Modern Morality: Virtue Ethics

Photo+by+Kristine+Cho

Photo by Kristine Cho

Kristine Cho

In times of trouble, some find themselves asking, “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD, for short) and sure enough, that is a code of ethics in itself. When it comes to ethical theories, you normally have two types of theories governing human behavior: action-based theories and consequence-based theories, but virtue ethics is actor-based. Actions we take hold the potential to impact the world around us and define who we are. That aspect of actions that impact and shape our character is what virtue ethics finds to be of utmost importance when making decisions.Virtue ethics finds most of its roots in the works and teachings of Aristotle, who said that the best state to be in is one where good character traits (also known as virtues, giving this philosophy its name) are nurtured and actualized. This means that when employing this philosophy, the question to ask isn’t “what should I do?” but instead, is, “how should I live?” thus basing all actions off of a general concept of
Virtue ethics finds most of its roots in the works and teachings of Aristotle, who said that the best state to be in is one where good character traits (also known as virtues, giving this philosophy its name) are nurtured and actualized. This means that when employing this philosophy, the question to ask isn’t “what should I do?” but instead, is, “how should I live?” thus basing all actions off of a general concept of character. Aristotle says that the virtues that people ought to strive for emerge naturally, but need to be learned and reinforced, adaptable to proper social contexts and reactions (i.e. courage in some situations, kindness and sympathy in others), and is always based in the right reasons and desires. Here’s the link to the infamous “WWJD.” Many of Jesus’ actions (and other religious figures for that matter) are ones that are grounded in virtues, as we consider him to be a selfless man. As a secular example, we can turn to the brave and selfless comic heroes to see exemplars of virtuous characters. However, even with these sorts of lines laid out, virtue ethics is difficult to boil down into a few objective requirements making it hard to follow, but this quality is a double-edged sword. Often times, the world is not as clear-cut as we would like it to be, and so having an adaptable code of ethics for a changing multifaceted world is fitting.
Considering virtue ethics allows one to reflect on big questions that aren’t usually tackled in other modes of thought, ones that focus on our whole being as opposed to abstract notions of duty and responsibility. Virtues are often difficult to identify and are even harder to enforce all the time, but it’s a unique position that can let us see the world and ourselves in a more holistic way.