James Keenan addresses that the real discussion of virtue ethics is not the question “What should I do?’ But ‘who should I become?”(REFERENCE).further dissecting this question into three key points; who am I ?, who ought I to become? How am I to get there?. In using virtue ethics to understand who am I? a person must know that moral decisions or action can be linked to a virtue, by doing so we can assess who we truly are and what virtues we have and what virtues we do not.
The second question asks us to decide who we would like to become? To do this we need to understand who we are and set goals in order to grow and pursue the person we want to be. Aristotle taught that a virtue is often found at the mean between two vices. (reference) For example it is virtuous to be courageous when faced with physical confrontation. However, it is a vice if you are over enthusiastic to fight or are too cowardly to fight when it is needed.
In this case we might out to be a more courageous person and encourage the other to be more compassionate. In order to become this virtuous person, we must be prudent. this means we need to set realistic goals and pursue a way to attain them in a realistic and practical way. The prudent person is a person with the ability to grow and achieve who they ought to be.
Virtue ethics puts emphasis on person-centred approaches rather than action-based ones. It explores the moral character and virtue of the person completing an action, rather than the ethical responsibilities and consequences of a particular action. Virtue ethics does not only deal with whether an individual’s actions are right or wrong, it provides guidance as to the types of virtues and behaviours a good person will seek to achieve. Virtue ethics is concerned with the entirety of a person’s life, rather than specific episodes or actions.
The task of virtue can be described as the acquisition and development of practices that promote the person to become moral whilst acting morally well. By doing so, one’s character and one’s actions are enhanced. Virtue ethics puts emphasis on the dominant role played by motives in the answering of moral questions. Therefore, they are important as they contribute to our understanding of morality. To act from virtue is to act from motivation, to say that certain virtues are necessary for correct moral decisions is to say that correct moral decisions require the correct motives.
Virtue ethics says that once we are successful in creating the sort of person we ought to be, the pathway to correct moral decisions will come naturally. Many dispute that virtue ethics is not effective as it doesn’t provide precise guidance on how to act in moral dilemmas. In short, its rule is to do as a virtuous person would do. Many find that this answer is unhelpful, precisely because virtue ethics is not as interested in giving answers as it is in developing people. It is belief that by developing people in a way that does not focus on a singular action but rather the growth to becoming a better person will allow us as a global community to strive for justice and solidarity.
In my experience Solidarity does not need to be imposed on a person; this virtue is born all by itself. Did anyone ever force the Good Samaritan to help the homeless? The Good Samaritan helped his neighbour. By applying virtue ethics, we can see that the correct moral decisions are made not because an action in itself is perceived to be good, but the virtuous motive behind the action was morally right through development of human character. Thus, meaning the development of solidarity and justice can be achieved for the global community through becoming the person we ought to be as described in virtue ethics.
Virtue ethics arrives at ethical and moral decisions differently to that of normative ethics. The main arguments for normative ethics are deontological and teleological ethics. Both deontological and teleological ethicists, identify the universal moral laws are applicable in all situations involving moral decision making.
However, virtue ethics does not do this, rather it asks how I ought to live? or what constitutes a life lived well? For example, a deontological ethicist, would suggest that the action of stealing is always wrong, independent of any good that resulted from said action, whereas the teleological ethicist would argue that due to the negative consequences the act of stealing may have the action is wrong. However, within virtue ethics, further aspects are considered.
For example, would stealing provide any personal gain for the thief? If so, then it could not be considered a moral or virtuous action. However, if the item is a weapon, and is taken because the person knows that it is to be used by someone else to injure or kill an innocent person, then his action could be considered as virtuous, and the right thing to do.