Problems with Virtue Ethics

Problems with Virtue Ethics

Section 1: Relativity of Virtue

  • Cultural relativism: Virtues vary significantly across different cultures, which raises questions about the universality of Virtue Ethics. What is virtuous in one culture may not be virtuous in another.
  • Subjectivity of virtues: Virtue Ethics is dependent on subjective judgments. Different individuals might possess different understanding of virtues.

Section 2: Practical Application

  • Lack of clear guidance: Virtue Ethics offers very little concrete or practical guidance about what to do in specific situations.
  • Conflicting virtues: At times, virtues might conflict. It can be unclear how to act virtuously in these instances; for instance, when honesty conflicts with kindness.

Section 3: Defining Virtue

  • Infinite regress problem: Defining a virtue can often lead to circular definitions or an infinite regress - it’s hard to explain what virtues are without coming back to the concept of virtue itself.
  • Vagueness of virtues: It’s often unclear what constitutes a virtue. For example, is courage always virtue or can it sometimes lead to foolish risks?

Section 4: Moral Responsibility

  • Equality issue: Virtue Ethics can be seen to unfairly hold everyone to the same moral standards, ignoring various factors such as upbringing, socio-economic status or mental health which can impact a person’s ability to be virtuous.
  • Overemphasis on character: Some argue that Virtue Ethics overemphasizes the importance of moral character, while disregarding the significance of rules, consequences, and actions themselves.

Section 5: Virtue and Happiness

  • Narrow conception of happiness: Virtue Ethics often relates virtue to happiness, but this assumes a very specific definition of happiness - eudaimonia or flourishing. This might not resonate with all notions of happiness.
  • Self-centred: Some critics argue that Virtue Ethics is too self-centered since it focuses on personal development and flourishing rather than the well-being of others.

Remember, these criticisms do not invalidate Virtue Ethics but rather contribute to its ongoing development and refinement as a moral theory.