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Professor Connolly
PHIL 105: Ethics
05 November 2018
Virtue Ethics
Virtue ethics is a theory that focuses on character development and what virtues one
should obtain to be who they are supposed to be, as opposed to what action one should do. With
the focus on being rather than doing, criticism of the theory has been made, arguing that it fails
to be action guiding. Rosalind Hursthouse attempts to tackle this objection by comparing virtue
ethics to utilitarianism and deontology. Utilitarianism relies on predicting the consequences of an
action and deontology emphasizes the action itself rather than the outcome of the action and both
follow a clear set of rules. Hurtshouse tries to conform virtue ethics to these other theories by
explaining how virtue ethics is both action guiding and rule oriented. Although Hursthouse tries
to respond to each of the criticisms of virtue ethics, she ultimately fails to achieve this as her
responses to each objection only leads to more criticism and puts too much emphasis on the
comparisons between the three theories rather than letting virtue ethics be deemed a good moral
theory on its own.
Despite all of the criticism, Hurtshouse believes that virtue ethics is action guiding. To
support this claim she highlights the first premise of act utilitarianism and deontology to show
that these premises give no guidance about how to act until a second premise is made to specify
the right action. To further respond to the criticism that the theory is not action guiding she
claims that, “An action is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the

circumstances” (Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics). She believes that this premise is similar
to those of utilitarianism and deontology because it also offers no guidance because we do not
know who the virtuous agents are or what they would do. She questions, “Why not direct similar
scorn at the first premises of act utilitarianism and deontology in the form in which I have given
them?” (Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics). Hursthouse focuses her argument too heavily
on trying to be a rival to these other theories and trying to bring out the faults in them that are
seen in virtue ethics, losing sight of what exactly she is arguing for. She then goes on to refer to
the three theories as being in the same position, however, they are not as utilitarianism and
deontology have already been proved to be action guiding theories. She then provides a second
premise as done for the other theories arguing that a virtue is “A character trait a human being
needs for eudaimonia, to flourish or live well” (Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics). Rather
than trying to explain exactly how a virtue could lead someone to decide what to do, she just
goes back to comparing virtue ethics to utilitarianism and deontology. Thus, leading to more
criticism as we do not know what character traits are virtues or how to utilize them when
deciding what action to perform.
Another criticism that virtue ethics faces is the idea that virtue ethics does not come up
with any rules. Hursthouse argues that each virtue provides you with a rule, “Not only does each
virtue generate a prescription—do what is honest, charitable, generous—but each vice a
prohibition—do not do what is dishonest, uncharitable, mean.” (Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue
Ethics). A great deal of specific action guidance could be found in rules employing the virtue and
vice terms, what Hursthouse refers to as “v-rules”. However, Hursthouse never provided us with
which character traits are the virtues and how to know what a virtuous agent would do.

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Although, she gives examples of certain virtues, how would one know all the other character
traits that are considered virtues and how would we know which virtue or vice to use in different
situations? These “v-rules” can be seen as ‘evaluative’ terms and this can be considered to lead
to the failure of the rules. Hursthouse’s only objection to this being a failure is that many forms
of utilitarianism and deontology would fail for the same reason. Evaluative terms can most
definitely be action guiding as they can express moral approval or disapproval. The “v-rules”
contain terms that show you what to do, as one would follow the terms that indicate moral
approval. Hursthouse could have easily defended her argument but chose to compare it to
utilitarianism and deontology and gave no actual evidence as to how the “v-rules” provide the
action guidance supplied by the rules.
Ultimately, it is evident that Rosalind Hursthouse fails to respond to the criticism of
virtue ethics. Instead of arguing why virtue ethics is action guiding and rule oriented in itself, she
only defended her argument by comparing it to utilitarianism and deontology. The parts she
spent on trying to undermine the other theories should have been utilized to give reasoning as to
why virtue ethics, alone, defeats the objection. Utilitarianism and deontology are already proved
to be action guiding and rule oriented theories, so I understand why she chose to compare virtue
ethics to them to try and defeat the criticism. However, she focuses too much on trying to adopt
the qualities of the other theories rather than embracing the qualities of virtue ethics, and it just
led to more criticism of the theory. Even from the start, her response to the criticism is weak
because she states that there is some truth to the criticisms. Virtue ethics differs from other
theories in that it claims that an action is right in virtue of it being what the virtuous person
would do. I believe that virtue ethics is a good theory especially since it focuses on the individual

and what it means to be an overall good human. Ultimately, this theory has to be action guiding
as it demonstrates how to be a good person. In addition, the virtues do provide rules because you
would follow what an overall good person would do. However, Hurshouse fails to showcase that
and succumbs to the criticism.

Works Cited
Hursthouse, Rosalind. On Virtue Ethics, Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 1999. ProQuest
Ebook Central,
Created from lehighlibrary-ebooks on 2018-10-19 09:49:42.

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