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Hursthouse, Rosalind, , . Normative Virtue Ethics
1996, in Roger Crisp (ed.), How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues. Oxford University Press. 19-36.
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Abstract: Shows that virtue ethics can specify right action and defends the view that the sort of practical guidance it provides accommodates several conditions of adequacy that any normative ethics should meet. It is argued that (1) it generates an account of moral education, (2) it incorporates the view that moral wisdom cannot simply be acquired from textbooks, and (3) it can resolve resolvable dilemmas or moral conflicts but is not committed in advance to there being no such things as irresolvable dilemmas.

Introduction: A common belief concerning virtue ethics is that it does not tell us what we should do. This belief is sometimes manifested merely in the expressed assumption that virtue ethics, in being ‘agent-centred’ rather than ‘act-centred’, is concerned with Being rather than Doing, with good (and bad) character rather than right (and wrong) action, with the question ‘What sort of person should I be?’ rather than the question ‘What should I do?’ On this assumption, ‘virtue ethics’ so-called does not figure as a normative rival to utilitarian and deontological ethics. Anyone who wants to espouse virtue ethics as a rival to deon­tological or utilitarian ethics will find this common belief voiced against her as an objection: ‘Virtue ethics does not, because it can­not, tell us what we should do. Hence it cannot be a normative rival to deontology and utilitarianism.’ This paper is devoted to defending virtue ethics against this objection.

Comment: This is an easy-to-understand, concise argument in favour of the viability of virtue ethics. It is a useful illustration of the practical application of Aristotelian moral theory and would aid students understanding of that type of view and its implications if assigned as a supplement. Easy to understand even for those relatively unfamiliar with the issues, it is suitable as part of a first introduction to virtue ethics for undergraduates.

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