Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On Virtue Ethics -- the book


More on ethics (with an Aristotilian slant) is present in the book On Virtue Ethics by Rosalind Hursthouse.  Here are some comments on her work:

Description of the Book on Amazon.com

Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, here presents a full exposition and defense of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions.

Customer Reviews

5 Stars
When deontology's getting you down...
By Tertiary Thought on July 31, 2000

I read this book in a philosophy course at Dartmouth, and wrote a 20-page paper on it. For those not familiar, virtue ethics has recently come into fashion as an alternative to both deontological (rule-based) and consequentialist (results-based) ethics.
Hursthouse is a big fan of Aristotle (although she does "update" a few of his sexist remarks), and often hearkens back to his discussion of "the virtues," and the idea that there is no set of rules that can ever properly encompass every situation -- rather, the ideal virtuous agent is someone who is actually  skilled at ethics, and simply knows the virtuous thing to do.
An example that might help get across the idea of virtue ethics -- take a classic ethical case such as Ayn Rand's example of a man whose wife is very sick and who spends extraordinary amounts of money to save her life. It turns out, however, that he could have spent the same amount of money and saved the lives of ten women he didn't know. The utilitarian says that the lives of ten are more important than the life of one. The virtue ethicist says that the fact that we place the interests of loved ones above the interests of strangers is good -- a vital part of humanity we would not want to sacrifice to some mathematical moral calculation. And who would want to live in a world where we forsake our spouses to save strangers?
The book also contains a very interesting chapter on naturalism in ethics. Overall, a very worthwhile read, especially if your entire background in ethics consists of Kant, Bentham, Mill, etc.
A note -- this is not the most abstruse philosophy text I've ever read, but I wouldn't suggest approaching it without some sort of academic philosophy background.

5 Stars
Most systematic account of Neoaristotelian virtue ethics yet
By  on September 16, 2013

For virtue ethics, this is the most important book of the past few decades, and it is the most systematically worked out account of Neoaristotelian Virtue Ethics since its emergence in the early 20th century.

Rosalind Hursthouse offers an alternative to Kant's deontology or Bentham's utilitarianism. She reworks many of the ideas in Aristole's Nicomachean Ethics to create an ethical system that has these qualities:

(1) The end goal of life is eudaimonia, which is living in a good and characteristically human way, as understood by both the sciences and humanities
(2) Virtues are character traits that help us to live well. And they entail rules, such as "Be courageous!" "Be kind!' etc.
(3) As a normative theory, virtue ethics can answer not only questions about what we should do in a given situation, but it can also answer metaethical questions, such as how we come to understand ethical truths, what desires and motivations reveal about action, and whether there are any objective, moral truths.

Hursthouse's book is programmatic. She doesn't pretend to have all the answers, nor to have written them here. Instead, the greatest strength of this book is to rework many of the ideas from early in her career to try to create a comprehensive system.

If you're into virtue ethics, this is a must read. If you like clear thought about trying to figure out what is moral or immoral, then I highly recommend this book.

5 Stars
5.0 out of 5 starsA Joy to Read
By  on February 6, 2010

Another reviewer "wouldn't suggest approaching [this book] without some sort of academic philosophy background." I cannot really speak to this - I have an academic philosophy background - but I fear that it obscures how much fun this book is. It is fluent and lucid. I've enjoyed parts enough to read them aloud to friends and family with no background in philosophy, and they seemed to do just fine. I read the bulk of the book on transatlantic flights, and it was compelling enough to block our distractions.

To get an idea, hit the "surprise me!" link under "look inside!" (What's with all these exclamation points?) Or search on the word 'children'; Hursthouse has interesting things to say about how ways of bringing up children reveal thinking about ethics.

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