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Virtue Ethics Argumentative

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  • Category: virtue

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The main goal of any ethical theory is to do what’s right and good. All theories involve following moral rules or acting in accordance with chosen ethical values. Sometimes what is right and good, the rules, or the values are common to different theories. There is overlap in the theories that result in the same conduct in a moral situation although for different reasons under the different applicable theories. (No theory is perfect or applicable in all cases. All have problems!). There is more than one path to get the same result. There are three major approaches in normative ethics including virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism. This paper is going to compare the similarities and differences between virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics. It will include a description of the differences in how each theory addresses ethics and morality and it will also discuss an experience to explain the relationship between virtue, values, and moral concepts as they relate to one of the three theories. Differences in How These Theories Address Ethics and Morality Virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism are the three major approaches in normative ethics.

Virtue ethics emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, while deontology emphasizes duties or rules, and utilitarianism emphasizes the consequences of actions. Virtue ethics is also called agent-based or character ethics. According to Boylan (2009), when using the virtue ethics approach, one should take the viewpoint that in living their life they should try to cultivate excellence in all that they do. It encourages people to develop their character as the basis for the good life. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. Utilitarianism suggests that an action is morally right when that action produces more total utility for the group than any other alternative (Boylan, 2009). Deontological ethics judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules. This form of ethics uses rules and duties to determine what is “right”.

Deontological ethics is opposed to consequentialism. Deontology maintains the wrongness of actions resides in the kind of action that it is, rather than the consequences it brings about. Thus far we have seen that both utilitarianism and deontology hold different views in regard to what is most natural ethical theory. For utilitarian’s it is the ‘Greatest Happiness Principle’, but for Kant it is the ‘Categorical Imperative’. Now it is time to consider what has become known as the Virtue Theory. It is in his Nicomachean Ethics that Aristotle sets out his ethical theory (later to become known as ‘Virtue Theory’): his concept of what it is, for human beings, to live well. For Aristotle, the end or final cause of human existence is eudemonia. Eudemonia is most commonly translated as ‘happiness’, a more accurate translation is ‘flourishing’.

Ethics poses questions of how we should handle situations and act in relationships. An example of a personal experience with my oldest son who is fourteen, I suspected he was smoking cigarettes with his friends, and our family maintains honesty as a virtue. I had become concerned that my teenage son was hiding cigarettes. To uphold the integrity of the family’s value of honesty, we used a direct strategy with my son, sharing our concerns and my personal experience that I had with cigarettes as a teenager. This allowed my son to learn from my mistakes, and relieves his need to hide his own experiences from our family.

Other strategies that we considered was to include teaching values one at a time, incorporating family traditions which promote the idea of family and recognizing and rewarding good behavior with more allowance money each week. Through incorporating the strategies above we had a positive outcome, we incorporated more sports so he has less downtime with friends and experimenting. It’s always crucial in life situations to evaluate the problem before addressing the situation. We should ask ourselves, How am I doing at “the art of human being” as artist Laurel Birch describes it. Ethics is intimately bound up with that of art because, as its heart, are human relationships.


Boylan, M. (2009). Basic Ethics (2nd ed.)
Santa Clara University: Family Virtues and the Common Good
Halberstam, Joshua. Everyday Ethics: Inspired Solution to real Life Dilemmas. New York Penguin Books, 1993

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