Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chapter III: Theories of Virtue


Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia

Faculty of Arts, Letters, and Humanities

Chapter III

“Theories of Virtue”


Ven. But Buntenh 

Chapter Outline 

        Chapter objectives
     Chapter overview
     Virtues as desirable character traits
     Human nature and virtue theories
     Plato: Moral health
     Aristotle: Rational emotions and desires
     Difficulties with Greek Ethics
     Aquinas: Religious virtues 
     Hume:  Benevolence and sympathy
     From theory to practice 
     MacIntyre: Self-knowledge and social goods.
     Pincoffs:  Choices among persons
     Discussion topics

                                     Chapter Objectives:

       At the end of the chapter, students will be able to:

  •     Discuss and explain different theories of virtue;
  •    Understand the theories and its application in the contemporary societies;
  •     Know the significant of theories;
  •     Reflect theories and practices in our daily life;
  •     Know how to evaluate ethical life and unethical life.

                          Chapter Overview 
   People around the world live and lead the life differently. They developed their virtues through their cultural and moral values and practices in a particular place where they live in. 
  Human character is shaped over time by a combination of natural inclinations and the influence of  factors such as family, culture, education, and  self-reflection. 
  This chapter introduces key ideas of some influential virtue ethicists: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, MacItyr, and Pincoffs. According to these philosophers, the moral aim of life is to be a good person- to have a virtuous character and to relate to other people in desirable ways. 

  • Virtues as desirable character traits
       What is virtue? There are diversities of definitions that defined by different ancient Greek philosophers and contemporary philosophers. Those definitions enable us to understand the theories ‘Virtue’ from diverse perspectives. 
       Virtue is the knowledge of leading a good life and wealthy life. It is the knowledge of how to do the right things for oneself benefits and the benefits for many others. Virtue is the qualities of character that people need to do well in life. 

         According to the texts, virtue is a trait of character that is desirable because it contribute to the good human.  To be a good man and has good life.

         Trait of character: it is a general feature of a person that is manifested in pattern of actions , intentions, emotions, desires, attitudes, and reasoning.

    Six Pillars of Virtue Ethics:

    Examples of Virtues include:

    Tolerance                          Loyalty

    Generosity                         Prudence

    Integrity                             Justice

    Honesty                             Temperance

    Kindness                            Responsibility

    Courage/Fortitude            Respectfulness

    Wisdom                    Contingency/ Self-control

    Cleverness                         Chastity 

    Courtesy                               Compassion/Caring   

    Human nature and virtue theories

  • Traditional theories of virtue are grounded in theories about human nature, that is, theories about what it means to be a human being.  Human nature is described in terms of capacities, possibilities, limitations, and aspirations of people. Virtues are the character traits that enable people to achieve the good that is possible for them. Virtues are also the excellence of character, specified by human nature, that one must develop in order to attain happiness. 
    Virtue theories seek to do three things:
    1. Provide a theory of human nature that identifies morally relevant facts about human possibilities;
    2. Use that theory of human nature to define those character traits, or virtue , that enable people to achieve the good made possible by their nature; and  3. Present a schema for understanding the relationships among the virtue.

    Aristotle thinks human nature is what all humans have in common and what all humans have in common is the desire to seek happiness.
    The  good life for humans is one  in which rational capacities are developed and exercised to their fullest and in so doing humans achieve the best sort of happiness possible for them.
    Human Nature for Aristotle: 
    Humans are rational animal
    Humans are unique animal because of their reason Humans are social and political animal 
    Humans flourish in groups
    Humans have social origins
    Humans succeed in social pursuit
    Human’s nature is the ‘pursuing for happiness’

    Plato: Moral Health
    According to Plato, the function of something is the task that it is best or uniquely suited to perform. With this context Plato sees human beings have a natural function such as: that parts of the body have functions to which they are especially well suited: eyes for seeing, ears for hearing, and lungs for breathing.
    Plato developed this Thesis by distinguishing three main parts of the mind (or soul):
         The spirited Element, and
         The appetites
    Plato also applied the idea of virtue as inner harmony in defending another controversial doctrine: that the life of virtue is the happy life. Today we don’t think of virtue and happiness as necessarily connected, a good person might be unhappy, and a very bad person might be happy.
    Plato’s Main Argument
    To be happy = to live well.
    To live well = to perform one’s natural function well.
    To perform one’s natural function well = to have virtue and to exercise it.
    To have virtue and to exercise it = to live justly.

    Aristotle: Rational Emotions and Desires
       There is an argument that was argued by Aristotle regarding to human nature, in particular human rational emotions and desires. 

      Aristotle asserted that, it would have no relevance to morality. Morality is concerned with practical understanding within this world of experience.

     Aristotle agreed that the distinctive function of humans is to exercise reason. Good character entails reasoning in accord with wisdom.
     In Aristotle’s thinking, every human being has a rational soul:

    The rational soul (reason) can help us to control our feelings.

    If feelings are well-controlled, virtues develop; if the yarenot well-controlled, vices develop. 
     There are two kinds of virtues:
         Intellectual Virtue

         Moral Virtue

    Intellectual virtues represent excellences in reason skills that can be taught through inquiry and study.
    Moral virtues are product of habits that begin in childhood and are strengthened in adult life.
    Moral virtue is a mean between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency, and it aims at hitting the mean point in feelings actions.
    Each moral virtue is directed toward a specific range or spectrum of emotions, desires, and actions.
    Virtue consists in “hitting the mean” of emotions and desires as well as of the actions they motivate.

    Difficulties with Greek Ethics
     There is relevancy between classical and contemporary ethical concepts. Some ethicists agreed with classical Greek ethicists and some contemporary ethicists disagreed.  Most of classical Greek ethics has contemporary relevance, such as Plato’s idea of virtue as moral health and Aristotle’s insights into practical reasoning. Yet Greek ethics rests on three questionable claims: 1) Human beings have one distinctive function; 2) that function is reasoning; and 3) because this function is distinctively human, it defines human good. Many contemporary ethicists would reject all these claims.

    Aquinas: Religious Virtues
    There are two dimensions to understand virtue theories:

    1.Classical virtue ethics (ancient Greek ethicists)
    2.Religious ethics (focus on Christian ethics; Aquinas)
         Is virtue ethics inherently from religious ethics?
    No, this perspective dates from Aristotle, who is not considered today to be a religious figure. Contemporary ethicists believe virtue ethics is grounded in religions. 
    • Aquinas once again made Aristotle’s view popular. Most of his adult life he was a professor.  He developed ethical perspectives into classical ethics:
      Everything has a specific purpose or end
      The highest good and the fountain of all goodness is God
      Our ultimate goal—the good life– is not something that we can access only with reason.

      Aquinas’s ethical concepts were grounded in Christian virtues:
      For him, the natural purpose in living by reason became a supernatural purpose: supreme happiness through communion with god, a happiness imperfectly realizable in this world and perfected only in life after death.