Does virtue ethics allow us to make better judgments of the actions of others?

In Virtue Ethics: Retrospect and Prospect. Springer (2019)
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Virtue ethics has now well and truly established itself as one of the main normative theories. It is now quite common, and indeed, expected, for virtue ethics to be included, alongside deontology and consequentialism, in any Moral Philosophy syllabus worth its salt. Students are typically introduced to virtue ethics only after studying the other two normative theories, and this often sets the scene for various sorts of misunderstandings, with students expecting virtue ethics to be based on the same set of rules and assumptions as its rivals. Or at least, that is my experience. In this paper I want to focus on one such misunderstanding, which arises when trying to apply virtue ethics to our judgments of other people’s actions and behaviour. Although there are countless ways in which a theory can be misunderstood, it is worth guarding against this one in particular, given that it can lead someone who takes virtue ethics seriously to act in ways that are not virtuous, or even vicious. I begin by making a few remarks about the role of normative theory, and then go on to give four examples of how applying virtue ethics can lead to poor behaviour. In the final section I identify the mistake in question and conclude by noting how it can be avoided.


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Liezl Van Zyl
University of Waikato

Citations of this work

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