In this essay I will consider the objections to Virtue Ethics (VE) raised by Robert Louden in his article entitled On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics which was published in 1984. It is important to note at the outset of this essay that it was not until 1991 that the v-rules came up in literature. So Louden is assuming throughout his article that the only action guidance that VE can give is “Do what the virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.” I will be addressing Louden’s objections with the benefit of knowing about the v-rules. First of all, let us discuss what VE is. VE is a normative ethical theory that emphasises the virtues or moral character, thus it focuses on the moral agent. It differs from Deontology which emphasises duties or rules, and Utilitarianism which emphasises the consequences of our actions.
Louden opens up his article with this statement “It is common knowledge by now that recent philosophical and theological writings about ethics reveals a marked revival of interest in the virtues. But what exactly are the distinctive features of a so-called virtue ethics? Does it have a specific contribution to make to our understanding of moral experience? Is there a price to be paid for its different perspective, and if so, is the price worth paying?” This opening statement gives us a taste of his thoughts about VE already. Louden goes to raise his objections. I will consider the objections he raises under the headings in his article, those being ‘Agents vs Acts’ , ‘Who is Virtuous’ , ‘Style over Substance’ , and ‘Utopianism’ .
Agents vs Acts
Louden opens this section with this statement: “… it is commonplace that virtue theorists focus on good and bad agents rather than on right and wrong acts.” This is a good thing is it not? Many people can do good things, but that does not make them a virtuous or good person does it? A classic example is a shop keeper, the shop keeper does not short change people on principle (this is a good act), and the reason being he does not want to lose customers he wants to keep them. Surely a proper motivation would be that it would be dishonest to short change someone. The point is that in determining what is moral; one must examine ones character to find out. Deontology tells that the morally correct thing to do is to apply moral rules for guidance, this is all well and good, but it fails to tell us whether the person is a good one or not. Is the deontologist motivated by his will to follow certain rules or is he motivated to do the right thing by his heart? Utilitarianism tells us that what is moral is the action which brings about the greatest good for the greatest number. Again what I said in regard to Deontology applies here. It fails to tell us what persons we ought to be. In 1984 the only action guidance was “Do what the virtuous agent would do in the circumstances.” While this might be hard to understand, we have since then come up with a number of v-rules to assist us in determining what a...