To begin with, recall that virtue-based ethics is a theory of ethics that maintains that an action is to be evaluated based on how that action informs the aspects of the agent's character.
The character traits of an agent are seen as either morally good or bad. They are called virtues and vices, respectively. Traditionally, things such as patience, courage, generosity, and honesty are seen as virtues; and things such as impatience, cowardice, greed, and dishonesty are seen as vices.
Because of the emphasis on character, the kind of question you would ask yourself is different to the kind that you would ask if you were primarily concerned with evaluating actions.
Virtue-based ethics has its roots in ancient Western and Eastern thought. In the East, it was primarily Buddhism that elaborated an ethic around forming proper character traits. In the West, this is found in Aristotle’s ethics. These are some of the earliest attempts at providing a systematic ethic.
These have inspired people for thousands of years. In the West, there is a long history of the reinterpretation of Aristotle’s account of virtues.
Aquinas was particularly notable for transforming Aristotle into a Christian account of virtue. Since then many people have attempted to detach virtue-based ethics from religion, and base it in nature instead. This is arguably closer to Aristotle’s intention.
One of the things that makes virtue-based ethics attractive is that it fits our feeling that ethics should be about the kind of person you are. Many other ethical theories focus on evaluating actions as right or wrong. They can infer what kind of person does certain acts, but this is only indirect. We often want to say something about the person directly.
Part of the reason we think ethics should be concerned with the character of the person is our feeling that there is more to being good than simply doing good things. Being good means living a good life. This includes:
In short, it’s a lifelong project of improving all of your capacities. In other words, cultivating virtue is about becoming the best kind of person you can be.
For many of us, it makes sense to connect ethics with excellence in this way, which provides more support for virtue-based ethics.