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Apply Virtue-Based Ethics

Apply Virtue-Based Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, apply virtue-based ethics

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on applying virtue-based ethics. A few things to keep in mind as we go through the tutorial is the definition of virtue-based ethics, the understanding of virtues and vices, and also that, given virtue-based ethics, we focus on character over actions. And therefore, we will always be asking, or primarily asking rather, what kind of a person do I want to be, instead of asking, how should I behave?

In this tutorial, we will be applying virtue-based ethics to see how it comes up with intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results. We will be using examples to show these. And then we will see how the general shape of an ethical verdict from virtue-based ethics comes down on three contemporary issues and keeping in mind also that intuitive conclusions make sense in general, counterintuitive results just don't make sense, and ambiguous results is where we have more than one compelling result or answer.

When we look at intuitive results of virtue-based ethical action, here's two examples. It is intuitive that being truthful is the right thing to do. It is also, according to virtue-based ethics, the morally good thing to do.

Being truthful cultivates the virtue of honesty. It is also widely accepted as the correct thing to do. Being dedicated to a friend is both good, according to virtue-based ethics, because it expresses or manifests loyalty, which is a virtue, and it's also, again, widely accepted as being good.

A couple of counterintuitive examples could be the following. Let's say you are an employer, and you employ 1,000 people because of a need for power and prestige. Virtue-based ethics would say this is morally wrong because what you are doing is fueling your character vice of vain glory.

However, it seems counterintuitive because there's a lot of good that's happening here. A lot of people would say that employing 1,000 people is a pretty good thing to do, especially if you end up being a very kind and generous employer. But if the reason for doing it is out of your pursuit of power and prestige, then according to virtue-based ethics, it's wrong.

Another example-- and this might seem a little strange, but run with me on this-- is let's say you see someone you know, and you really, really don't like them. And they're about to steal something, and you stop them. So you stop them from committing an act of stealing.

But the reason you do this is because it fuels your hatred of them. And so you don't want to see them succeed at anything that they do. And therefore, you don't want them to succeed at stealing, so you prevent it.

So what you're doing is you're fueling the vice of anger and hatred. But it does seem counterintuitive, especially when we look at it from the back end on consequences because we've stopped criminal behavior. That's a good thing, right? Not according to virtue-based ethics. It's morally bad because you're becoming more hateful and more angry by doing it.

Possible ambiguous results do also arise from evaluating from a virtue-based foundation. And it plays upon the ambiguity and the vagueness that arise from interpreting character traits. For example, let's say you throw yourself on a grenade. Has this action-- is this an expression of courage or is it an expression of foolishness?

It might not be clear. If you do it to save others, it could be courageous. But maybe there was another way these people could have been saved. And maybe you did it out of need for glory and recognition, which would be a vice and which it also would be counterproductive. It could be because, if you did it out of need for prestige but then your dead, you don't get the prestige, or at least you're not around to enjoy it. So it's ambiguous how this one plays out.

Let's say-- about honesty. And let's say you're asked by your close friend-- or not maybe your best friend but by a close friend-- how do I look? Maybe they got a new hairstyle. Maybe they got a new outfit. Maybe they got a new car.

How do I look in the car? How do I look-- that awful question that we get asked sometimes. You want to be honest, but you don't want to be mean. You want to be truthful, but you don't want to be cruel. And you also don't want to be unclear because then it's really a confusing situation.

So how do you handle that? Virtue-based ethics is ambiguous on this one because you have a whole range of possible degrees of honesty which might be appropriate, and you're not sure which one to use. So virtue-based ethics also does have possible ambiguous results.

So how does this play out in some possible contemporary ethical issues? Well, let's look at a couple of examples and see what the possibilities might be. Let's look at the topic of immigration.

Immigration-- good? Bad? Morally good thing to do? Morally not a good thing to do?

Well, from a virtue-based ethical standpoint, encouraging, or allowing at least, immigration cultivates virtues-- more virtues than it would potential vices. The virtues it would cultivate would be generosity, tolerance, kindness, and caring. Off the top of my head, those are some that would really be cultivated. So it seems that virtue-based ethics would favor allowing immigration.

Price gouging on medicine-- you can think of things like charging really high prices for HIV medication or for the EpiPen, something that has come up. This, clearly from a virtue-based foundation, would be morally wrong because both of these are done out of greed. Animal cruelty-- this has come up before. How would virtue-based ethics treat this one?

Well, it would be wrong if the animal cruelty was a result of acting upon the vice of anger and hatred, wrath, meanness-- things like that. However, there could be ambiguous results here. It might not be entirely clear.

Some animal cruelty is the result of medical testing that's done on animals for the benefit of humans. It's not entirely sure how it would come down on this because there is a high purpose to it. But clearly, let's say your neighbor is beating their dog out of anger. That is morally wrong.

So sometimes virtue-based ethics is very clear on an issue. Sometimes it's not so clear. But it still, nevertheless, is one of the guides that can help us maneuver through ethical issues.

In this tutorial, we saw how the application of virtue-based ethics reveals intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results and also how it generally would come down and evaluate three contemporary ethical issues.