Aristotle says that the virtues are necessary for humans to attain happiness, but he means this in terms of something we might call “flourishing” or “living well,” which he considers quite different than simply feeling good. Thus, according to Aristotle some people might feel that they are happy, but because they lack the virtues, they are not truly flourishing. However, imagine someone that is deceitful, selfish, greedy, self-indulgent, and yet enjoys great pleasure and appears to be quite happy. Is someone like this “flourishing” or not? Explain your answer this by referring to this week’s readings and media, and if possible provide examples from real life and/or from literature, film, TV, etc.
Chapter 6: Traditional Theories of Ethics
Read the following sections:
Problems with Virtue Ethics
Ethics of Extinction
Aristotle. (350 B.C.E.). Nicomachean ethics (W. D. Ross, Trans.). Retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html
Aristotle provides the classic framework for virtue ethics by identifying “happiness” or “living well” as the purpose of human life, giving an account of what that means, and explicating the virtues as those characteristics necessary to live well.
Hill, T. (1983). Ideals of human excellence and preserving natural environments. Journal of Environmental Ethics, 5(3), 211-24. Retrieved from http://www.umweltethik.at/download.php?id=403
This article attempts to outline a response to the problem of environmental preservation through the lens of virtue ethics. Hill utilizes virtue ethics to examine how people ought to respond to the environment and how others might be able to judge their actions through the lens of the virtues that they display.
Robinson, P. (2007). Magnanimity and integrity as military virtues. Journal of Military Ethics, 6(4), 259-269. Retrieved from the EBSCOhost database.
This article relates to the second applied ethics topic this week: military ethics. In this article, Robinson examines military ethics through the lens of virtue and argues for a re-evaluation of military virtues.
Nussbaum, M. (n.d.). Virtue ethics [Video file]. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/nLAsm3
This very short clip explains some key features of Aristotelian virtue ethics.
Wingclips. (n.d.). The bridge on the river Kwai [Movie clip]. Retrieved from http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/the-bridge-on-the-river-kwai/the-best-bridge
In this clip from the film, which is set during World War II, a group of British Army prisoners of war are building a bridge for their Japanese captors. The Colonel expresses the significance of character in the life of the soldier.
Wingclips. (n.d.). The emperor’s club [Movie clip]. Retrieved from http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/the-emperors-club/who-we-really-are
The clip from this film relates to cheating and the relationship between cheating and one’s moral character. It also explores responses to virtue ethics and the relationship between virtue and success.
Recommended Resources on Aristotle and Virtue Ethics
Annas, J. (2011). Intelligent virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Annas provides an account of virtue that draws upon an analogy with practical skills. She maintains that the kind of reasoning we find in someone exercising a practical skill can helpfully illuminate the kind of reasoning involved in exercising a virtue, especially the way that there can be rational and intelligent reasoning without presupposing a need for rules or principles of the kind we find in other moral theories.
Hursthouse, R. (1999). On virtue ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from the ebrary database.
This is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative recent accounts of contemporary virtue ethics written in a clear and accessible style.
MacIntyre, A. (1984). After virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
This text can be found in the Chapter 6 readings of the textbook. This work was largely responsible for reviving interest in Aristotelian or virtue conceptions of ethics, and includes a powerful critique of modern moral philosophy and contemporary culture. Chapters 14 and 15 discuss the importance of the virtues for attaining certain goods internal to “practices”, and which are a core feature of a flourishing life, the importance of virtue for a “narrative unity” to one’s life, and the place that tradition has in our understanding of how to live well.
MacIntyre, A. (1999). Dependent rational animals: Why human beings need the virtues. Chicago, IL: Open Court.
In his third follow-up to After Virtue, MacIntyre provides his most straightforward account of the basis and form of the ethical life. Instead of beginning from the notion of the full-fledged, independent rational agent as most other theories do (including Aristotle’s), he begins from the facts of human vulnerability and dependence and proceeds to argue for certain virtues and behaviors that respond to this human condition. Includes a fascinating discussion of dolphins as exhibiting a kind of proto-rationality.
Annas, J. (2006). Virtue ethics. In D. Copp (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (pp. 515–36). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.sesync.org/sites/default/files/resources/case_studies/10-kenyaecotourism-handbook.pdf
An excellent overview of virtue ethics, including how the disagreements among the ancient philosophers about virtue can help us make sense of it today.
Hursthouse, R. (2012). Virtue ethics. In E. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/
An excellent overview of virtue ethics, including some of the major criticisms and how virtue ethicists have responded to them.
Sandel, M. (2004, Apr.). The case against perfection. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2004/04/sandel.htm
Sandel, M. (2012, Feb. 27). What isn’t for sale. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/04/what-isnt-for-sale/308902/
In each of these articles, Michael Sandel tackles some major contemporary moral problems, the use of enhancements in various areas of life (“The Case Against Perfection”) and the moral limits of markets (“What Money Can’t Buy”). Although he doesn’t explicitly call his approach “virtue ethics,” they are clear and accessible examples of Aristotelian reasoning applied to concrete issues. These are condensed versions of books that treat these subjects in more detail, while remaining clear and accessible works intended to bring philosophical ideas to popular audiences.
Albert, T. (Producer), & Ramis, H. (Director). (1993). Groundhog day [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.
This classic comedy follows the life of a man who has to relive the same day over and over again. In this situation, he realizes that neither the “rules” nor the consequences of his actions matter anymore. Initially he finds this liberating, and enjoys himself, but that soon gives way to depression and despair. Eventually, though, he seems to find new reasons to be generous, helpful, caring, and so forth, as he develops what we might consider to be a virtuous character. Information on where to stream the film can be found here: http://www.canistream.it/search/movie/groundhog day.
Annas, J. and Teichman, M. (2014, Mar. 26). Episode 57: Julia Annas discusses virtue ethics [Podcast]. Elucidations. Retrieved from https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/elucidations/2014/03/26/episode-57-julia-annas-discusses-virtue-ethics/
A leading classical philosophy scholar and virtue ethicist discusses virtue ethics in an informative and interesting interview.
Sadler, G. B. (2012, Nov. 12). Philosophy Core Concepts: Aristotle, Activities, Arts, and Purposes (Nichomachean Ethics bk. 1) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/_aFJPv5POcc?list=PL4gvlOxpKKIjwnfPgqLkLJ7cHXAqDHfBA
The first in a series of several lectures on Aristotle’s ethics.