Virtue Ethics Framework

The value criterion is...promoting human goodness.

Here are some of the best justifications for a virtue ethics framework.


Any account of ethics fails unless it uses fundamental aspects of life to explain good and bad.


[Soran Reader, Department of Philosophy, Durham University. “New Directions in Ethics: Naturalisms, Reasons and Virtue” December 2000. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice pp. 347-348 PC]

What is the alternative? [is] To understand ethics in its own terms. This deprives us of explanatory naturalism. We can't without error expect to understand ethics in any terms but ethical. This has seemed to many philosophers to be unduly restrictive, and to threaten relativism.8 But in fact it does not lead to these difficulties - or, more accurately, it doesn't exacerbate them. The problem of displaying the rationality of ethics in a compelling way is real. But it is also general. It is the same as the problem of displaying the rationality of all the other things we do - playing games, conducting scientific enquiry, writing philosophy papers. We might be able to make connections between activities – using an analogy with another game, say, to illuminate the game of chess for someone. But all we will ever be able to lay our hands on in the activity of explaining, is more of the same: parts of our life. The idea of our being able to us[ing]e 'the world as it is in itself to explain any of our activities is practically contradictory. And the idea that rationality - supernature, rather than first nature - can be used to explain ethics in this way, involves a similar error. The way we think – acquire beliefs, deliberate, justify ourselves – is also part of our life. It is as 'fundamental' in that life as ethics is, but no more so - no more knowable 'in itself, as Aristotle, in the grip of a similar error to our own, would have put it, than it is 'to us', here and now, living as we live. So explanatory accounts of ethics, whether they invoke first-nature or super natural reason, are mistaken. Explicatory naturalism is as far as we can go. A[a]nd as far as we need to go. 

And, the subject of ethical thought must provide the initial ethical premise from which the further ethical conclusions may be deduced.


[Alasdair MacIntyre, Renowned Scottish Philosopher, “After Virtue,” 1981. University of Notre Dame Press pp. 56-58]

Some later moral philosophers have gone so far as to describe the thesis that from a set of factual premises no moral conclusion follows as a ‘truth of logic’, understanding it as derivable from a more general principle which some medieval logicians formulated as the claim that in a valid argument nothing can appear in the conclusion which was not already in the premises. And, such philosophers have suggested, in an argument in which any attempt is made to derive a moral evaluative conclusion from factual premises something which is not in the premises, namely the moral or evaluative element will appear in the conclusion. Hence any such argument must fail. Yet in fact that alleged unrestrictedly general logical principle on which everything is being made to depend is bogus – and the scholastic tag applies only to Aristotelian syllogisms. There are several types of valid argument in which some element may appear in a conclusion which is not present in the premises. A.N. Prior’s counter example to this alleged principle illustrates its breakdown adequately; from the premise ‘He is a sea-captain’, the conclusion may be validly inferred that ‘He ought to do whatever a sea-captain ought to do’. This counter-example not only shows that there is a general principle of the type alleged; but it itself shows what is at least a grammatical truth – an ‘is’ premise can on occasion entail an ‘ought’ conclusion. Adherents of the ‘no “ought” from “is” view’ could however easily meet part of the difficulty raised by Prior’s example by reformulating their own position. What they intended to claim they might and would presumably say, is that no conclusion with substantial evaluative and moral content- and the conclusion in Prior‘s example certainly does lack any such content-can be derived from factual premises. Yet the problem would re- main for them as to why now anyone would accept their claim. For they have conceded that it cannot be derived from any unrestrictedly general logical principle. Yet their claim may still have substance. but a substance that derives from a particular. and in the eighteenth century new. concep- tion of moral rules and judgments. It may. that is. assert a principle whose validity derives not from some general logical principle, but from the meaning of the key terms employed. Suppose that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the meaning and implications of the key terms used in moral utterance had changed their character; it could then turn out to be the case that what had once been valid inferences from or to some particular moral premise or conclusion would no longer be valid inferences from or to what tanned to be the same factual premise or moral conclusion.For what in some sense were the same expressions, the same sentences would now bear a different meaning. But do we in fact have any evidence for such a change of meaning? To answer this question it is helpful to consider another type of counter-example to the ‘No “ought” conclusions from “is” premises’ thesis. From such factual premises as ‘This watch is grossly inaccurate and irregular in time keeping’ and ‘This watch is too heavy to carry about comfortably’, the evaluative conclusion validly follows’ This is a bad watch’. From such factual premises as ‘He gets a better yield for this crop per acre than any farmer in the district’, ‘He has the most effective programme of soil renewal yet known’ and  ‘His dairy herd wins all the first prizes at the agricultural shows’, the evaluative conclusion validly follows that ‘He is a good farmer’. Both of these arguments are valid because of the special character of the concepts of a watch and of a farmer. Such concepts are functional concepts; that is to say, we define both ‘watch’ and ‘farmer’ in terms of the purpose or function which a watch [is]or a farmer are characteristically expected to serve.

This is the only way to bridge the “is-ought” gap since it is not that we ought to act a certain way because those actions are observed; rather we discern what a species is meant to be like through empirical observations.

Thus, any judgment must be based on inherent characteristics, Aristotelian necessities, to arrive at a concept of human goodness.


[Foot, Philippa. British philosopher, known for her work in Aristotelian ethics. “Natural Goodness.” Oxford University Press: USA; (Dec., 2003) p. 15]

Anscombe writes, ‘[G]etting one another to do things without the application of physical force is a necessity for human life, and that far beyond what could be secured by…other means.’ Anscombe is pointing here to what she has elsewhere called an ‘Aristotelian necessity’: that which is necessary because and in so far as good hangs on it. We invoke the same idea when we say that it is necessary for plants to have water, for birds to build nests, for wolves to hunt in packs, and for lionesses to teach their cubs to kill. These ‘Aristotelian necessities’ depend on what the particular species of plants and animals need, [and] on their natural habitat, and the ways of making out that there are in their repertoire. These things together determine what it is for members of a particular species to be as they should be, and to do that which they should do. And for all the enormous differences between [the] life [of] and humans and that of plants or animals, we can see that human defects and excellences are similarly related to what human beings are and what they do. We do not need to be able to dive like gannets, nor to see in the dark like owls; but our memory and concentration must be such as to allow us to learn language, and our sight such that we can recognize faces at a glance; while, like lionesses, human parents are defective if they do not teach their young the skills that they need to survive. 

Thus, the standard is promoting human goodness. 

Additionally, prefer the standard:

1.      Moral Perception – the only way to have a motivational morality is through virtue ethics because we think of ourselves as virtuous people. Moral perception is a prior question that only virtue ethics addresses.


[Monica A. Lindemann, B.A. University of North Texas. “ENVIRONMENTAL VIRTUE EDUCATION: ANCIENT WISDOM APPLIED” 2005. UNT pp.44-45]

One of the major problems that ethical theories face today is to determine the precise connection between the recognition of ethical dilemmas by a moral agent and his subsequent motivation to act. Frequently, philosophers argue, it is not enough for a moral agent to know ethical principles that apply only to universalized situations; something else has to occur for the agent to truly jump into gear. Simply knowing theoretical ethical principles does not provide the agent with the fine-tuned perception necessary to actually recognize a specific situation as deserving of action. This is one of the reasons why rule-based systems of ethics are problematic, as they already assume that the moral agent has discerned ethical salience in a given situation. However, that is not necessarily the case. In other words, knowing that “one should be benevolent to those less fortunate” does not give any specific information as to what action to take when one is faced with a homeless person on the street, for instance. In such a situation, one first has to recognize that the other person has a good of his or her own, is in need, and thus deserving of help. In the same way, the rule does not provide information regarding what form the aid should take: should one simply give the person money for food? Or should one try to help in more profound ways, such as finding him or her a job etc.? All these scenarios already depend on the moral perception of the moral agent; that is, the situation first has to be perceived to be a moral one, for otherwise moral activity is not at all required. As Blum puts it: The point is that perception occurs prior to deliberation, and prior to taking the situation to be one in which one needs to deliberate. It is precisely because the situation is seen in a certain way that the agent takes it as one in which he feels moved to deliberate. 40 Therefore, the significance of moral perception for subsequent action is undeniable. The question now becomes: What is moral perception and how does it develop in a moral agent? Clearly, rules and regulations in and by themselves are not guides to moral perception, since they only prescribe how to act once a moral situation is already perceived as requiring action. Therefore, deontological and utilitarian theories of ethics generally begin too far down the road, as they already presuppose the moral perception of the moral agent. The principles provided can only be applied if the situation has been recognized as a moral one. However, moral perception appears to be a component of the [is] characteristics and dispositions of a person, as they are an integral part of how a person dwells in and interacts with the world. Thus, moral perception, which is essential and prior to any moral judgment, is closely linked to ethical theories of virtue, as the virtues are generally regarded to shape an agent’s understanding of his or her moral environment.

Ethics must be motivational because it is the only way that we can know agents will comply with what is moral. Determining a true ethical theory is meaningless if it can’t guide action in any way.

2.      Real Agents – Only virtue ethics avoids the harms of depersonalized and codified theories.


[Rui Silva, University of the Azores. “VIRTUE ETHICS AND COMMUNITARIANISM” 2011. DIACRÍTICA p. 2 PC]

But what went wrong with modern moral theories? We may say that, according to virtue ethicists, modern moral philosophy commits a fundamental sin when it tries to ground moral action on a set of universal rules or principles. Such an approach to moral life is subject to two major objections. In the first place, it promotes an abstract account of the ethical domain that neglects some vital aspects of moral life: education, character, motivation, happiness or emotions. In fact, virtue ethics is characterized by a focus on real agents, in contrast to the deontological focus on duties or actions (considered independently of their consequences) and the consequentialist focus on the results of actions. In the second place, virtue ethics claims that moral knowledge cannot be reduced to a system of rules and principles; in other words, moral knowledge is uncodifiable. The quotes in epigraph help us to understand the appeal of virtue ethics in comparison with deontological and consequentialists approaches to ethics. These approaches, which dominated modern moral philosophy, suffer from what John Cottingham called a “depersonalizing tendency” (1996: 58). In fact, both perspectives are impersonal accounts of moral action: deontological theories are based on a list of universally valid duties or obligations, whereas consequentialism is guided by equally impersonal rules that are supposed to promote, for instance, collective happiness or welfare. On the contrary, virtue ethics, far from abstracting from the character, motivations and even emotions from the agent, tries to ground moral action in the real agent. This point has a good illustration in McDowell's claim that ethics should be “approached via the notion of a virtuous person. A conception of right conduct is grasped, as it were, from the inside out” (McDowell, 1998: 50). A similar idea is sometimes expressed by saying that virtue ethics focuses on being, whereas deontological and consequentialist perspectives focus on [not] doing. In other words, the central question for virtue ethicists is “what sort of person should I be?”; in contrast, the key question for modern moral philosophers is “how should I act?”2 In the philosophy of the human sciences, there is a distinction between cold methodologies and hot methodologies; in similar vein, we can speak of cold (consequentialism/deontologism) and hot (virtue ethics) approaches to ethics.

Abstraction is uniquely bad under any framework that values agents because it ignores fundamental aspects of their lives. It ignores specific circumstances that are relevant to individual choice, which harms their value as agents.

[This framework originally and generously contributed by Lexington PC.]