Virtue Ethics and Action Guidance

Abstract

Virtue ethics has been dogged by the objection that it lacks the ability to provide adequate action-guidance, that it is agent-centered rather act-centered. Virtue ethics has also been faulted for devolving into moral cultural relativism. Rosalind Hursthouse has presented an action-based, naturalistic theory of virtue ethics intended to defuse these charges. Despite its merits, I argue that Hurthouse’s theory fails to successfully solve the problems associated with action guidance and relativism precisely because her attempt to provide a non-cultural basis for virtue ethics undermines the possibility of using virtue ethics to derive useful action-guidance. The action-guiding power of virtue is derived from culture; seeking to avoid the cultural grounding of virtue merely brings one back to the problem of how virtue ethics can provide action-guidance.

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Joshua Duclos
St. Paul's School (NH)

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