Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 4

In my previous post I discussed a second philosophical approach to moral behavior – deontology (consequentialism being the first).  Deontology determines whether a situation is moral correct based on the rightness or wrongness of actions that brought about the situation (the means to the end).

This philosophy is less concerned with a specific goal in life and more concerned with making the right decisions based on duty, laws, and obligations.  For example, under this philosophy, giving money to a homeless person would be considered the right action to take (comforting others in need) even though the consequence may be that the homeless person purchases liquor or drugs that further his/her demise.

The first philosophical approach that I discussed – consequentialism – is concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of our actions (the ends and not the means).  Consequentialism would say that it is acceptable to lie or defraud someone if it would lead to an increase in the common good.

Both of these moral philosophies are based on actions.  Either actions that are concerned with the right or duty of one towards others, or actions to produce a certain outcome or consequence that increases the common good.  However, the third and final philosophical approach centers on character rather than actions.

Virtue Ethics is a philosophy that emphasizes the role of virtue and character rather than either doing one’s duty (Deontology) or acting in order to bring about good consequences (Consequentialism).  A virtuous person is someone who is moral or upright in all situations over a long period of time because that is his/her character and not due to a perceived obligation to do what is right or consider actions that lead to the greater good.

Both Aristotle and St. Aquinas are philosophers that support this theory.  Virtue Ethics places great importance on the virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor.  They are much less concerned with identifying and putting into practice certain duties or obligations to act in a specific way, or to identify ways to increase the common good.  They are more concerned with questions like: “How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”  The current philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre, who I mentioned in earlier posts, is a proponent of this philosophy.

One additional aspect of Virtue Ethics is that it is purpose driven.  There is an ultimate goal to life, which is happiness.  And the only means of reaching happiness is by acquiring the virtues.

More to come.

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