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Virtue ethics consist of the theories that underline the role of ideal character and virtue in moral philosophy. Virtue ethics focus on the kind of person who is acting rather than about the consequence of the action that he is performing or the duties and obligations involved in this context. The issue of paramount importance in case of virtue ethics is whether the person who is acting exhibit good character (moral virtues) or not. Thus the normative discourse involved for the proponents of virtue ethics is “What kind of person should I be?”  Rather than “What should I do”? Virtue ethics are therefore concerned with the whole of a person's life, rather than particular episodes or actions.

The foundation of virtue ethics started the work of classical Greek scholars Plato and Aristotle. In Europe during ancient and medieval periods this was the prevailing approach in theories related to ethics.

Aristotle’s ethics initiate with the premise that all the beings seek their perfection. Likewise the Humans are no exception to this. The treatise on ethics by Aristotle consist of  elaborate discussions related to  eudaimonia ( “happiness,” “flourishing”), and to an inspection of the nature of aretê (“virtue,” “excellence”) and the character traits that human beings needed in order to live life at its best. According to Aristotle the ultimate goal of human life is to attain “happiness” which can only be achieved by the “Golden Means” i.e. through virtue.

To Aristotle virtuous action is an activity of the soul that follows a rational principle. The rational actions are always followed by happiness. So Aristotle says that happiness is the outcome of the rational activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. Virtue is defined as a habitual state of the soul (one swallow does not make a summer). Aristotle says that virtue is not innate in human beings; rather it has to be acquired and cultivated like any other skill, thus being good by nature is no virtue at all. According to James F Keenan “being virtuous is more than having a particular habit of acting, e.g. generosity. Rather, it means having a fundamental set of related virtues that enable a person to live and act morally well”.

Just as individuals develop other kinds of practical abilities through practice and repetition, so also he argued humans acquire their moral ability when they are taught and habituated by their families and communities to think feel, and behave in morally appropriate ways.

Our behavior reflects our being. We are what we repeatedly do. Character is measured in the routine challenges of work and private life– in small choices we make between what we would like to do and what we should do.

Aristotle says that there are no universal rules or grounds on the basis of which one could perform the virtuous actions; rather one has to learn to be virtuous through practice and observation of role models or people who are virtuous. Decision making in various situation (ethical dilemma) involves subjectivity, thus one need to acquire “practical wisdom” in such cases.

Moral virtue is a according to Aristotle is a mean between two vices (one in excess, one in deficiency).  In this regard the philosophy of Aristotle  is close to the concept of” Middle Path” as propounded by Lord Buddha. According to this doctrine, moral virtues are desire regulating character traits, which are at a mean between more extreme character traits (or vices).  For example in response to the natural emotion of fear, we should develop the virtuous character trait of courage. The virtue of courage, then, lies at the mean between the excessive extreme of rashness, and the deficient extreme of cowardice.  Aristotle is quick to point out that the virtuous mean is not a strict mathematical mean between two extremes.

He concludes that it is difficult to live the virtuous life primarily because it is often difficult to find the mean between the extremes. Action is the response made to desire, and here, Aristotle insists one can respond too much or too little. The correct response lies between extremes. This is the doctrine of mean.

Why be moral?

What a human being should be?  We all have reason to support good practice since we all want our lives to go well - our own lives - but this is not necessarily a selfish want - typically, we see our own lives as going well only if lives of our close friends parents, children and other group members go well.

Limitations of Virtue Ethics

The following are the limitations of the virtue ethics:

  1. Virtue ethics envisage that individuals should be virtuous, however these theories fail to reach to a general agreement about what all qualities and attributes one should acquire to be virtuous.
  2. These theories does not provide any ground rules about how to solve moral dilemma
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