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Emanuele Alberto Cirello

Emanuele Alberto Cirello


Total Article : 76

About Me:I am a Year 13 student which aspires to be an architect. I am interested in anything I don't yet know, and I mostly write about art, politics , Italian culture and inspirational people, although I will try to write for as many categories possible, just to test myself and get to know more things.

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What is Virtue ethics?

What is Virtue ethics?

Virtue ethics (VE) is an aretaic approach to ethics, meaning it is concerned with moral agent. Virtuous people should hold intrinsically good characteristics rather than working for a means to an end. Unlike other ethical theories such as Deontology and Natural Moral Law, Virtue Ethics is not concerned about judging the actions performed by the person but rather the characteristics that person possesses. All humans have a function ‘telos,’ in one’s lifetime the ultimate aim is to flourish as a human and develop into a moral agent in order to achieve ‘eudaimonia’. ‘Eudaimonia can be translated as ‘happiness’, holding a similar principle to the ‘Summum Bonum’ (the highest good.) Thus Aristotle said that ‘everything, whether a person or a group, is directed towards some kind of an aim.’ A person who has developed good traits is considered to be a ‘virtuous’ person and thus a morally good person. Equally, if you have developed negative traits (vices) you are considered a morally bad person. VE does not focus on individual happiness but instead questions how we are best able to develop desirable traits that can lead to a better society.


Aristotle emphasized that ‘we are what we repeatedly do,’ if we continuously act out of courage for example, we will deemed a virtuous person. Rather than, acting out of courage once, then saying that we are moral agents. He distinguishes between ‘superior’ and ‘subordinate’ aims; superior aims are those that focus on the end goal, whilst subordinate aims are the means of getting there. For example, Aristotle believed that the ‘superior’ aim of life is the ‘good’ for oneself and humanity; therefore, the ‘subordinate’ aim will be the growth through practicing virtues. Much like, if you wish to learn a musical instrument, the more you practice, the better you get.


Aristotle belied that using our reason; we can work out what a good life is and then live in it. He categorized three broad types of people, those who love pleasure (most of society), those who love honor (e.g. politicians) and those who love contemplation (e.g. philosophers). However, it is better to put individual desire aside to work towards achieving good for a community as ‘to do so in the case of a people or a state is something finer and more sublime.’ There are two sorts of virtues that lead to eudaimonia: moral virtues (qualities of the character) and intellectual virtues (qualities of the mind.)


There are two types of vices, vices of excess, and vices of deficiency. An example of the twelve moral virtues is the virtue modesty. The vice of excess is shyness and vice of deficiency is shamelessness. This is why in all things we should strive for the mean, ‘the proportionate amount.’ For Aristotle, the right way to act is to follow the golden mean. Through this, we should employ the concept of Sophrosure, ‘nothing in excess, nothing in deficiency.’ For example in order to be strong and healthy, we should not eat too little or too much, this is similar to being a virtuous person, a virtuous characteristic should not be too much or too little. The mean is not absolute; it is relative to that person, as for example, a teacher showing courage will be different to a soldier showing courage. Therefore, we must use our reason. We should learn from good role models, these could vary. For example, a Christian may see Jesus as a role model, whilst someone else may see Malala Yousafzai as one, both show acts of courage.


There are nine intellectual virtues comprising of primary and secondary virtues. Primary virtues are art and technical skill, scientific knowledge, prudence, intelligence or intuition, and wisdom. Secondary virtues are resourcefulness or good deliberation, understanding, judgement and cleverness. ‘Virtues are not innate, but acquired by practice and lost by disuse’ says Anthony Kenny, meaning that characteristics are not received at birth; this summarizes Aristotle’s main point. Arrington also sums up Aristotle’s theory when saying ‘using reason to shape one’s inner being and outward, polishing and perfecting this to obtain the proper proportions.’




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