Virtue Ethics

Aristotle discusses eleven virtues:

Temperance / moderation
Magnanimity / forgiving of insult / highmindedness
Right ambition
Good temper

Virtues are acquired through habituation.

The four requirements for virtue in an action are that the actor:

(a) know what he is doing

(b) intend the action for its own sake

(c) take pleasure in the action

(d) take the action with certainty and fairness

When we raise kids, we teach virtue ethics. Through repetition, and ultimately, we hope, habituation, we teach kids to act virtuously, with high character, and therefore morally.

What are the magic words, Rory?

“Thank you.”

We don’t teach children that saying “thank you” is a duty that all rational actors inescapably impose on themselves because a world in which everyone says “thank you” to everyone else is a world in which humans are more likely to flourish (Kant-Rawls). Similarly, we don’t teach children that it is important to say “thank you” because when doing so more happiness is created in the listener than cost incurred by the speaker (Bentham-Mill). Too many words. Instead, we tell children only that “You should say thank you because that is what splendid people do. And you want to be splendid.” Aristotilian virtue ethics are economical in this way. Well-suited for tired parents. We pull long-winded deontological and consequentialist explanations from our back pockets and use them only after children begin to retort “Well, what if I don’t want to be splendid?”

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