The Ideas of Virtue Ethics
In an attempt to revive the ideas of virtue ethics, many philosophers have expressed their criticisms of so-called "modern ethical theories." Some examples are as follows. Pincoffs presents his idea that modern ethical theory (MET) reduces ethics to resolution of quandaries. Williams explains his idea that MET focuses on only a particular, peculiar variety of ethical thought called "morality." Stocker claims that MET lead to "moral schizophrenia." And Wolf claims MET embodies the idea of a moral saint. Among these critics, I believe that Pincoffs presents the strongest criticism of MET.
According to Pincoffs, ethics today is concerned with finding rational grounds, often concieved of as moral rules and the principles from which they can be derived, for problematic situations. He refers to this type of ethics as Quandary Ethics (QE) and raises some questions in criticisms of it.
Pincoffs begins his piece by establishing a foundation and clarifying QE as opposed to classical ethics. Quandary ethics is defined as an attempt to provide rational grounds for difficult decisions to resolve perplexities that arise in problematic situations; "the ultimate relevance of ethics is to the resolution of problematic situations in which we fall," (191). QE is a newcomer because it does not deal with moral enlightenment, education, or the good for man as classic philosophies do; QE is based upon practicality and applicability and is less concerned with general rules or guidelines for moral behavior. He illustrates his point by comparing QE to Aristotle. Pincoffs claims this is a radical departure from virtue ethics that centers around the question "how should we resolve the perplexities?" rather than "how should we live?".
Pincoffs claims that this radical departure from virtue or classical ethics is unnecessary. He says that philosophers go along with MET because of scholarly convention. The modern theorist would say that METs are needed since nature dictates ethics and the time we live in is problem-plagued, quite possibly from problems created by technology and social change, we need new ways of solving problems. Pincoffs claims this argument fails for two reasons; one, many classical theories have been taught and adopted during tumultuous times in history and two, this objection would also be an attack of QE because the rules and principles it tries to provide will be forced to change as circumstances change.
Pincoffs states, "Men can be perplexed because they are sensitive and conscientious people; because they do not have the sense to avoid perplexity; or because they are pathologically immobilized by moral questions. A well-founded ethics would encourage the development of moral sensitivity, but discourage moral quandaries which arise out of moral ineptness or pathological fixation." (189). The quandarist claims that when deciding the right thing to do (resolving a perplexity), QE is analogous to the law. One must...