Aristotle founded his work on the character of the on the virtuous being. According to Aristotle, virtues such as honesty, justice, patience, and courage develop over time and through life experiences. Through time individuals develop such behaviors through watching, and observing; an intellectual virtue. Upon learning and reflection, an individual develops a balance of virtues to be practiced in life; moral virtue.
Virtue ethics emphasizes virtues rather than the duty or consequences of the action. Historically, deontology and utilitarianism failed to address virtues, motives and moral character, moral education, moral wisdom, friendship and family, happiness, and the role of emotions. To address the sort of person an individual should be or how an individual should live, virtue ethics re-emerged filling the gaps of deontology and utilitarianism.
Virtue, practical wisdom and eudaimonia are three concepts central to virtue ethics. A virtue is more than a habit or the accomplishment of a single action. Virtue consists of emotions, emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interest, expectations and sensibilities. It is the whole-hearted acceptance and a way of life.
To be fully virtuous is rare. It is not a simple acceptance of a rule nor is it a pure analysis of consequences. To be fully virtuous an individual must take action despite the circumstances and without temptation to do otherwise. Aristotle defined the need for an individual to find the perfect balance; not doing too little as or too much. The challenge is that there are no codes or rules to finding this balance (Cahn, 2013).
To find this balance one must utilize practical wisdom; the combination of intellectual and moral virtue. Practical wisdom is the knowledge or understanding that allows the person to do just that in any situation. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a virtuous person is a morally good, excellent or admirable person who acts and feels well. Practical wisdom comes with life experience, is a mindfulness of consequences of possible actions and is the ability to recognize an aspect of a situation as more important than another.
Eudaimonia, the heart of virtue ethics, is termed as happiness or flourishing. Aristotle clarified happiness by explaining that it is not based on pleasures. Happiness is determined by how well a person lives life; a life of patience, courage, temperance and justice. It is with these inner traits that happiness is said to be a result. There is no universal ideal for happiness as it relies on the perspectives of the individual, is charged with cultural reality, and there is justification of traits (Cahn, 2013). However, Aristotle lays claim that living a virtuous life is necessary to achieve eudaimonia.
Virtue ethics is concerned with the good life and answers the questions of “How should I live? What kind of person should I be?” It examines how one should be all the time and the development of character; defining a virtuous life over acting virtuous for a specific situation. The question is which is the correct path to follow? (Cahn, 2013).
In the arena of political campaigning the disproportional funds available impact the expected equal opportunity of those campaigning. Individuals running for office use the funds provided to them to advance their opinions and influence the voters. However, whether knowingly or not, the imbalance of campaign funding presents a moral dilemma.
In the view of virtue ethics the ultimate goal of the individual is happiness; internal happiness. To achieve this level of happiness, Aristotle discusses the necessity of the individual to live a virtuous life of balance in areas such as fairness. The question lies here as to whether the imbalanced funding is fair to the individual and to society at large.
In the case of campaigning, the intent is to hear to voice of all. Despite the fact that not all voices want to be heard, it is fair to hear all sides of the debate. Aristotle might describe this as a way to develop intellectual character. To provide a fair chance of campaigning, the ideal would be a level playing field of funding for all. Unfortunately, this is out of the individual hands and in the hands of the government.
As a leader, focused on virtue ethics, the moral choice is to ensure an open mind and a focus on learning about all candidates to the fullest extent. The goal should not be looking at the bells and whistles of the campaigning but at the political beliefs of the candidates. To ensure fairness and examine politics through via virtue ethics, a moral leader would look beyond the action and consequences of additional funding. The virtuous leader examines the traits and behaviors of the candidates; an examination of character.
Virtue ethics is regularly observed in the field of education. This has gone back as far as Aristotle who believed that there was a need for teachers to guide individuals in their pursuit of happiness. As classrooms are examined today learning communities attempt to develop the individual character. One can find statements of character on the walls, in handbooks, within lessons, as a portion of the curriculum, within in grading rubrics and as a basis of school culture. The result is the necessity for teachers and educational leaders to recognize their role.
Virtue ethics is recognized as a skill, which can be learned, practiced and developed through life experiences over time. Aristotle recognized that individuals were born amoral and needed the guidance of teachers to develop the virtuous being. The virtuous being is aware of virtue within their actions, favors good behavior over bad behavior and acts in response to a regular pattern of moral behavior (Aristotle 4, 2008). Teachers can provide students with good experiences that help students to develop and choose what the kind of individual they want to be in life. Individuals who develop good habits will act virtuously and those who develop poor habits will not. The natural ambition of humans is to achieve a life of excellence, virtuosity and morality. However, this natural ambition is skill to be taught and learned.
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Cahn, S. (2013). Exploring ethics: An introductory anthology. 3rd Ed. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
DarkAngelStarQ. (2008, November 24). Aristotle Part 1. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=175bR_BU0m8
DarkAngelStarQ. (2008, November 24). Aristotle Part 2. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuL3NwhdyEQ
DarkAngelStarQ. (2008, November 24). Aristotle Part 3. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2e5uYtvGG8
DarkAngelStarQ. (2008, November 24). Aristotle Part 4. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zVmZiU0j1k
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). http://www.plato.stanford.edu