- Slides: 12
Philosophy 220 Virtue Ethics and Moral Pluralism
Virtue Ethics • Though historically speaking, Virtue Ethics is the first systematic, philosophical ethical position, it had until somewhat recently been pushed aside by the other ethical theories we’ve studied. • One reason for this is that these other theories have focused our attention on the ethical evaluation of acts, while VE focuses on character. • There are lots of (not necessarily all good) reasons to prefer the former.
An Ethic of Virtue • The lack of attention (until recently) paid to VE has the result that there is still a great deal of disagreement about the basic structure of VE. • We can say a few basic and uncontentious things about such theories. • The first and most important one is the VE reverses the tendency that we’ve seen in other ethical theories and makes the concepts of virtue and vice basic. o Right and Wrong become derivative concepts.
Virtue and Vice • Virtue: “a trait of character or mind that typically involves dispositions to act, feel, and think in certain ways and that is central to a positive evaluation of persons” (25). o Honesty, Courage, Justice, Temperance, Beneficence • Vice: “a trait of character or mind that typically involves dispositions to act, feel and think in certain ways, and that is central to a negative evaluation of persons” (26). o Dishonesty, Cowardice, Injustice, Intemperance, Selfishness
A TRA for Virtue Ethics • On the basis of the distinction between virtues and vices, it is possible to articulate a general TRA for VE. o An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent (acting in character) would not avoid doing in the circumstances under consideration. • If a virtuous agent would do it, the action is obligatory; if they might do it, the action is permissible; if they wouldn’t do it, the action is forbidden. • “Acting in character” points to the concept of “practical wisdom” and the significance of moral judgment/intuition for VE.
Advantages of VE • It is consistent with our moral intuition that there may be more than one right answer in the face of a moral dilemma. • It is not inconsistent with our conviction that traits of character are importantly out of our control, inasmuch as they are influences by genetics and circumstance. • It encourages us to take a holistic view of our moral circumstances.
Disadvantages? • What about the virtues and vices themselves? • Who is a virtuous agent? • How do we know if they are “acting in character? ” • What if we lack a virtuous character?
Moral Pluralism • One common feature of our moral lives that we’ve already encountered are conflicts of duties. There is often more than one thing that we are morally obligated to do, and when we can’t satisfy both obligations, we have to chose one to satisfy and one to fail. • Morally monistic views would ultimately deny that any such conflicts exist. If we are conflicted, it’s because we are not working the machinery of theory correctly. • Morally pluralistic views, on the other hand, are skeptical that there is any one deontic standard that can do all the work necessary.
The Main Idea • For moral pluralism, there is a plurality of basic moral principles of right conduct. There is no more fundamental or basic moral principle that justifies these plural principles. • The basic moral principles give us moral reasons to perform actions. These reasons can compete with and outweigh one another. • Because these principles are basic, but can be outweighed by other, competing principles, moral philosophers say that they impose a prima facie (at first glance; sufficient unless rebutted) moral obligation.
Ross’s Ethics of Prima Facie Duty • Ross’s account of our prima facie duties emerges out of a theory of human nature that identifies four basic intrinsic goods: 1. 2. 3. 4. virtue pleasure in proportion to virtue knowledge • From this account of these basic goods, Ross identifies seven classes of prima facie duties (i. e. , basic moral principles of right action): 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Duties of Fidelity (keeping one’s word) Duties of Reparation (repairing harm we’ve done) Duties of Gratitude Duties of Justice (distribution of goods and burdens) Duties of Beneficence (obligation to help others in need) Duties of Self-Improvement Duties of Non-Maleficence (do no harm)
Ross’s TRA • On the basis of this account of our basic prima facie duties, we can specify a TRA for a Rossean moral pluralism. o An action A is obligatory iff one has a prima facie duty to do A that is weightier than any other conflicting prima facie duty. o An action A is wrong iff there is some alternative action that would be responsive to a weightier prima facie duty. o An action A is permissible iff 1) there are no prima facie duties operating in the context or 2) there are more than one prima facie duties operating in the context and they are of equal weight, and you act in accordance with one of them.
Strengths and Weaknesses • One obvious advantage of a view like Ross’s is that it builds in recognition of and machinery to handle a common, perhaps inelliminable feature of our moral lives: the fact of moral conflict. • It also benefits from being rooted in a relatively straightforward account of human nature. • On the other side of the equation, just as with virtue ethics, the particular account of the prima facie duties seems susceptible to criticism, both in terms of their content and in terms of their connection to each other. • There also possible questions about the actionguidingness of such an approach. There would seem to be a number of possible moral concerns that aren’t addressed by Ross’s duties.