The Concept of Virtue Ethics in Our Lives
The fundamental question of ethics is, What should I do? or How should I act? Ethics provides us with moral principles or universal rules that tell us what to do. In other words, the fundamental question of ethics is What kind of person should I be? Virtue ethics, is a collection of certain ideals, such as excellence or dedication to the common good, toward which we should strive and which allow the full development of our humanity. Virtues are attitudes, character traits that allow us to be and to act in way that build up this potential. Honesty, compassion, integrity, courage, generosity, and fairness are all examples of virtues.
Virtues are developed through learning and through practice. As the ancient philosopher Aristotle suggested, a person can improve his or her character by practicing self-discipline, while a good character can be corrupted by repeated self-indulgence. Virtues are habits. That is, once they are acquired, they become characteristic of a person.
A person’s character traits are not developed in isolation, but within and by the communities to which he or she belongs, including family, church, school, and other private and public associations. As people grow and mature, their personalities are deeply affected by the values that their communities prize, by the personality traits that their communities encourage, and by the role models that their communities put forth for imitation through traditional stories, fiction, movies, television, and so on. The virtue approach urges us to pay attention to the contours of our communities and the habits of character they encourage and instill.
The moral life, then, is not simply a matter of following moral rules and of learning to apply them to specific situations. The moral life is also a matter of trying to determine the kind of people we should be and of attending to the development of character within our communities and ourselves.
Virtue ethics focuses on the ideal of developing a morally good character. Typically, those who advocate a virtue ethics take morally right actions to be what a morally good person would do in certain circumstances. In this way, they try to understand talk about right and wrong acts in terms of good and bad character.