Tag Archives: Virtue ethics

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 8)

Continuing with my last post.

Clearly, combining consequetialism with deontology can have very harmful results (housing crisis of 2008 and Obamacare).  But what about virtue ethics.  Virtue ethics would suggest that our leaders utilize the cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice, as well as the love of neighbor, when considering moral decisions.

The virtue ethicists were either absent from the moral decisions regarding housing and health care, or drowned-out be the opposition.  You would think that they would rely on the virtues of justice and love of neighbor to at least understand the benefits to American citizens of affordable housing and health care.  But, you would also think that they would have the wisdom to understand the risks of such programs and the humility to suggest that such policies may not work and might have very harmful unintended consequences.  And, you would hope that in the face of severe opposition, that they would still have the courage of their convictions to stand up and be heard.

The courage aspect has been lacking in our leaders.  They may follow this third moral philosophy of virtue ethics, which I consider the toughest of the three to follow, but, without the virtue of courage, the philosophy loses its effectiveness.  And without an effective third philosophy, the remaining two moral philosophies, much easier to follow, expand to take its place.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 6)

Continuing from my previous post.

So, the housing party is over in 2008.  Why, well for one thing the model that home prices always goes up didn’t work anymore.  Those people that really should not have received a mortgage, could not make the mortgage payments and ended up having to sell their homes.  These homes were sold for a loss.  The banks could not absorb the huge losses, so they needed to be bailed out by the government.  This took an immense toll on the economy, which we are still paying for and experiencing.

The decisions to relax the lending policies leading up to the 2008 crisis, while morally acceptable from a consequentialism philosophy, were ruinous for the American economy as well as the rest of the world.  The deontologists could not be blamed for they were simply dutifully obliging the White House in its policy decisions.  The virtue ethicists, most likely mindful of the risks to the changes in the lending policies, were no where to be found, lacking any courage to speak up about the unintended consequences of the policy actions.

Final thoughts in my next blog.

Moral Decisions – Some Examples (Part 3)

Continuing with my previous post.  So, what does moral philosophy tell us are the next steps regarding Obamacare.

The President, continuing with his insistence on the full enactment of the law, is operating according to his consequentialism moral philosophy.  He is being consistent with the philosophy that he considers necessary to provide healthcare to all Americans.  From a consequentialism point of view, the President is acting rationally and according to the tenets of the philosophy: the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  As such, from a consequential philosophy perspective, the President’s actions are now much easier to understand.

For those Democrats in Congress that adhere to the consequentialism philosophy, the same as the President’s, then their actions are also much easier to understand and for the same reasons as mentioned above.

But, for those Democrats in Congress that adhere more to deontology and believed that it was their duty or obligation to support Obamacare based on the marketing by the President that “if you like your plan…” then they have a very difficult moral decision ahead of them.  They can either: 1) remain passive and let enactment continue, either becoming consequentialists themselves (highly unlikely) or, more likely, find themselves opposing their own moral philosophy for political reasons, or 2) remain true to their deontology philosophy and take actions to correct their mistakes that are apparent to everyone.

While no Republicans voted in favor of Obamacare, those that did read the fine print of the plan did fall short in their rebuttal of the marketing by the President that “if you like your plan…”  While they could have been even more vocal, I must admit that the points about keeping your plan, keeping your doctor, and save $2500 annually was so powerful of an advertising push, that no battle against it could have been won.

The Republicans, most of which probably adhere to the virtue ethics philosophy, do have a responsibility in all of this based on their philosophy.  Their responsibility is to not only fight to reverse Obamacare, which is now seen as not what was marketed to the public, but to also offer a reasonable alternative plan that come as close as possible to the intent of the people, and with complete transparency.  To not offer such a plan would be similar to those deontological Democrats that decide to do nothing about the enactment of Obamacare.

I hope that the world of moral philosophy has helped to define the issues regarding Obamacare and the three philosophies that are followed in dealing with the issues.  I think that by using moral philosophy, rather than political science, the actions taken by the President and Congress become much clearer and the next steps to be taken are more easily defined.

In fact, the American people need to have a national conversation among themselves as to whether 1) consequentialism is an acceptable philosophy for civic leaders and 2) what are the consequences for those civic leaders who are not consequentialists and who decide to not make amends for their mistakes as a result of the actions of leaders who adhere to consequentialism.

Up next, the financial crisis of 2008.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 6

Summarizing my previous five posts: for those that are attempting to lead good moral lives there are three basic moral philosophies: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

I believe that consequentialism, while possibly noble, is one that deemphasize individual choice and performance for the sake of the good of society.  As such, it can be used to justify actions that are harmful to individuals for the sake of the social good.  This philosophy robs the individual of his/her pursuit of happiness and the future flourishing of society.  Ii is very difficult to accept the premise that the ends justify the means, and that the individual is subservient to the will of society.

I believe that deontology, the most widely accepted of the three philosophies, also while possibly noble, is one that emphasizes the individual and his/her actions, but without regard for the consequences of those actions.  Just following what one believes to be the duty or obligation for certain actions, without considering the consequences of those actions, leaves the individual and society at risk.

I believe that virtue ethics is the only philosophy that is concerned with the individual making the right decisions for the right reasons.  The virtues found in good people make sure that this happens.  The virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor, are displayed throughout the fine arts as the models for achieving happiness and the flourishing of society.  A person who possess all or some of the virtues will lead to good actions.  In other words, a good action will only come from a good person, and a good person is one who has earned or is earning the virtues.

Not only do the great masters of the fine arts present the virtues a necessary for good actions, but the great myths, great philosophers, and modern positive psychologists also support the earning of the virtues through hard work and preparation as necessary for a moral life and one that leads to individual happiness.

The virtues are the catalysts for the individual to seek out and capture the boon that is the gift to society.  The virtues (of which at least wisdom and courage are earned from a loving family, and involvement and exposure activities earlier in life before acceptance of the call to adventure) are the instruments by which the individual is awarded happiness and society flourishes.

Let me illustrate with three great artworks:

The Morning Bell by Homer

The Morning Bell by Winslow Homer (1871)

Above is Homer’s interpretation of the acceptance of the call to adventure (Gallery Four in my book).  The girl has the wisdom to see her future course of action and the courage to follow the path, even though it is uncertain where the path will lead her.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer (1865)

In this painting, another one by Homer, we have the adventurer who has fought the many trials and has captured the boon for his society (the end of the Civil War, as displayed in Gallery Five of my book).  He is displaying the virtues of temperance and justice (concern for the common good) – wisdom and courage to accept the adventure were earned earlier before battle.  But one thing is missing, happiness – the veteran has not yet been recognized for his efforts by his fellow countrymen.


The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

In this masterpiece by Rembrandt, we see the protectors of the community being lauded by the military followers as well as the citizens (depicted by the little girl).  They have fought the many battles to capture the boon (safety and security of the community) and have been able to return back to the everyday world as a result of the love and admiration of their friends and neighbors (as seen in Gallery Six of my book).

This great Rembrandt painting illustrates that it is the responsibility of individuals and not the state to determine the future of the community (consequentialism is not supported in this painting).  Also, the painting illustrates that the mere duty or obligation of the few military men to protect the community is not sufficient as well.  The lighting and the placement of the small girl, representing the common community that it relying on the military men, is prominent in the painting, and for a special reason.  She represents the admiration and love for the heroes that have returned from the adventure: it is she, the personification of love of neighbor, who is welcoming the men across the threshold back to the everyday world (a personification missing in the Homer painting above).  It is this love of neighbor that brings happiness to the men (who have earned the virtues to succeed in the adventure) and the gift of their boon of protection to their society.  A mere sense of duty (deontology) would not have been sufficient.  It is the application of the virtues that makes this painting a masterpiece.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 5

In my last few posts I have talked about three moral philosophies that can be followed by those wanting to lead positive lives.  What I would like to do now is provide a quick comparison of each of them.  It is clear that there is some overlap among the three philosophies.  However, I believe that the following are the distinctions:

1) Consequentialism is concerned with the ends and not the means.  It is concerned with providing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people.  I believe that this goal of the most happiness for the greatest number of people tends to diminish the role of the individual at the expense of the goals of society, as determined by some collective body of people or leader.  I believe that this is not an optimal philosophy and can be greatly abused by the collective bodies or leaders imposing their will on individuals.

2) Deontology is concerned with the duty or the obligation of the individual.  The focus is much more on the individual, requiring reason and intelligence.  However, the lack of focus on a goal or outcome, as well as the lack of concern for unintended consequences, can lead individuals to a false sense of purpose.  I think that this approach may take the individual far along the “journey” segment of the road to happiness, but falls short of encouraging the “adventure.”  This limits the ability of the individual to reach happiness and the promotion of the flourishing of society.

3) Virtue Ethics is concerned with the individual and his/her character.  It is based on an ultimate goal of happiness.  To reach this happiness requires acquiring the virtues.  It is these virtues that lead the individual along the road to happiness.  It includes the goal-focus of consequentialism and the duty-focus of deontology but with an emphasis on individual character and not action.

Final thoughts in my next post.

Virtue Ethics: Alisdair MacIntyre (Part 2)

In my last post, I mentioned that the philosophy of virtue ethics, as suggested by Alisdair MacIntyre sounds very reasonable, but it has drawn four main criticisms.  The four are: 1) it is a way of life that is self-centered, 2) it is a way of life lacking any guidance as to appropriate actions to reach happiness, 3) it is a way of life based on luck of one’s circumstances in life, and 4) it is unreasonable to suggest that in today’s world people should live in small communities as the means of achieving happiness.

Let me address each of these criticisms.  1) It may appear to be a self-centered way of life but, as discussed in my book, Campbell teaches that a call to adventure to secure a boon for the benefit of society is needed to reach happiness.  In addition, the virtues are needed to recognize the call, act on it, and be successful in the quest.  The virtues are needed to secure the boon and deliver it to society, which, is also needed for the individual to reach happiness.  This action is anything but self-centered and contributed to the flourishing of society.

2) there is no lacking of guidance.  Campbell is very clear as to the steps needed to accept the call, win the battles, and return with the boon intact.  The virtues are needed to take the steps needed to reach happiness and the flourishing of society.

3) Indeed, luck does play a part in life and for everyone, especially regarding one’s family and society.  A dysfunctional family and/or society will make it very hard for anyone to achieve happiness.  However, luck is not the only variable, one must also be willing to be involved with others, take risks, and develop the virtues so that when the call is sent, the adventure can be accepted.

4) I think that the best vehicle for a virtuous life is to harness the gift of the entrepreneur within each of us.  I agree that in today’s world it would be very difficult to lead a life as a member of a small Medieval group.  It is very appropriate to learn how to take risks, recognize opportunities, and take action to capitalize on those opportunities so that one’s future is live above today’s expectations.

This entrepreneurial approach prepares each of us through education, social interactions, and risk-taking, to apply our virtues in ways that enhance our happiness while helping society to flourish.

Virtue Ethics – Alisdair MacIntyre (Part 1)

Alisdair MacIntyre is an esteemed philosopher and professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.  He is one of the leaders of the virtue ethics movement whose aim is to reintroduce virtue and moral character back into the means for achieving happiness.

MacIntyre wrote an influential book, After Virtue, which explains the importance of virtue ethics in today’s world.  The book is informative and creative but, I must admit, very difficult to read.  Basically, MacIntyre makes the case that Aristotle and St. Aquinas were correct in their philosophies.  MacIntyre claims, like Aristotle, St. Aquinas (and the positive psychologists), that we are all motivated to seek happiness (or the actualization of our potential) and that the virtues are the best means to find the happiness that we all seek.  He claims that those individuals who live virtuous lives are the ones most likely to find happiness.

He proposes that the best way to lead a virtuous life is to be a member in a small community, much as existed in the Medieval Ages.  The members of these small communities would be motivated to act virtuously with one another, leading to the happiness of everyone.

This also sounds very reasonable, but virtue ethics has drawn four main criticisms.  The four are: 1) it is a way of life that is self-centered, 2) it is a way of life lacking any guidance as to appropriate actions to reach happiness, 3) it is a way of life based on luck of one’s circumstances in life, and 4) it is unreasonable to suggest that in today’s world people should live in small communities as the means of achieving happiness.

In my next post, I would like to address these four criticisms.