The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Format: Book Chapter
Publication Date: Nov 30, 2017
Publisher: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University
Sources ID: 77011
Collection: Bibliography for Terms
Visibility: Public (group default)
Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normativeethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizesthe virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach thatemphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that emphasizes theconsequences of actions (consequentialism). Suppose it is obvious thatsomeone in need should be helped. A utilitarian will point to the factthat the consequences of doing so will maximize well-being, adeontologist to the fact that, in doing so the agent will be acting inaccordance with a moral rule such as “Do unto others as youwould be done by” and a virtue ethicist to the fact that helpingthe person would be charitable or benevolent., This is not to say that only virtue ethicists attend to virtues, anymore than it is to say that only consequentialists attend toconsequences or only deontologists to rules. Each of theabove-mentioned approaches can make room for virtues, consequences,and rules. Indeed, any plausible normative ethical theorywill have something to say about all three. What distinguishes virtueethics from consequentialism or deontology is the centrality of virtuewithin the theory (Watson 1990; Kawall 2009). Whereasconsequentialists will define virtues as traits that yield goodconsequences and deontologists will define them as traits possessed bythose who reliably fulfil their duties, virtue ethicists will resistthe attempt to define virtues in terms of some other concept that istaken to be more fundamental. Rather, virtues and vices will befoundational for virtue ethical theories and other normative notionswill be grounded in them., We begin by discussing two concepts that are central to all forms ofvirtue ethics, namely, virtue and practical wisdom. Then we note someof the features that distinguish different virtue ethical theoriesfrom one another before turning to objections that have been raisedagainst virtue ethics and responses offered on its behalf. We concludewith a look at some of the directions in which future research mightdevelop.