Philosophy- takehome exam Essay Example

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Philosophy Take Home Exam

Question 9. Does virtue ethics have a satisfactory account of right action?

Virtue ethics usually puts its emphasis on the character of a person. It stipulates that in any given situation or circumstance, a virtuous person would do the right thing. Therefore, a virtuous person is one who has virtues and exercises the character traits of virtues (Moula 2010, p.4). Virtues on the other hand are the character traits that help a human being to flourish. The account of virtue ethics on the right of action has been established as not satisfactory. With regard to deontology and utilitarian virtue ethics have received a serious notice as to how people should behave best.

Virtue ethics seems to be skeptical due to the claim that the right action has a possibility of being captured within any rule or even a set of rules. However, in practice, this may not be applicable as per Aristotle, who is a virtue ethicist. Aristotle argues that when acting, the use of practical wisdom is very essential for a person in discerning the action that is required in a specific situation (Kemerling 2011, p.2). Virtues have one thing on common as per Aristotle who said that a virtue is an average between two extremes of a vice. Too much or too little of an action are considered as wrong. The right action must always lie between the mean (Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy 2012, p.2). This doctrine of Aristotle requires flexibility in application of virtue ethics. Many people tend to overlook the extremes when acting and regard a virtue to be the opposite of vice. This doctrine of Aristotle is reasonable or plausible and people should always avoid extremes of any kind when doing things of acting. Moderation should be the trend. Virtue ethics only considers the extremes of which the action has a possibility of being wrong in all the circumstances of the situation.

The account of virtue ethics on right action has also been considered not satisfactory when considering the claims of consequentialist and deontology theories. Virtue ethicists argue that being a virtuous person is important. They also define an action as right in relation to action performed by a virtuous person and what that person would do. However, this has been established not plausible in deontology and consequentialist theories. The reason is that a virtuous person may be found doing a wrong thing at times. Such a wrong action cannot be considered virtuous because it was performed by a virtuous person.

According to Hursthouse (p.646), virtue ethics is concerned with the character of a person that the rightness or wrongness of an action. Therefore, it cannot give a satisfactory account of right action. Hursthouse adds that when compared with utilitarianism and deontology, virtue ethics does not clearly describe what the right action is. Act utilitarianism says that an action is considered right when it promotes the best consequences (p.646). However, in virtue ethics, only the character of a person defines a right action of which this sometimes the person may do a wrong action. Therefore, virtue ethics needs to consider giving people a guideline on the consequences that they expect from the actions of a virtuous person. In this case, the best consequences are those that maximizes happiness. If a virtuous person does a wrong action, this does not maximize happiness. Hence, the account of virtue ethics on right action is not satisfactory. Additionally, deontology specifies that an action is right when it is done according to the correct moral principle (p.646). Virtue ethics determines the right action based on the performer who is a virtuous person. The character of a person cannot guarantee that they will do the right action. Therefore, acting according to the moral principle is seen as a better account and more satisfactory.

Christine Swanton argues that an action can be considered as right when and only when it is overall virtuous. Considering the objection of Swanton (2001, p.32), those who are inexperienced on some areas may sometimes not do the right action. Virtue ethics seems to be very limited on how it presented the account of action. Considering the claims of Swanton, virtue ethics needs to elaborate its account of right action.

The account of virtue ethics with regard to right action has been regarded as too vague in offering any practical guidance as well as questioning what people want form an ethical theory. According Annas (2004, p.67), the right action in virtue ethics is defined on the basis of the character of virtuous person. Therefore, a virtuous person can only be identified by the right actions that he or she performs. Otherwise, any person who does not perform right actions is not a virtuous person. Annas refers this contention seems to be circle that has no explanation. It is a construed account of right action that is presented with many objections. Considering the account of virtue ethics, it is very difficult in identifying a virtuous person. What one culture can identify as a virtuous person can probably not be identified as virtuous by another culture. Therefore, the account of right action in virtue ethics is vague since it becomes difficult to apply it in specific circumstances.

Additionally, the virtuous person defined in virtue ethics to do the right action may have knowledge and agreement of the right action that they should do, however, the virtuous person decides to do the contrary. In such a scenario, he right this is not what the virtuous person is reliably would do. Therefore, the account of right action in virtue ethics is vague because no right action that the virtuous person can do if their intention is to do the contrary. A virtuous person should not do what is wrong in the first place (Harman 2000, p.223). As a matter of character, the wrong actions from the virtuous person cannot be plausibly be considered as what a virtuous person does. Therefore, I support that virtue ethics does not have a satisfactory account of right action.


Annas, J, 2004, Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 78, No. 2, pp. 61-75. American Philosophical Association.

Harman, G, 2000, Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, pp.223-36.

Hursthouse, R, 2013, Chapter 68: Normative virtue ethics, Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, pp.645-652.

Kemerling, G, 2011, Aristotle: Ethics and the Virtues, Philosophy Pages, Available from <>

Moula, P, 2010, Virtue ethics and right action, Philosophy, Linkoping University.

Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, 2012, Virtue Ethics, Revised edition. Available from

Swanton, C, 2001, Chapter 70: A virtue ethical account of right action, Ethics, Vol.112 Iss.1, pp.32-52.