral goods.

Some argue that consequentialist and deontological theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, T. M. Scanlon advances the idea that human rights, which are commonly considered a "deontological" concept, can only be justified with reference to the consequences of having those rights. Similarly, Robert Nozick argues for a theory that is mostly consequentialist, but incorporates inviolable "side-constraints" which restrict the sort of actions agents are permitted to do.

Crates of Thebes

Crates (Greek: Κράτης ὁ Θηβαῖος; c. 365 – c. 285 BC) of Thebes was a Cynic philosopher. Crates gave away his money to live a life of poverty on the streets of Athens. He married Hipparchia of Maroneia who lived in the same manner that he did. Respected by the people of Athens, he is remembered for being the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. Various fragments of Crates' teachings survive, including his description of the ideal Cynic state.

Deontological ethics

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, "obligation, duty")

is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.It is sometimes described as duty-, obligation- or rule-based ethics, because rules "bind one to one's duty". Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism, virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

It is an ethical framework that depends on the predefined sets of rules and policies for the proper functioning of a system in the environment. The deontology is simply based on the checklist which includes certain rules to be followed while performing a particular task. According to this framework, the work is considered virtuous only if this checklist is completed.

This procedure is very simple to implement and understand. Minimum time is consumed to decide between right and wrong. However, its simplicity ignores the consequences of the decision taken under this approach.

The term deontological was first used to describe the current, specialised definition by C. D. Broad in his 1930 book, Five Types of Ethical Theory Older usage of the term goes back to Jeremy Bentham, who coined it before 1816 as a synonym of Dicastic or Censorial Ethics (i.e. ethics based on judgement).

The more general sense of the word is retained in French, especially in the term code de déontologie (ethical code), in the context of professional ethics.

Depending on the system of deontological ethics under consideration, a moral obligation may arise from an external or internal source, such as a set of rules inherent to the universe (ethical naturalism), religious law, or a set of personal or cultural values (any of which may be in conflict with personal desires).

Environmental virtue ethics

Environmental virtue ethics (EVE) is, as the name suggests, a way of approaching environmental ethics through the lens of virtue ethics. It is paradoxically both a very new and a relatively old or established approach. It is old or established because, as Louke Van Wensveen points out, almost all environmental literature employs virtue language. It is new because it is only recently that this tendency to use virtue-laden language has been taken up explicitly and addressed through the lens of philosophical virtue ethics.

Early interest in applying virtue theory to environmental problems can be found in disparate articles in academic and environmental journals, such as Thomas Hill's "Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments." The first major analysis of this approach is Louke Van Wensveen’s influential book Dirty Virtues: The Emergence of Ecological Virtue Ethics.Environmental virtue ethicists take inspiration for a variety of schools of virtue ethics and from diverse backgrounds in environmental ethics. Nevertheless, there are three general approaches to identifying virtues and vices within EVE. First, the "virtue theory approach," which attempts to build an environmental virtue ethics from the ground up. Second, the "environmental exemplar approach," which looks to people who are generally considered to be environmentally virtuous as models. And, finally, the "extensionist approach," which takes traditional virtues and extends them to operate in an environmentally meaningful way. While some authors take one of these approaches, others combine elements from two or more.

Typical EVE topics include: the explication of specific virtues or vices; the analysis of specific exemplars who embody one or more of the virtues; the attempt to weigh in on specific environmental problems from the perspective of virtue ethics, including offering rules (“v-rules”) for conduct or making actual policy recommendations; and, of course, arguing for the theoretical foundation and legitimacy of the virtue-theory approach to environmental ethics.


Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual inquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

Three major areas of study within ethics recognized today are:

Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined

Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of action

Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted) to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action


Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯moníaː]), sometimes anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia , is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing or prosperity" has been proposed as a more accurate translation. Etymologically, it consists of the words "eu" ("good") and "daimōn" ("spirit"). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms "aretē", most often translated as "virtue" or "excellence", and "phronesis", often translated as "practical or ethical wisdom". In Aristotle's works, eudaimonia (based on older Greek tradition) was used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved.

Discussion of the links between virtue of character (ēthikē aretē) and happiness (eudaimonia) is one of the central concerns of ancient ethics, and a subject of much disagreement. As a result there are many varieties of eudaimonism. Two of the most influential forms are those of Aristotle and the Stoics. Aristotle takes virtue and its exercise to be the most important constituent in eudaimonia but acknowledges also the importance of external goods such as health, wealth, and beauty. By contrast, the Stoics make virtue necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia and thus deny the necessity of external goods.

Gaius Musonius Rufus

Gaius Musonius Rufus (, Greek: Μουσώνιος Ῥοῦφος) was a Roman Stoic philosopher of the 1st century AD. He taught philosophy in Rome during the reign of Nero, as consequence of which he was sent into exile in 65 AD, only returning to Rome under Galba. He was allowed to stay in Rome when Vespasian banished all the other philosophers from the city in 71 AD, although he was eventually banished anyway, only returning after Vespasian's death. A collection of extracts from his lectures still survives. He is also remembered for being the teacher of Epictetus.

Modern Moral Philosophy

"Modern Moral Philosophy" is an article on moral philosophy by G. E. M. Anscombe, originally published in the journal Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 124 (January 1958).The article has influenced the emergence of contemporary virtue ethics, especially through the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. Notably, the term "consequentialism" was first coined in this paper.

Moral character

Moral character or character is an evaluation of an individual's stable moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits. Moral character primarily refers to the assemblage of qualities that distinguish one individual from another—although on a cultural level, the set of moral behaviors to which a social group adheres can be said to unite and define it culturally as distinct from others. Psychologist Lawrence Pervin defines moral character as "a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns of functions across a range of situations". Similarly, the philosopher George refers to moral character as the “sum of one’s moral habits and dispositions.” Aristotle has said, "we must take as a sign of states of character the pleasure or pain that ensues on acts."

Role ethics

Role ethics is an ethical theory based on family roles. Unlike virtue ethics, role ethics is not individualistic. Morality is derived from a person's relationship with their community. The ethics of Confucianism is an example of role ethics.

Rosalind Hursthouse

Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (born 10 November 1943) is a British-born New Zealand moral philosopher noted for her work on virtue ethics.


Valor, valour, or valorous may mean:

Courage, a similar meaning

Virtue ethics, roughly "courage in defense of a noble cause"

Valor (DC Comics), a DC Comics superhero

Valor (EC Comics), an EC Comics title

Valor Communications, the former name of Windstream Communications, a telecommunications company

Valor Ecclesiasticus, a survey of the finances of the church in England, Wales and English-controlled parts of Ireland made in 1535

Yale & Valor, a UK-based gas boiler manufacturer

Valor (music), a Christian gospel music group

Valor (TV series), an American drama series

Valor Kand, a member of the band Christian Death

Carnival Valor, a Conquest-class cruise ship operated by Carnival Cruise Line

HMS Valorous, the name of more than one ship of the British Royal Navy

Washington Valor, American football team

Team Valor, a team on Pokémon Go

Team Valor International, an American Thoroughbred horse racing stable

Valour FC, a soccer club from Winnipeg set to start play in the Canadian Premier League in 2019


Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ἀρετή "arete") is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.

The four classic cardinal virtues in Christianity are temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Christianity derives the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (charity) from 1 Corinthians. Together these make up the seven virtues. Buddhism's four brahmavihara ("Divine States") can be regarded as virtues in the European sense. The Japanese Bushidō code is characterized by up to ten virtues, including rectitude, courage, and benevolence.

Virtue jurisprudence

In the philosophy of law, virtue jurisprudence is the set of theories of law related to virtue ethics. By making the aretaic turn in legal theory, virtue jurisprudence focuses on the importance of character and human excellence or virtue to questions about the nature of law, the content of the law, and judging.

Applied ethics
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cardinal virtues
theological virtues
Seven deadly sins
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Corpus Aristotelicum
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