In the readings you will encounter Aristotle’s analysis of virtue as a habit that lies in a mean between excess and deficiency (see the table of virtues and vices for examples). The questions for this week, based on his account, are: what habits do you find in yourself (or others) that are excessive or deficient? In what way do these habits or vices make you or others act immoral? And how might these habits be changed? Here you can refer to Aristotle’s insight that to change a vice to a virtue we must act – we can’t just intellectually understand what is to be done – and we should act in a way that shoots for the opposite extreme. In doing so, we fall short of that extreme and end up moving a little bit closer to the mean. For example, if I am a coward, I need to try and act a bit recklessly. Obviously I will fall short of doing so. But I will be pulled a little from my deficient position towards the mean of courage.
What does virtue ethics emphasize?
What are virtues?
Does virtue ethics emphasize following universal moral principles like deontological (duty based) and consequentialist theories tend to?
What are the three ways virtue ethics has been developed? Which form builds, like natural law theory, on considerations of human nature?
What are three common objections to virtue ethics? What can a virtue ethicist say in response to these objections?
Know that virtue ethics typically offers at least two helpful principles (we will go over this principle in more detail in class):
(1) The doctrine of the mean, made famous by Aristotle, which says that moral virtues are cultivated by feeling and acting in the mean, that is, in ways that are not deficient or excessive. See videos below for some more details.
(2) The moral exemplar principle which states that we can obtain guidance in making moral decisions by considering how virtuous people, moral exemplars, act and then basing our decisions on such actions
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