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3 Tutorials that teach Problems with Virtue-Based Ethics
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Problems with Virtue-Based Ethics

Problems with Virtue-Based Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify common problems with virtue-based ethics

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on problems with virtue-based ethics. As we go through the tutorial, please keep a few things in mind such as the definition of virtue-based ethics, definitions of virtues and vices, and how, given virtue-based ethics, virtues are primary over actions.

In this tutorial, we will be looking at some problems or issues that arise from virtue-based ethics including how it is self-centered, vague, and it lacks perhaps a clear method of evaluation. One of the difficulties or issues that arise from virtue-based ethics is that it does seem to be very self-centered. The focus for my ethical behavior is on my character. So naturally, it is self-centered. It could even be seen as selfish.

And it is far more self-centered than other theories, which might be based upon consequences or actions in general. It really is all about me. This may seem a little bit similar to egoism.

It is especially apparent, this self-centeredness, when we focus on human flourishing and personal fulfillment. Here's an example that shows how a difficulty might arise when I do focus on self-fulfillment. And see how you feel about this one.

I've talked before about food hoarding. Well, we're going to bring it up again. It would seem that, if I'm going to focus on my self-fulfillment and indeed my ability to flourish in the world which is what virtue-based ethics directs me to do, then food hoarding might actually be an OK thing to do because, if I have a whole bunch of food, then I'm not going to go hungry. And that will contribute to my well-being.

Well, maybe not entirely because I will be seen by others as being greedy and selfish and unwilling to share. And that viewpoint of me acting upon those character traits is, in fact, not conducive to my flourishing. So caution needs to be engaged because pursuing self-fulfillment purely for self-fulfillment can inhibit flourishing when the focus is not entirely upon the development of good character, which does, in fact, go beyond just self-fulfillment. Nevertheless, selfishness and self-centeredness is a trap of virtue-based ethics that we need to be careful about.

Another issue that arises from virtue-based ethics is that it does tend to be vague when it comes to providing clear answers regarding actions. In other words, the clear answers are probably not all that clear. The general direction is clear. We want to be generous. We want to be kind. We want to be honest.

Those are character traits that we want to develop. However, when we translate that into specific actions, virtue-based ethics is not always helpful in making it specific within a context. So although the directive to be generous is present, there are 1,000 ways to be generous. Although the directive to be honest is a character trait that I wanted to develop, it's unclear. It's vague.

How honest am I supposed to be in any given situation? How honest? All the time? That wouldn't seem to be prudent. So there is a vagueness that is present in virtue-based ethics when it comes to providing clear answers for specific actions

and other level of ambiguity and lack of clarity-- virtue-based ethics needs to develop a principled method in order to determine which traits are in fact virtues and should therefore be cultivated. Greed is a vice. However, given a set of circumstances, greed might be considered a virtue if it contributes to personal fulfillment and flourishing. It is sometimes not clear. So we need to have a better understanding and a method of evaluation for determining what a virtue is and how it can be cultivated specifically

In this tutorial, we have seen three issues and problems that arise from virtue-based ethics, specifically how it can be seen as self-centered, how the directions are sometimes vague regarding actions, and how it lacks a clear method for evaluation of specific virtues.