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Commitments of Virtue-Based Ethics

Commitments of Virtue-Based Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, identify the commitments of virtue-based ethics

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on commitments of virtue-based ethics.

There are several things we need to keep in mind as we go through this tutorial. Let's keep in mind the definition of virtue-based ethics and of virtues and vices and also that, given virtue-based ethics, virtues are primary over actions. And therefore, the question we need to focus on is, what kind of person do I wish to be? Also remember that actions are to be evaluated in terms of being permissible or impermissible based upon whether or not they are wrong to perform. And the classifications of permissible actions is obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory.

In this tutorial, we will see how different actions play out as permissible, impermissible, and then obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. And then we will look at a situated example with a range of actions that can be evaluated from a virtue-based foundation.

So let's look at some of the commitments of virtue-based ethics. And remember, we start these with the line, given virtue-based ethics, dot dot dot. OK.

Permissibility-- an act is permissible if it is not indicative of a vice, so if it does not reveal a bad character trait. So let's say something like eating a sandwich-- that's permissible. It doesn't indicate anything bad. An act is impermissible if it does indicate a vice, if it is revealing of a bad character trait like greed or selfishness or something like that. So an example of something that's impermissible is taking your sandwich and eating it. That would be indicative of greed and selfishness.

An obligatory act for virtue-based ethics is where if not doing it would either weaken an extant virtue or strengthen an extant virtue. An extant is our way of saying something that's currently present. So obligatory actions either weakens a virtue that is already present or strengthens a vice that is present. So in other words, if you don't do it, you become worse than you are. You want to avoid that worse.

So let's say the example of doing the duties associated with your job. If you don't do the duties associated with your job, it indicates something like a lack of loyalty-- loyalty is a virtue-- to your employer and a lack of fulfilling your commitments. And again, fulfilling your commitments, keeping your promises, is a virtue. So that would be obligatory. You need to do your job.

An act would be neutral if it is neither indicative of a virtue nor a vice. It's a net sum of zero on a virtue-vice scale. So in other words, it's not representative of any character traits at all. If we want to stick with sandwiches, just simply making a sandwich isn't really indicative of any virtues or vices. It's pretty neutral.

And then we have supererogatory. Supererogatory is above and beyond. It's indicative of a virtue possessed to an exceptional degree. Here we can think of perhaps people who we would consider to be moral exemplars. They really go above and beyond what the rest of us are really capable of doing.

So let's say being kind and generous, those are virtues. But being kind and generous to absolutely everyone you meet every day all the time. This really goes beyond my capacities. I'm not sure I can do that.

But there are certain people who exemplify this. Think the Dalai Lama and his expression of compassion for everyone. So that would be supererogatory according to virtue-based ethics.

So given the explanations of permissible and impermissible and obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory, let's look at a situated example and a range of actions and see how these play out. A situation that we're going to look at is selling your car. This example works for a lot of different theories, and it's something that's common to a great many of us. I've sold many cars.

So there is again a range of actions that come with selling your car. You can display the car in a certain way. There is certainly negotiating the price and discussing the history and the condition of the car.

So let's look at an obligatory action. That could be something like displaying the car as clean and in good lighting. We would consider this to be obligatory because not doing it would be indicative of a vice.

We want to show it as clean because showing it as dirty would indicate apathy. And that's a vice. Showing it in dark lighting where you can't see it very well might indicate deception. And that would be a vice.

As far as negotiating the price goes, let's say I'm inflexible on the price. I am not willing to negotiate at all. That would indicate stubbornness. And that would therefore be impermissible. It certainly would be-- it's not obligatory that I have to be flexible on the price. But it seems to be leaning towards impermissibility to be inflexible.

And then something that would be, let's say, looking at the history and condition of the car. It would be obligatory to be honest about the history. However, it could be seen as supererogatory to divulge the entire history of the car and provide receipts for every service that has ever happened from an oil change to repairs on the transmission-- everything. That would seem to go above and beyond the normal degree of honesty that would be appropriate for selling your car. So these are a few examples of how various actions surrounding selling your car could be evaluated by virtue-based ethics.

In this tutorial, we have seen how virtue-based ethics addresses permissible and impermissible actions and also those that are obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. And we looked at a situated example to see how various actions surrounding this example are evaluated from virtue-based ethics.