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Philosophy 220

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Philosophy 220 Virtue Ethics and Moral Pluralism – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Philosophy 220


1
Philosophy 220
  • Virtue Ethics and Moral Pluralism

2
Virtue Ethics
  • Though historically speaking, Virtue Ethics is
    the first systematic, philosophical ethical
    position, it had until somewhat recently been
    pushed aside by the other ethical theories weve
    studied.
  • One reason for this is that these other theories
    have focused our attention on the ethical
    evaluation of acts, while VE focuses on
    character.
  • There are lots of (not necessarily all good)
    reasons to prefer the former.

3
An Ethic of Virtue
  • The lack of attention (until recently) paid to VE
    has the result that there is still a great deal
    of disagreement about the basic structure of VE.
  • We can say a few basic and uncontentious things
    about such theories.
  • The first and most important one is the VE
    reverses the tendency that weve seen in other
    ethical theories and makes the concepts of virtue
    and vice basic.
  • Right and Wrong become derivative concepts.

4
Virtue and Vice
  • Virtue a trait of character or mind that
    typically involves dispositions to act, feel, and
    think in certain ways and that is central to a
    positive evaluation of persons (25).
  • Honesty, Courage, Justice, Temperance,
    Beneficence
  • Vice a trait of character or mind that
    typically involves dispositions to act, feel and
    think in certain ways, and that is central to a
    negative evaluation of persons (26).
  • Dishonesty, Cowardice, Injustice, Intemperance,
    Selfishness

5
A TRA for Virtue Ethics
  • On the basis of the distinction between virtues
    and vices, it is possible to articulate a general
    TRA for VE.
  • An action is right iff it is what a virtuous
    agent (acting in character) would not avoid doing
    in the circumstances under consideration.
  • If a virtuous agent would do it, the action is
    obligatory if they might do it, the action is
    permissible if they wouldnt do it, the action
    is forbidden.
  • Acting in character points to the concept of
    practical wisdom and the significance of moral
    judgment/intuition for VE.

6
Advantages of VE
  • It is consistent with our moral intuition that
    there may be more than one right answer in the
    face of a moral dilemma.
  • It is not inconsistent with our conviction that
    traits of character are importantly out of our
    control, inasmuch as they are influences by
    genetics and circumstance.
  • It encourages us to take a holistic view of our
    moral circumstances.

7
Disadvantages?
  • What about the virtues and vices themselves?
  • Who is a virtuous agent?
  • How do we know if they are acting in character?
  • What if we lack a virtuous character?

8
Moral Pluralism
  • One common feature of our moral lives that weve
    already encountered are conflicts of duties.
    There is often more than one thing that we are
    morally obligated to do, and when we cant
    satisfy both obligations, we have to chose one to
    satisfy and one to fail.
  • Morally monistic views would ultimately deny that
    any such conflicts exist. If we are conflicted,
    its because we are not working the machinery of
    the theory correctly.
  • Morally pluralistic views, on the other hand, are
    skeptical that there is any one deontic standard
    that can do all the work necessary.

9
The Main Idea
  • For moral pluralism, there is a plurality of
    basic moral principles of right conduct. There is
    no more fundamental or basic moral principle that
    justifies these plural principles.
  • The basic moral principles give us moral reasons
    to perform actions. These reasons can compete
    with and outweigh one another.
  • Because these principles are basic, but can be
    outweighed by other, competing principles, moral
    philosophers say that they impose a prima facie
    (at first glance sufficient unless rebutted)
    moral obligation.

10
Rosss Ethics of Prima Facie Duty
  • Rosss account of our prima facie duties emerges
    out of a theory of human nature that identifies
    four basic intrinsic goods
  • virtue
  • pleasure
  • pleasure in proportion to virtue
  • knowledge
  • From this account of these basic goods, Ross
    identifies seven classes of prima facie duties
    (i.e., basic moral principles of right action)
  • Duties of Fidelity (keeping ones word)
  • Duties of Reparation (repairing harm weve done)
  • Duties of Gratitude
  • Duties of Justice (distribution of goods and
    burdens)
  • Duties of Beneficence (obligation to help others
    in need)
  • Duties of Self-Improvement
  • Duties of Non-Maleficence (do no harm)

11
Rosss TRA
  • On the basis of this account of our basic prima
    facie duties, we can specify a TRA for a Rossean
    moral pluralism.
  • An action A is obligatory iff one has a prima
    facie duty to do A that is weightier than any
    other conflicting prima facie duty.
  • An action A is wrong iff there is some
    alternative action that would be responsive to a
    weightier prima facie duty.
  • An action A is permissible iff 1) there are no
    prima facie duties operating in the context or 2)
    there are more than one prima facie duties
    operating in the context and they are of equal
    weight, and you act in accordance with one of
    them.

12
Strengths and Weaknesses
  • One obvious advantage of a view like Rosss is
    that it builds in recognition of and machinery to
    handle a common, perhaps inelliminable feature of
    our moral lives the fact of moral conflict.
  • It also benefits from being rooted in a
    relatively straightforward account of human
    nature.
  • On the other side of the equation, just as with
    virtue ethics, the particular account of the
    prima facie duties seems susceptible to
    criticism, both in terms of their content and in
    terms of their connection to each other.
  • There are also possible questions about the
    action-guidingness of such an approach. There
    would seem to be a number of possible moral
    concerns that arent addressed by Rosss duties.
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