Virtue Theory

A Necessary, Modern Revision Aristotle studied and explained a wide range of subjects ranging from science to politics and is widely recognized as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. One of his most important contributions to the study of humanities is his exploration and definition of moral virtue. In his book, The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains different views about the nature of life in order to allow the reader to find what the main function of life is and how to successfully perform that function.
For example, Aristotle states in his first book, in article one, “every art and every investigation, and similarly every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good. ” Hence, Aristotle defines the “good” as that which all things should aim. However, what separates humans from other “things” is the fact that humans seek the good in order to achieve eudemonia, or happiness. In order to achieve this result, a human must function well, and would therefore be acting with rational activity.
So, if a person performs the function of rational activity well, they have acted with moral reasoning, acting virtuously to achieve eudemonia. In summary, Aristotle believes the good, or virtue, is in a human’s self-interest because of the results it produces. However, I strongly believe that, to classical philosophers, achieving virtue was a broader concept that its modern connotation suggests.

It is commonly known that certain theories can be considered obsolete over time if not restated in a modern day context, because as society advances, there is a need for theories and ideas to accommodate and make room for such changes in order to maintain their relevance So, in order to adapt Aristotle’s theory of the good, also known as Aristotle’s virtue theory, into modern day life, different theorists and philosophers became interested in reevaluating the theory and adding to it in order to achieve a successful and newer theory for humans to consider.
I want to discuss the most popular theories recreated from Aristotle’s virtue theory to prove that there is, in fact, a need to modernize and restate his original concept, there is not a need to disregard it or substantially add to it. I believe that his theory must simply be presented through a modern outlook to be used as a guideline as to how humans should act instead of a set group of rules that could possible contradict each other. There are many different theories to consider when trying to find the best adaptation of Aristotle’s virtue heory, they range from supplementary views to non-supplementary and non-criterialists. For example, Supplementalists such as James Rachels believe in supplementing Aristotle’s theory of the good with an independent theory of right action. Whereas, non-Supplementalists can be further split into criterialists such as Rosalind Hursthouse, who believes that happiness can be objective, and non-criterialists such as Julia Annas, who believes that virtue theory does not need any criteria of right action because a truly virtuous person would never get into a situation where a criteria of right action would be needed.
These theories differ on core principles and methods of adaptation, some even disagree with parts of Aristotle’s theory; however, they all have some form of agreement with respect to Aristotle’s theory of the good and can be used to enhance it for its adaptation into modern day context. After my evaluations of each philosopher’s view points, I have found the most practical and least contradicting theory in Julia Annas’ essay, “Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing. ” Her essay delves into not only the original concept of Aristotle’s virtue theory, but also discusses the consequences of abiding by those guidelines in modern day.
Her theory allows Aristotle’s theory to remain intact, however she refreshes it to the modern connotation it needed to be more commonly accepted by today’s society. However, when looking at the other popular views, James Rachels’ provides a detailed argument vouching for his supplementalist view point on the theory of the good in his essay “The Ethics of Virtue. ” In his opinion, Aristotle’s theory shows an excellent motivation for moral action and gives us a better perspective of our decisions by enabling a different method of weighing our action.
Yet, he also states that through Aristotle’s theory alone, there would be no reason for individuals to think that characteristics are virtues rather than vices. For example, courage could be a vice because there is no basis for asserting that courage is a virtue. Second, he adds “it is difficult to see how unsupplemented virtue theory could handle cases of moral conflict” (Rachels 2). For example, honesty can conflict with kindness if a certain circumstance presents itself. According o Rachels, a purely virtue-based morality must always be incomplete, since it could not by itself explain why certain character traits are not morally good and therefore, humans could never decipher if they are truly acting virtuously and experiencing eudemonia. In order to make such a distinction between what is and is not morally good, he concludes that a combined approach, supplementing Aristotle’s theory with an independent theory of right action, such as Kantianism or Utilitarianism, will allow for an adequate moral philosophy in modern day.
However, there can be problems with supplementation because moral theories, such as Kantianism for example, suffer from the same problem of deciphering the conflict of virtues. Rachels evaluates a list of virtues such as benevolence, civility, fairness, justice and so on, describing them as traits of character that should be fostered in human beings. By doing so, he conveys to the reader the need for an independent theory of right action such as Kantianism to help distinguish whether or not it is a virtue or vice. However, he does not go into detail of the problems such independent theories of right action can run into.
Say Rachels wants to supplement the virtue theory with kantianism, and a person posses the virtue of honesty, however, if that person were to be conflicted by Nazis asking where hidden refugees are, that person would have to tell the truth because that is what the “categorical imperative” deems. Therefore, supplementing the virtue theory proves unnecessary and contradicting when trying to maintain using the virtue theory in modern day. Next, I chose to compare a theory opposing the supplementalist view such as the non-supplementalist view that Rosalind Hursthouse agrees with in her essay “Virtue Theory and Abortion. However, she also adds a criterialist view point in that “an action is right, if and only if, it is what the virtuous agent would do in the circumstance” (Hursthouse 225). In her paper, she primarily uses the example of abortion to demonstrate her criticism of the virtue theory and discuss what is needed to be applied to the theory for it to promote the correct virtuous answer in modern circumstances. She states that “virtue theory can’t get us anywhere in real moral issues because it’s bound to be all assertion and no argument Hursthouse 226),” therefore, she addresses the need for clear, virtuous guidance about what ought and ought not to be done when a person is stuck in a conflicting decision of virtues. In her example of a woman’s decision of whether or not to have an abortion, she emphasizes the necessity of that guidance. However, in the evaluation of Hursthouse’s paper, she states nine separate criticisms of virtue theory, demonstrating what she believes to be an inadequate grasp either of the structure of virtue theory or what would be involved in thinking about a real moral issue in its terms.
She clearly makes the point that Aristotle’s theory of the good does not allow for a blatant answer in circumstances in which a person could either only do wrong or face the decision of acting for the good of human kind or for their own self interest. But, what she does not grasp is the simple fact that a virtuous person would never be in such situations to begin with, as Julia Annas later states. Hursthouse’s example of abortion becomes invalid with the realization that a virtuous person would not have irresponsible sex to land herself in a situation of whether or not to have an abortion.
She mostly disagrees with Aristotle’s overall concept; therefore, her need to recreate it in a more understandable method is diluted and consumed by her overall goal of asserting the need of a virtuous guidance for those stuck in unvirtuous situations. Julia Annas further addresses the contradictions Hursthouse makes in her essay “Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Things,” in that she does not follow the criterialist belief that Hursthouse believes is necessary to make the virtuous decision.
As stated before, she uses the main contradiction that the circumstances where there is no right answer a virtuous person wouldn’t be in to begin with. Also, she believes that “we are not blank slates; we already have a firm views about right and wrong ways to act, worthy and unworthy ways to be (Annas 66),” and we become knowledgeable of what is right and wrong through a developmental process, not through some technical method of deciphering right from wrong. She believes that you become good at being virtuous the same way you become good in everything else, for example, in order be good at playing the piano, you must practice.
Her statements help relate Aristotle’s virtue theory to those confused about how to apply it in everyday life. She is providing the excuse of instinct and development for the vagueness of his original theory in order to make it more practical and achievable for those wanting to act with virtue. Overall, Annas proves her view deliberately and assertively throughout her paper. It becomes apparent that becoming a virtuous person requires a developmental process much like other activities in life.
Also, through defying other theories, such as Hursthouse’s, she shows how uncomplicated making a virtuous decision can be, instead of making such a decision seem unachievable and complicated in modern context. I agree with her statement that it is wrong to “force our everyday moral thoughts into a system of one-size-fits all kind, virtue ethics tells us to look elsewhere at what happens when we try to become a builder or pianist (Annas 73),” because I believe that is how I came to learn what was morally good, and how I am still learning what is right or wrong in today’s society.
She revives Aristotle’s virtue theory for modern day by allowing its original vagueness to remain intact and not trying to rewrite the theory’s initial context, while at the same time describing it as more of a guideline for humans to live by and a way to improve practical judgment in everyday life. In conclusion, Annas’ non-supplementalist, non-criterialist outlook on Aristotle’s virtue theory provokes thought and consideration, but also relates to a reader, because if looked at closely, the virtuous developmental process can be easily recognizable in any reader’s childhood.
Also, her analytical methods of revealing the problems in other theories help the reader to comprehend her theory easier. Annas leaves the reader stating “When it comes to working to find the right thing to do, we cannot shift the work to a theory, because we, unlike theories, are always learning, and so we are always learning and aspiring to do better (Annas 74). ” Overall, Annas provides the best adaptation to Aristotle’s theory of the good and provides a positive outlook on the methods of becoming virtuous without constraining the reader to believe that there is exact and deliberate steps a human must make in order to gain eudemonia.
Her revision allows Aristotle’s concept to live on into modern day, and thus provides a well-rounded and current guideline to the betterment of today’s society. Works Cited Annas, Julia. “Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing. ” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (2004): 61-75. Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. 325 B. C. Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Theory and Abortion. ” Philosophy and Public Affairs 20. 3 (1991): 223-246. Rachel, James. “The Ethics of Virtue. ” 1996. Norman R. Shultz. November 2010 <http://www. normanrschultz. org/Courses/Ethics/Rachels_virtueethics. pdf>.

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