Virtue EthicsIntroductionDerived from Greek word ethos, ethics means something which is moral. A narrower definition of ethics is a systematic reflection on what is moral. Morality is a sum total of decisions, opinions and actions through which rightness or goodness is expressed by the people. That is a very twisted paradigm. To be ethical does not mean what one thinks is ethical, but is a reflection of what people think is good or bad. Not to be mistaken with a manual on how and when to act, ethics, in fact, is the quest for the right type of morality.
Thus this morality or ethics has two fag ends. One is descriptive, which is fact-based, and takes into account existing morality. Another is prescriptive, which is value-based, and thus judges morality. Normative ethics provides a person with a direct value in terms of goodness or badness of an action taken. Virtue ethics, as a standard, thus falls into normative category. As a result of this, virtue ethics presents with some inherent characteristics. It does not emphasize on individual actions, but it emphasizes on character.
That means goodness of an action is normally seen as stemming from a person's character, and not the other way round. This is why character traits like patience, benevolence, and courage are termed as virtues, and so characteristics like miserliness, cowardice and laziness as vices. Being virtuous means following virtue ethics, which is the right approach to react in certain specific situations or circumstances. An example could be jumping into a flooded river to save a child from drowning despite the fact that the flood can drown the saver too – a case of being part of dangerous situation despite knowing the danger involved.
It is held that to be able to follow virtue ethics, one ought to have good upbringing. Background and DiscussionHistory of virtue ethics is traced back to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Hume's time. Before dealing with the contemporariness of virtue ethics, it would be virtuous to put the ancient order of this form of ethics in a chronological order: Plato (347 - 427BC): Plato said that in order to be virtuous it was essential to have a clear concept on "form of virtue".
He said only philosophers had a clear grasp of this form; others had a dim view on the same. That is why, he opined, philosophers were the ones able to rule. Aristotle (322-384 BC): Aristotle rejected what Plato said. He opined that virtue was part of this world and of every human life that could be said was well-lived. It was Aristotle who said good upbringing was a cornerstone for being virtuous. According to him virtue was comparable to skills. Aquinas (1225-1274): Aquinas was a scholar and mainly followed Aristotle.
While dealing extensively on accounts of human motivation, Aquinas added to the list of Aristotelian virtues. He further gave a concept of cardinal virtues like fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence, and theological virtues like hope, charity and faith. Hume (1711-1776): Hume had a scientific bent of mind and he looked at virtues and tried to understand them by application of scientific methods. He discussed morality as a quality of mind, and also tried to separate the same from vices as the opposing qualities. Hume created a catalogue of vices and virtues and defined virtues as "qualities of mind useful to or approved of by self or others".