Friday, July 15, 2016

Defense of the Ambiguity of Virtue Ethics

From guest blogger, Patrick. 

One of the major attacks on virtue ethics is its inability to guide people in making decisions in difficult situations. Consequentialists and Deontologists take hard line stances, based on happiness results or intentions of actions, to determine which acts are moral. The system of acting virtuous just because virtuous people do so seems vague in comparison to theories that have metrics for determining how to act. But what about the situations that those metrics can’t answer correctly? Are those situations flukes or just proof of flaws in the metric? I believe it is the latter. Life is far too complicated to be measured by a single standard to determine the morality of every situation. Certain situations are bound to be poorly interpreted using such metrics. It is the same notion that large governments can not effectively manage complex economies. Trying to fit infinitely complex circumstances under one size fits all plans causes the structure to break down.

Virtue Ethics is a vague theory on the morality, but I believe that is its greatest appeal. Its ambiguousness is not a weakness of the theory, but a strength. It allows the theory to flex and adapt to different situations that one standard metric theories can not. If life is eternally complex, then perhaps the theory of morality should be equally complex, even if that makes it vague on the surface.


Liam Perkins said...

Hi Patrick,
I like what you said about the flexibility of virtue ethics. I associate most with consequentialism but I agree that in very complicated situations the scale of measuring potential utility can become far too difficult for one to properly make an optimific decision. This could be interpreted as a "flaw" in the consequentialist approach but if you consider a much more simple decision, like whether or not to breathe, the consequentialist approach easily determines that it is best for us to breathe in order for us to survive. As the scope of a decision becomes more complicated we have to consider more variables, but our natural thought process will continue to weigh all of the possibilities. I believe that we should consider how virtuous an action is before we make a decision, but ultimately our decision making comes down to which option will have the best results.

-Liam Perkins

Bryan Li said...

This is a interesting counter argument to the ambiguity of virtue ethic. I agree with you that even though that virtue ethic dose not have guidances to tell us how to act, virtue ethic is still a great theory because our life is so complex and oftentimes single theory cannot determine an action is morally right or wrong, especially on controversial issues. This reminds me to be adaptive or at lease open to other theories of determining the rightness or wrongness in physiology

-Bryan Li

Yi Iverson said...

Hello Patrick,
I agree that virtue ethics is really appealing. however, a question makes me doubt if virtue ethics is really that applicable.
It is the grounding problem we have mentioned in the class. Since both Kant's deontology and consequentialists have their bases, I would think where is this virtue from? If Aristotle cannot explain the origination of the virtue, can we really believe if such thing exists? For example, we would not believe magnetic field is an actual thing if we cannot use techniques to prove it. If the theory is not based on something settled, it is hard to convince me to believe the theory. (Consequentialists uses happiness to prove their theory because we can feel the happiness.) We do not believe the characters of aliens until we prove they exist. I am not fully convinced by virtue ethics until some philosophers show what virtue is.(I'm not sure if this example makes a lot of sense. let me know if it confuses you.)
Nan Yi

Yi Iverson said...

Hi Patrick,
I admit that virtue ethics is charming. however, the grounding problem of virtue ethics still bugs me a little bit.
Both Kant's theory and consequentialism have bases. Kant requires us to pass the universal maxim and consequentialists believe that happiness is their ground. However, it is hard to explain why virtue ethics is true is Aristotle cannot show that virtue exists. I personally would not believe that aliens exist and the descriptions of all their characters until they are proved existing. Similar things about virtue ethics is that it is hard to convince me until someone proves virtue is something and all virtue characters are generated from virtue. (I wish the alien example make sense, and please let me know if it confuses you. I would be happy to explain more.)

Catherine Peterson said...

Hi Patrick,
So like most of the other commenters, I really like your idea of the flexibility of Virtue Ethics, it makes the theory that much more compelling. But in response to Yi's earlier comment about the lack of grounding, I think that some form of grounding can be seen amongst virtues across cultures. What people consider virtuous does seem to overlap at a basic level at the very least.

Catherine Peterson said...

Hi Patrick,
So like most of the other commenters, I really liked the idea of Virtue Ethics as a flexible thing, it makes the theory all the more compelling. But in response to Yi's issue with the grounding problem I feel as if there is to some extent a common theme across cultures as to what people consider to be virtuous. I think with a lot of morality there's never going to be one definitive answer so there's going to have to be some amount of just simple belief.

Tessa Hansen said...


This is a very great argument about Virtue Ethics, and I do believe that it being ambiguous leaves more doors open. I think we as humans are constantly adapting to new, complex situations in life. Although, I still find it hard to universalize virtuous acts, since cultures vary greatly around the world. Overall, you had great insight on Virtue Ethics, and makes me re-evaluate my thoughts on this theory.


Tessa Hansen said...
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