Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is a philosophy developed by Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. It is the quest to understand and live a life of moral character.

This character-based approach to morality assumes that we acquire virtue through practice. By practicing being honest, brave, just, generous, and so on, a person develops an honorable and moral character. According to Aristotle, by honing virtuous habits, people will likely make the right choice when faced with ethical challenges.

To illustrate the difference among three key moral philosophies, ethicists Mark White and Robert Arp refer to the film The Dark Knight where Batman has the opportunity to kill the Joker. Utilitarians, White and Arp suggest, would endorse killing the Joker. By taking this one life, Batman could save multitudes. Deontologists, on the other hand, would reject killing the Joker simply because it’s wrong to kill. But a virtue ethicist “would highlight the character of the person who kills the Joker. Does Batman want to be the kind of person who takes his enemies’ lives?” No, in fact, he doesn’t.

So, virtue ethics helps us understand what it means to be a virtuous human being. And, it gives us a guide for living life without giving us specific rules for resolving ethical dilemmas.