Virtues Ethics are personal qualities that provide the basis for the individual to lead a good, noble, or ‘happy’ life. The person most associated with virtue ethics is Aristotle, and he placed the ‘great-soul-man’ on a pedestal. The great-soul-man displays those virtues that were regarded as of the highest order. Whilst the individual is the focus of Aristotle’s attention, it is an individual within a society. Virtue ethics is not a system of rules, but rather a set of personal characteristics that, if practiced, will ensure that the individual is likely to make the ‘right’ choice in any ethically complex situation.
Plata had identified four virtues, those of wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. For Aristotle, justice was the dominant virtue, and furthermore liberality (the virtuous attitude towards money); patience (the virtuous response to minor provocation); amiability (the virtue of personal persona); magnanimity, truthfulness, indifference (in relation to the seeking of public recognition of achievement), and wittiness. The original Platonic virtues were seen as central to the attainment of a ‘good’ life, whereas the other virtues were seen as important for a civilized life. For Aristotle, those personal qualities that were regarded as virtues were reflected in behaviors that represented a balance, or mean, in terms of the particular personal quality being considered. Neither of these personal qualities is appealing as they are both likely to lead to detrimental outcomes in the long run. The virtues described by Aristotle were only available to the elite of society. Check table 3.1.
Gilligan (1982) has taken issue with the use of justice as the pre-eminent determinant of moral reasoning. He argued that the form of reasoning often displayed by women is different from that held by men. Gilligan’s argument contains a strong sense of the wisdom of the female perspective that she referred to as ‘care’. The concept of ‘care’ should be regarded as highly as justice when interpreting responses of research subjects to moral reasoning scenarios. Care is reflected by an approach that seeks to find a way forward that now only provides some form of equitable resolution to a conflict, but also holds out the possibilities for maintaining a working relationship between the protagonists, so that future cooperation might be possible.
The notion of virtue is heavily dependent upon the period in which the concept is being considered. Unethical means cannot be justified by good outcomes. A good deed is not a good deed if it is done with bad motives. In Aristotelian terms, a virtuous life is one that allows individuals to achieve their telos, or end, to its full potential. The emphasis is thus upon both means (virtues) and ends (telos).