Virtue Ethics

Read this article describing virtue ethics. Define "eudaimonia". What were the four cardinal virtues in Ancient Greek ethical thought? Define "arete". What is meant by the contemporary aretaic turn?

Lists of virtues

There are several lists of particular virtues. Socrates argued that virtue is knowledge, which suggests that there is really only one virtue. The Stoics concurred, claiming the four cardinal virtues were only aspects of true virtue. John McDowell is a recent defender of this conception. He argues that virtue is a "perceptual capacity" to identify how one ought to act, and that all particular virtues are merely "specialized sensitivities" to a range of reasons for acting.

Aristotle's list

Aristotle identifies approximately eighteen virtues that enable a person to perform their human function well. He distinguished virtues pertaining to emotion and desire from those relating to the mind. The first he calls "moral" virtues, and the second intellectual virtues (though both are "moral" in the modern sense of the word). Each moral virtue was a mean (see golden mean) between two corresponding vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. Each intellectual virtue is a mental skill or habit by which the mind arrives at truth, affirming what is or denying what is not. In the Nicomachean Ethics he discusses about 11 moral virtues:

Moral Virtues

1. Courage in the face of fear

2. Temperance in the face of pleasure and pain

3. Liberality with wealth and possessions

4. Magnificence with great wealth and possessions

5. Magnanimity with great honors

6. Proper ambition with normal honors

7. Truthfulness with self-expression

8. Wittiness in conversation

9. Friendliness in social conduct

10. Modesty in the face of shame or shamelessness

11. Righteous indignation in the face of injury

Fear and Confidence Rashness Courage Cowardice
Pleasure and Pain Licentiousness/Self-indulgence Temperance Insensibility
Getting and Spending(minor) Prodigality Liberality Illiberality/Meanness
Getting and Spending(major) Vulgarity/Tastelessness Magnificence Pettiness/Stinginess
Honour and Dishonour(major) Vanity Magnanimity Pusillanimity
Honour and Dishonour(minor) Ambition/empty vanity Proper ambition/pride Unambitiousness/undue humility
Anger Irascibility Patience/Good temper Lack of spirit/unirascibility
Self-expression Boastfulness Truthfulness Understatement/mock modesty
Conversation Buffoonery Wittiness Boorishness
Social Conduct Obsequiousness Friendliness Cantankerousness
Shame Shyness Modesty Shamelessness
Indignation Envy Righteous indignation Malicious enjoyment/Spitefulness

Intellectual virtues

  1. Nous (intelligence), which apprehends fundamental truths (such as definitions, self-evident principles)
  2. Episteme (science), which is skill with inferential reasoning (such as proofs, syllogisms, demonstrations)
  3. Sophia (theoretical wisdom), which combines fundamental truths with valid, necessary inferences to reason well about unchanging truths.

Aristotle also mentions several other traits:

  • Gnome (good sense) – passing judgment, "sympathetic understanding"
  • Synesis (understanding) – comprehending what others say, does not issue commands
  • Phronesis (practical wisdom) – knowledge of what to do, knowledge of changing truths, issues commands
  • Techne (art, craftsmanship)

Aristotle's list is not the only list, however. As Alasdair MacIntyre observed in After Virtue, thinkers as diverse as: Homer; the authors of the New Testament; Thomas Aquinas; and Benjamin Franklin; have all proposed lists.

Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) is a book by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004) listing virtues in a modern, empirical, and rigorously scientific manner.

The introduction of CSV suggests that these six virtues are considered good by the vast majority of cultures and throughout history. These traits lead to increased happiness when practiced. CSV identifies 6 classes of virtue (i.e., "core virtues"). These virtues are made up of 28 measurable "character strengths". CSV is intended to provide a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology.