Saturday, February 6, 2010

22 On Virtue Ethics

Virtue theory is the view that the foundation of morality is the development of good character traits, or virtues. A person is good, then, if he has virtues and lacks vices.

It is interesting to see that historically, virtue theory is the oldest normative tradition in Western philosophy, having its roots in ancient Greek civilization.

Aristotle is the man who in his Ethica Nicomachea gives an extensive account of what a virtue is. There he argues that moral virtues are desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean between more extreme character traits (or vices).

The virtue of courage thus is the mean between cowardice and rashness. He concludes that it is difficult to live the virtuous life primarily because it is often difficult to find the mean between the extremes.

By the late Middle Ages Aristotle's virtue theory was the definitive account of morality, especially insofar as it was endorsed by medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas.

With the waning of the Middle Ages and the rise of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment thought, the influence of Aristotle's virtue ethics declined.

So it was in the time that religion lost its leading position to science, that the theory of virtue was seriously criticized in particular by a Dutch philosopher, Hugo Grotius (1583 - 1645)

He was that man, who escaped from imprisonment in a castle by hiding himself in a bookcase. He was one of the supporters of the natural law theory. Like they discovered natural laws of physics, philosophers developed ideas regarding natural laws of morality.

For Grotius, morality involves conforming one's actions to moral laws which are fixed in nature and which even God cannot change. Grotius rejects the role of virtue assigned by Aristotle, and directly criticizes Aristotle's theory on three accounts.

First, Aristotle's doctrine of the mean fails to adequately explain basic moral concepts such as truthfulness and justice. A mean of what should such concepts be?

Second, in the case of justice, the person's particular motive does not matter. All that matters is following proper reason with respect to the rights of others. We'll get to this, when I'll discuss agent-based versus action-based ethics.

Third, contrary to Aristotle, the moral person does not have special moral insight simply because he is virtuous. Instead, morality is fixed in natural laws which can be rationally perceived by all.

Here you see how the virtue theory almost disappeared in the ethical discourse, on the one hand because of this natural law idea and the power of the ratio, which can obtain insight in these natural laws.

Of course you may see here the close link with Kantian philosophy and the deontological ethics. The Categorical Imperative, as Kant called it, was known by rational insight.

And on the other hand if you give primacy to the senses instead of the ratio you look at the effects of your actions and thus arrive at utilitarianism.

Here you see the quintessential meaning of virtue ethics. It is a critique of those theories of ethics, which leave out the "agent", as the acting person in ethical theory is usually called.

I am afraid, that you already have seen it coming. Grotius had a point: in matters of justice we don't judge a person by taking into account his virtuousness. We judge a person by his actions.

In the former lecture I mentioned Robert Loudon as the writer of the article on virtue ethics in the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In 1984 he published a book with the funny title "On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics". The content wasn't meant to be funny. It was one of the most systematic attacks on contemporary virtue theory.

Loudon has a long list of critiques of virtue ethics. To mention a few.: virtue theory is not designed to offer precise guidelines of obligation,

or the observation that character traits change, and unless we stay in practice, we risk losing our proficiency in these areas. This suggests a need for a more character-free way of assessing our conduct.

More serious questions are for instance : How do you determine who is virtuous? It does not help to look for some external criterion such as visible indications in the agent's action.

This all means that our next step will be an interesting one: what can be said in defense of virtue ethics. We are morally judged by our actions. Do we need virtue to decide whether something is right or bad?

How do we get to a moral judgement at all when we over-emphasize virtue? Is intention the link between virtue and action?

The big difference of approach in theories of ethics here is clear: “What is the right action?” is a significantly different question to ask from “How should I live? What kind of person should I be?” That is what it is all about.

If you have time, try to find out yourself how virtue ethics comes to a moral judgement. Next Tuesday we'll investigate what theory of ethics should prevail: agent- based or action-based theory. Or a combination maybe?

The Discussion

[13:25] herman Bergson: So much for today....
[13:25] Qwark Allen: ;-))
[13:25] herman Bergson: However, I want to add something to it.
[13:25] herman Bergson: I just stumbled on the problem
[13:26] herman Bergson: Virtue ethics leans heavily on education of character
[13:26] herman Bergson: as you know.....the chances to get a good education may depend on where you were born
[13:26] Corona Anatine: and when
[13:27] herman Bergson: And if this is the case... we get differences in character....differences in virtuousness...
[13:27] herman Bergson: Now we introduce the concept of Moral Luck
[13:28] herman Bergson: I wont say anything more about it, but you have to think about this problem
[13:28] herman Bergson: you find Moral luck as an entry in the IEP
[13:28] Corona Anatine: msiles - i see major problems in diff between agnet and action based
[13:28] herman Bergson: Thomas Nagel has a very clear theory about it
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: virtue results from "education" understood broadly, right?
[13:28] Corona Anatine: no
[13:28] herman Bergson: yes
[13:28] Corona Anatine: disaggree
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: but, yes, "moral luck"
[13:29] herman Bergson: not just school, but also by learning from rolemodels etc
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: life
[13:29] Corona Anatine: not viable at least not fully
[13:29] herman Bergson: is about life long learning
[13:29] Corona Anatine: because oftewn
[13:29] Corona Anatine: children rebel agiant parental values
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:30] Corona Anatine: so a child of veggies might take up meat eating
[13:30] oola Neruda: what about the changes in society... what was expected when i was young has changed with the women's movement and other social evolution
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: i've wondered about the Achilles' Heel of philosophers
[13:31] oola Neruda: even in one person ... it gets confusing... let alone a society/culture
[13:31] herman Bergson: Yes oola , a good point
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: they seek greater clarity
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: as much clarity as possible
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: Loudon may be seeking too much
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: only as much clarity as can be achieved can be achieved
[13:32] Corona Anatine: the agent / action thing is problematic because it is possible to envisage a nazi who is kind to chidren
[13:32] herman Bergson: AVirtue ethics began as a protest against ethical theories that claimed that you can explain morality by usinfg one principle... rules
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Corona....
[13:32] Corona Anatine: yes because rules have to have something to measure
[13:33] Corona Anatine: it is more like aglebra than arithmetic
[13:33] herman Bergson: That is in fact a kind of comment Loudon gave too....
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:33] herman Bergson: are virtues remaining and stable qualities of the person or can they disappear?
[13:34] Corona Anatine: are the personality aspects of anyone unchanging
[13:34] herman Bergson: Rules tell us what to do, independent of our character…
[13:34] herman Bergson: that makes rule based theories so attractive
[13:34] Corona Anatine: yes but the rules come from where?
[13:34] Corona Anatine: peoples virtue
[13:34] Corona Anatine: so
[13:35] herman Bergson: Virtue ethics doesnt primarily look at specific looks at life itself
[13:35] Corona Anatine: vitrue makes for virtue
[13:35] Corona Anatine: it is a large circle
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes Corona....rules come from where....That is why the rule based theories got criticized
[13:36] herman Bergson: The idea of a transcendental Lawgiver is not acceptable anymore as an explanation or justification
[13:36] herman Bergson: That doubt about that Lawgiver started already around 160
[13:36] herman Bergson: 1600
[13:36] Corona Anatine: and even if such an entity is accepted it is impossible to know if they are virtuous
[13:37] herman Bergson: In fact, virtue ethics goes back to the old Greek ideals
[13:37] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: yes, god is does not necessarily lead to god is good
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: has a good basis then
[13:37] Corona Anatine: would it be any better to define what is unvirtuous
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: 2 sides of same coin, maybe
[13:38] herman Bergson: I dont see the difference in defining A or not-A
[13:38] Corona Anatine: which brings in context
[13:38] herman Bergson: they imply each other
[13:39] herman Bergson: One important characteristic of virtue ethics is that it doesnt claim to be one monolithic theory of ethics
[13:40] Corona Anatine: an agent if defined as virtuous by their actions
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: we know something of virtue -- in a way, psychology is a "science" of moral management
[13:40] herman Bergson: moral action is situation-related for instance...
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: but not a "heard" science
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: hard
[13:40] Corona Anatine: or more particular the end results of actions
[13:40] herman Bergson: that means that indeed that ethics is not science
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:41] Paula Dix: btw, why psychology isnt a science? I dont understand that
[13:41] herman Bergson: Nor is it an absolute theory, like a rule based theory can be
[13:41] Corona Anatine: because to be a science the experimental results have to be reproducible
[13:41] herman Bergson: Psychology is a science....
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: it has scientific aspects...
[13:42] Corona Anatine: and can that be said of ethics?
[13:42] herman Bergson: it is accepted
[13:42] herman Bergson: but it is a statistical science....
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:42] Paula Dix: i see
[13:42] herman Bergson: in fact close the ethical theory in that respect...
[13:42] Paula Dix: yes, statistical, i thought that :))))
[13:42] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:42] Corona Anatine: hmm statistical ethics
[13:42] herman Bergson: unable to come with laws of nature like statements about the human being
[13:42] Corona Anatine: a wonderful term
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:43] Paula Dix: lol corona, interesting
[13:43] Adriana Jinn: indeed
[13:43] herman Bergson: you were to quick with your observation Corona
[13:43] herman Bergson: Ethics isnt a statistical science
[13:44] Paula Dix: yes i can see where psychology and ethics are related, very interesting
[13:44] herman Bergson: Ethics is about our judgements of right and wrong
[13:44] Corona Anatine: yes
[13:45] herman Bergson: Although we have empirical material...the moral action , statistics do not apply....
[13:45] herman Bergson: However!
[13:45] Corona Anatine: then it could easily be said that ethics is as fluid as language
[13:45] Paula Dix: yes, ethics itself isnt statistical, but to apply statistics to it surely would give interesting results
[13:45] herman Bergson: Just do a search on MORAL PSYCHOLOGY
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:45] herman Bergson: There is a lot of research on moral behavior....
[13:46] herman Bergson: Remember the Milgram experiments I mentioned before!
[13:46] Corona Anatine: at any momen of time a language works in and of itself
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: 1,620,000 results on Google
[13:46] herman Bergson: WOW
[13:46] Corona Anatine: but over time it becomes incomprehensible
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:46] herman Bergson: This proofs that ethics IS a subject of psychological research
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: OH YES
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:47] herman Bergson: However, you first have to define what your theory of ethics is before you can do the research
[13:47] Adriana Jinn: certainly
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:47] Corona Anatine: one way perhaps would be to study how other social species interact
[13:47] herman Bergson: and here we are again at the beginning of thinking: philosophy
[13:48] Corona Anatine: [thinking mainly of vertebartes here not bees etc]
[13:48] herman Bergson: It may be interesting to investigate whether psychological research assumes deontological or consequentialist concepts
[13:49] herman Bergson: Or does it investigate character, personality traits related to moral actions and judgements
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: will have to watch
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:49] herman Bergson: Always interesting when you read about such research
[13:49] herman Bergson: Milgram tested obedience
[13:50] herman Bergson: in fact he tested how strong the deontological ethics of a person was
[13:50] Adriana Jinn: interesting but not easy because many theories
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:50] herman Bergson: You ought to obey (authority/ rules of the game etc)
[13:51] Corona Anatine: [as an aside -doesnt dawkins god delusion mention some research that was done into morality]
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well....the present landscape of ethical theories is covered by the distinction deontological/consequentialist/virtuous theories
[13:52] herman Bergson: Your task is to think for yourself, where you stand and why
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: good question
[13:52] herman Bergson: May I give you this assignment for the weekend ? ^_^
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ohoh
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:53] Qwark Allen: AAHH!!!
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:53] Corona Anatine: smiles -not heard those words since i was at uin
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ok
[13:53] Corona Anatine: UNi
[13:53] herman Bergson: Yes Corona I am a little old fashioned
[13:53] Paula Dix: lol good to prepare me for next semester starting in 15 days :)))
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:53] Repose Lionheart: not at all, Prof
[13:53] Corona Anatine: old ways are the best sometimes
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: hurry we have to go lol
[13:54] Qwark Allen: eheheheh
[13:54] herman Bergson smiles
[13:54] Qwark Allen: l ☺☺☺ l
[13:54] Qwark Allen: lol
[13:54] herman Bergson: We covered a lot of ground today....
[13:54] Corona Anatine: one thougth comes to me
[13:54] Qwark Allen: indeed
[13:54] herman Bergson: Next lecture will be on the defense of Virtue ethics
[13:55] Corona Anatine: before we can define virtuous dont we have to define how such can be measured - what is a theft or a lie
[13:55] herman Bergson: So I think it is a good moment to dismiss class unless you still have questions left
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: what is the assignment
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: defense??
[13:55] herman Bergson: the assingment is multiple...
[13:56] herman Bergson: check out moral luck
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: ok
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:56] herman Bergson: check out where you stand
[13:56] herman Bergson: check out what is virtue
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: right here lol
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: all see you tuesday
[13:56] Corona Anatine: did you mean to write moral luck or did you mean moral lack
[13:56] bergfrau Apfelbaum: bye bye Gemma :-))
[13:56] Paula Dix: bye!
[13:56] Adriana Jinn: bye bye
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: you can come to the party
[13:57] herman Bergson: and Yes of the critiques of virtue ethics is: how to measure virtuousness...That was what Loudon already said
[13:57] Corona Anatine: ah ok
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: Luck, i think
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: ok how to measure
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: 1,600,00 entries on google
[13:57] Corona Anatine: to be read by tuesday ?
[13:57] herman Bergson: for moral luck, Repose?
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: yes, prof
[13:58] herman Bergson: did you an advanced search....
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: nope
[13:58] herman Bergson: otherwise it hits on luck and on moral equally
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: sec
[13:58] herman Bergson: if you do an advanced search it takes the both words as one search key
[13:58] Paula Dix: i guess if you use "" also
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: sorry, 1.600,00 was for moral psychology
[13:59] herman Bergson: in a normal search it takes moral luck, luck and moral as three keys
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: fewer than 200,00 of "moral luck"
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: for
[13:59] herman Bergson: very good repose!
[13:59] Corona Anatine: thinking of virtues /morality
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: put "moral luck" in quotes
[13:59] Repose Lionheart: holds the two words together
[14:00] Corona Anatine: i saw a u tube thing a while ago about south american amazon rtribes
[14:00] Repose Lionheart: oh
[14:00] herman Bergson: Google has an option called advanced search
[14:00] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...will check it out
[14:00] Corona Anatine: in which children are buried alive for the good of the tribes survival
[14:01] Corona Anatine: thast would make for an interesting moral choice
[14:01] herman Bergson: which may be effective indeed: one mouth less to fill
[14:01] Corona Anatine: cant be an esy thing to do tho
[14:01] Repose Lionheart: that should have been 200,000 and 1,600,000 above
[14:01] Repose Lionheart: that
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: buried alive
[14:02] Paula Dix: corona i saw that recently too
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: shudder
[14:02] herman Bergson: I gathered that already
[14:02] Paula Dix: a helper who took a girl who was buried for having some defect
[14:02] Paula Dix: and took her home
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: oh
[14:02] herman Bergson: The romans acted similar....
[14:02] Repose Lionheart: was the helper a member of the tribe?
[14:02] Corona Anatine: it highlights the shifting nature of morality
[14:03] Paula Dix: its totally horrible, they just bury the children alive!
[14:03] Paula Dix: no, helper from city
[14:03] Repose Lionheart: oh
[14:03] herman Bergson: Creepy idea.....
[14:03] Repose Lionheart: yes
[14:04] Paula Dix: could at least kill person first, in a more human way
[14:04] Corona Anatine: inded given they have good poisons
[14:04] Paula Dix: romans also didnt kill, right? just put children there to die?
[14:04] Repose Lionheart: and the Spartans
[14:04] Corona Anatine: but it is their morality
[14:04] herman Bergson: Yes Paula... something like that
[14:04] Repose Lionheart: yeah
[14:04] Paula Dix: funny how to them that probably made it morally right
[14:05] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ...... ich must go:-( .....................thanks, for the interesting lection mr. professor :-) see to YOU all tuesday
[14:05] Corona Anatine: Romans did not see babies as children until about a month old
[14:05] Paula Dix: it wasnt them killing, was gods or something
[14:05] Repose Lionheart: bye, bergfrau
[14:05] herman Bergson: yes... but that is why you have to look at moral issues situation - related
[14:05] Paula Dix: bye berg!
[14:05] herman Bergson: Bye Bergie
[14:05] herman Bergson: Thaank you all for your participation
[14:05] Adriana Jinn: bye and thanks a lot
[14:06] bergfrau Apfelbaum: byebye herman,paula,oola,repose, adriana and corona :-)
[14:06] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[14:06] Corona Anatine: ty Herman - interesting dicussion
[14:06] oola Neruda: baieee
[14:06] Adriana Jinn: bye all
[14:06] Paula Dix: just to add, that helper had a ton of problems because what she did, but is proud of doing it :)
[14:06] oola Neruda: baieeeee
[14:06] Repose Lionheart: oh
[14:06] Corona Anatine: bfn

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