Why i like virtue ethics
October 17, 2013
note: this is some random old post that, for whatever reason, i just never published
Based on a little chat I had with someone on facebook, i feel the urge to write a post about ethics and why I like virtue ethics as an overall lens for morality1.
I”ve written elsewhere (and I”m too lazy to look) about how and why I disagree with Jay Smooth”s How to tell people they sound racist, which he admits doesn”t always work. And, many people take this basic consequentialist stance:
That the consequences of a person”s actions are what determine whether or not that action was good.
But that the evil consequences of an action, do not necessarily impugn any value of the moral worth of the person. Ultimately, this moral stances focuses on what the person does and the consequences. Which, there is a lot to be desired here, since the other popular approach: deontological ethics ends up allowing that as long as certain rules or guidelines are followed, your actions are moral, even if they have evil consequences (intended or not). Whereas, consequentialism will note that even if evil consequences are unintentional, you are still morally accountable. This quality too, is one major improvement over virtue ethics2.
In contrast, both deontological and virtue ethics make morality a matter of your character. That you, as moral agent, can be good or bad. And that this goodness, in the case of deontology, depends on your adherence to some moral code. For virtue ethics, however, the goodness of your character depends on your ability to embody or practice certain virtues.
Within virtue ethics, no one is perfectly good. Yes, in any system of virtue ethics, there will be exemplars that you are intended to emulate and attempt to follow their examples3. But, to a certain degree, you will never become ‘perfect” in such a system (or, at least, most of us wouldn”t). Of course, many people find this notion…. can be harmful for their motivation.
What I really wanted to get at, here, is this notion of moral character. I”ve said this in the past:
If you behave in ways that are oppressive, this means you are a bad person4.
This obviously entails that, on this measurement, we are all likely bad people (in varying degrees).
I am a bad person.
Anyone who is racist is a bad person. If you are transmisogynist, you are a bad person. If you are fatphobic, you are a bad person. And so it goes.
But, obviously, this isn”t a binary. We are not all bad. But the degree to which you are good, depends on how much you attempt to embody the virtue of not being oppressive.