The Virtue Theory is one of the three main theories in normative ethics, which emphasizes virtues in determining moral character and what is good. It focuses on what makes a good person, rather than what makes a good action. In other words, The Virtue Theory is an agent-based approach to ethics, which asks this question about being good: “What kind of person should I be?” This is in contrast to the other two approaches, Utilitarianism and Kantanism, which ask this question concerning being good: “What should I do?” These two theories are act-based and are concerned with duties or rules, and the consequences of actions respectively, and not defining the proper telos, or purpose of man, such as The Virtue Theory.
According to Aristotle, who founded the Virtue Theory, the question of “What kind of person should I be?” is answered by defining the function of man. Therefore, the function of man is defined as living a rational life with excellence in a well-reasoned way (Aristotle 251). Aristotle also states that the telos of man, or end/purpose, is to achieve eudaimonia, or happiness, fulfillment, and a complete life (Aristotle 252). In order to achieve this function one must live a virtuous life or a life of excellence. Virtue then, is a disposition needed in order to excel at one’s function. It is more or less a state of character, which is the balance point or mean between extremes. Four cardinal or classical virtues exist: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. It is important to note that Aristotle asserts that virtue is not a feeling or a capacity, but a state of character (Aristotle 254). Virtue is not a feeling because we are not praised or punished for having feelings. It is also not a capacity because simply having the capability to feel a certain way does not make it good or bad (Aristotle 254). Therefore, Aristotle states, “every virtue causes its possessors to be in a good state and to perform their functions well” (Aristotle 254)....
Cited: Aristotle. “Virtue Ethics.” Moral Philosophy, A Reader, Third Edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2003. 249-259
Norton, David L. “Moral Minimalism and the Development of Moral Character.” Moral Philosophy, A Reader, Third Edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2003. 296-307
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