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B. Virtue Ethics > Virtue Ethics: A Valid or Misleading Category?

Virtue ethics has in recent decades come to be standardly taught and discussed as a distinctive approach to the major questions of ethics--a third major position alongside Utilitarian and Kantian ethics.

The idea of virtue ethics as such a 'third force' has received much criticism, however, sometimes even among writers very much concerned with character. Martha Nussbaum, for instance, "argue[s] that this taxonomy is a confusion. Both Utilitarianism and Kantianism contain treatments of virtue, so virtue ethics cannot possibly be a separate approach contrasted with those approaches." (1999). In his final page of his final chapter of Virtue, Vice and Value (2001), Thomas Hurka similarly argues that

"much recent writing has assumed that the importance of virtue cannot be captured in a consequentialist or deontological framework and therefore calls for a 'third method of ethics.' This is the type of claim philosophers like to make: that previous work not only has neglected some phenomenon but has been totally misguided in its approach. The claim is often overblown, however, and I have tried to show that it is so in this case. It is not true that virtue cannot be properly understood within a traditional moral structure; it can. And it can be better understood there than if virtue is somehow made the centre of moral thought" (255).

Nussbaum's conclusion is similar (though highly ironically coming from a Kantian perspective rather than Hurka's consequentialist perspective). She "propose[s] that we do away with the category of 'virtue ethics' in teaching and writing. If we need to have some categories, let us speak of Neo-humeans and Neo-Aristotelians, of anti-Utilitarians and anti-Kantians...." (201)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
January 27, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
I agree that virtue can be properly understood, to a large extent, within the framework of what Hurka calls "a traditional moral structure". Sherman's Making a Necessity of Virtue and Grenberg's Kant and the Ethics of Humility are two fine examples of this. What I question is whether Hurka's claim that virtue is best understood within a deontological or consequentialist framework is true. I think proponents of virtue theory need to continue to work out the relationship between virtue and deontological principles and the relationship between virtue and consequences. Presumably, just as virtue has an important role to play in these other systems, the fundamental components of these systems have a role to play within a framework where virtue is at the center of moral thought. I would not want to argue that deontological and consequentialist systems are totally misguided in their approach, but it seems accurate to say that the importance of virtue in these systems had been generally neglected by philosophers until the re-emergence of virtue ethics.
January 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterMike Austin
Mike, I think I'd agree with your response. What strikes me is the irony of Kantians like Nussbaum and consequentialists like Hurka, both claiming that the value and role of the virtues and vices can be adequately accounted for in one or another of these two systems of ethics, while being so completely at odds with one another. I do think that any complete ethical system must include a substantial role for ends, rules and virtues, but that fact in itself hardly means that virtues will be best-treated along the range of (essentially modernist) theories extending from consequentialism to deontology.

Nussbaum's claim that "Both Utilitarianism and Kantianism contain treatments of virtue, so virtue ethics cannot possibly be a separate approach contrasted with those approaches," thus seems to me a non-sequitor, though it is of course true that a proponent of a "virtue ethics" needs to have a distinctive way of ordering ends, rules, and virtues and other pertinent concepts, and not just be making the claim that they are important and have been relatively neglected in moral theory. Both Hurka's and Nussabum's rejection of virtue ethics as even in principle the basis for a differently categorized account, strike me as having primarily the character of 'border work,' i.e., of the social function of securing the continued dominance/power distribution of the traditional division among ethical theories between consequentialist and deonotlogical. But of course alot of texts include not only virtue ethics, but ALSO contractarian and other theories as well, which I have no in-principle objection to, but that Hurka and Nussbaum would also be committed to rejecting as separate approaches.

What I also would want to argue about Nussbaum's treatment is that her 'can't possibly' cconclusion reflects a particular reading of what issues are central or important in ethics, a reading on which the assumptions that consequentialists and deontologists share are re-inforced,and the disagreements that they hold are deemed to be the (only) really genuine continuing concerns of any moral theory. If this reflects tacit value judgment on her part or Hurka's, that the issues THEY find (qua consequentialists or deontologists) important are the only ones that need to be considered central by anyone doing ethical theory, then it seems to me that they are really just reiterating their own philosophical assumptions (and the assumptions upon which the polarity between consequentialism and deontology came to be codified during the modernist era), rather than supporting the 'can't possibly' claim in any theory-neutral way that they would need to for it to have the kind of force they intend. This may be a somewhat sharper response than you indicated, however, but let me know if I go too far with this critique. I do think it is revealing to compare the treatment of Hurka and Nussbaum (among others), as the comparision lends itself to a fuller picture of the contending sides in the debate, and what they think is 'at stake' in the representation of "virtue ethics" as a distinctive philosophical approach.

2/08/2008 Let me add to this post by starting to explain more precisely where I think Nussbaum favors her own conception of central ethical concerns in a way that just begs the really interesting question about the potential 'independence' or 'third force' status of virtue ethics. First lets mention what she calls "the confused story" which is "a misleading story about the current situation in contemporary moral philosophy":

"We are turning from an ethics based on Enlightenment ideals of universality to an ethics based on tradition and particularity; from an ethics based on principle to an ethics based on virtue; from an ethics dedicated to the elaboration of systematic theoreis to an ethics suspicious of theory and respectful of the wisdom embodied in local practices; from an ethics based on the individual to an ethics based on affiliation and care; from an ahistorical detached ethics to an ethics rooted in the particularity of historical communities." (163-4) This "confused story" she then goes on to say, "derives much of its support from the idea that there is such a thing as 'virtue ehtics,' that this thing has a definate describable character and a certain degree of unity, and that it is a major alternative to both the Utilitarian and the Kantian traditions" (164). Now I agree that the confused story is confused, or perhaps better that it is one 'co-option' of virtue theory in recent decades (she is thinking of Williams, certainly, but perhaps also MacIntyre to some extent, and more radical particularists like Dancy, perhaps, though I don't think he or other particularists describe themselves as virtue ethicists). I even think that there is another, equally confused story, where "act-based" ethics, an ethics "what to do" are lumped together and contrasted sharply with "agent-based" ethics, an ethics of "who to be." As Greg Pappas writes in "To Be or To Do: John Dewey and the Great Divide in Ethics," the attempt to re-classify ethical theories in a more comprehensive way that makes virtue ethics distinct from deontological and consequentialist views, has often been built upon a contrast between act and agent-based accounts: "It has been assumed that the great divide in ethics is between act-centered views ('ethics of doing') and character-centered views ('ethics of being'). The basic issue that separates moral theorists is whether morality should be conceived as a matter of 'being good' or 'doing good'.

So to do Nussbaum one better, there are at least TWO quite distinct 'confused stories,' two 'great divides' whose positing (or construction) is often used to justify the re-classification of ethical theories. Indeed I think the second is far better-known than the latter. But neither it seems to me is necessary for establishing the independence of virtue ethics, and indeed both are rather extreme interpretations or ways of 'co-opting' characterizations of virtue ethics in a manner that is bound to leave it looking suspect. What Pappas thinks he sees in Dewey is an anticipation and rejection of the 'to be or to do' story: "To move beyond the divide issue requires an ethics where action and character are equally central objects of moral evaluation, and neither one is to be taken as the exclusive or even more basic concern of moral philosophy." This is a claim i want to get back to, especially as it involves Dewey's stance in his "Three Independent Factors in Ethics" and in the 2nd Edition of Dewey 7 Tufts' Ethics. But I first want to pursue why Nussbaum finds it necessary to reject "virtue ethics' along with the first 'confused story,' based upon the 'practice or theory' or 'generalism or particularism' dichotomies. Forcertainly one could take virtue ethics, coorectly viewed, as a synthesizer of the theory/practice and universality/particularity divides, rather than a position based upon just one pole of it. If you allow this, then while its true that the proponents of this story also have at times drawn the independence of virtue ethics from what it is contrasted with as support for their views, this in itself doesn't show there aren't good reasons for a more comprehensive classification of ethical theories to include virtue ethics as independent. It doesn't show that self-described virtue ethicists need to ascribe to such great divides. The proponent of the need for a more comprehensive classification of ethical theories, I suggest, can (and should) maintain that independence of virtue ethics independently of EITHER of the two 'confused stories' we've mentioned.

Would you agree or disagree? Of course the burden of the argument against Nussbaum rejecting particularism by rejecting the "virtue ethics" it allies with, falls to me to say how virtue ethics does get its independence, but I'll try to sketch that out in my next comments.
February 2, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
In my opinion, the problem boils down to this: since
1.under close scrutiny, most ethical theories do have a treatment of virtue and give the notion "some" important normative role
2. there is no substantial agreement among self proclaimed virtue ethicists on the nature and role of virtue,
a virtue ethicist, if anything, is just someone who thinks that the notion of virtue does a lot of important normative work (as opposed to "some"). Now, I do not think that it is a very interesting distinction. What is it doing "a lot" as opposed to "much"? I would like an interesting account of virtue and its normative role. Deciding whether it does several things or a lot of them does not cut the theoretical reality at any interesting joint.
Virtue ethics just seems to be an ambitious form of virtue theory (defined as theoretical treatment of virtue). I have yet to find a convincing case on what contemporary self proclaimed virtue ethicists have in common other that that.
February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto Masala
Yes, Alberto's response is similar to that of Martha Nussbaum, which I've been articulating and intending to critique in this thread. Both, it appears, think we need to endorse the second premise, and would support (2) by noting a degree of disunity over the role and unity of virtue, among self-described virtue ethicists, relative, I presume, to far stronger unity among self-described consequentialists about key issues like the role of theory and the nature of normativity. I am certainly not opposed to the broad definition of "virtue theory" Alberto mentions, and do intend 'the virtue theory discussion forum' to be inclusive in just that sense.

But distinctiveness of 'virtue ethics' is also interesting, and maintained in various senses by many of our participants. Nussbaum, we should not, sets the disunity among self- described virtue ethicists at a lower level, acknowledging at least that "there is some genuine unity to the set of concerns that led all these thinkers [here she singles out Alasdair MacIntyre, Annete Baier, Bernard WIlliams, John McDowell, Henry Richardson and Philippa Foot] and many others, to take an interest in the category of virtue, and to turn to the Greeks, as many have, for illumination on this topic." (168). "But," she contines, "this area of agreement, though philosophically significant, is thin. It does not demarcate a distinctive approach that can usefully be contrasted with Kantian and Utilitarian ethics." Let me quote you further to add clarity here. Insofar as there is common ground among the defenders of "virtue ethics," Nussbaum insightfully says that she thinks it "lies...in these three claims":

A. "Moral philosophy should be concerned with the agent, as well as with choice and action.

B. Moral philosophy should therefore concern itself with motive and intention, emotion and desire: in general, with the character of the
inner moral life, and with settled patterns of motive, emotion, and reasoning that lead us to call someone a person of a certain sort
(courageous, generous, moderate, just, etc.).

C. Moral philosophy should focus not only on isolated acts of choice, but also, and more importantly, on the whole course of the agent’s moral life, its patterns of commitment, conduct, and also passion." (170)

Nussbaum further concedes that the "substantial and by now central area in philosophy was virtually empty in the fifties and sixties, and had hardly ever been heard of. Even when people were writing about philosophers who had very substantial arguments about the nature and structure of the emotions, it was rarely those aspects of their view that were discussed". (171-2)

Nussbaum still further concedes that "it is fair to say that Anglo-American moral philosophy in the 1950s through the 1970s had not paid very much attention to these questions (with the striking exception of John Rawls’s remarkable account of moral development in Part III of A Theory of Justice, which has never received the emphasis, in critical discussion, that it deserves). A corrective was therefore overdue, and it was perfectly plausible to suppose that turning to the Greeks would help us to make the changes that were needed." "Even though a concern for motive, intention, character, and the whole course of life was not in principle alien to Kantian and Utilitarian philosophy, it was certainly alien to most British and American Kantians and Utilitarians of the period." (173)

Still, she argues, "these three claims involve no break with Kantian ethics, since Kant plainly agrees with all three of them, and wrote the Tugendlehre on that account. They do not really involve a break with the great Utilitarian thinkers, who, as I have insisted, did ponder questions of character." This claim, as I said above, I think boils down to whether the virtue-theoretic concerns (including, to connect with other recent posts in the rich connections between character traits and 'thick' ethical concepts involved in moral discernment and judgment) deliver any kind of account of *normativity* that doesn't fit back on the spectrum running from Kantian intentionalism to utilitarian consequentialism.

Be that as it may--since the objection certainly challenges those who *are* self-described virtue theorists to defend more than what Dewey did--that consequences, motives and approbations are "three independent factors in ethics," it would be nice to see further participation here at JB, on the contours of a distinctively virtue-theoretic account of normativity --indeed even of normativity more generally--and the 'platform' of a more unified conception, of the nature and sources of value, and, as Alberto puts it, the nature and role of virtues.

But now, to cut to the chase and to end this long overlong post, Nussbaum's main argument comes in. The "disunity" of 'virtue ethics' below the "common ground" of the three mentioned theses A-C, is the division between "friends of reason" virtue ethicists, and "anti-theory" or at least "anti-Kantian" virtue ethicists. The first group "are best understood as motivated by a dissatisfaction with Utilitarianism. In particular, they question its neglect of the plurality of goods; its narrowly technical conception of reason, which holds that reason can deliberate only about means and not about ends; and the non-cognitive conception of emotion and desire that has frequently
been taken for granted in Utilitarian thought...[T]hey want to give reason and deliberation a larger role in our moral and political life than Utilitarians usually concede it. They are keen on the criticism
of entrenched satisfactions and habits. They like the idea that not only our beliefs, but also our passions and desires, can be enlightened by the critical work of practical reason. These “virtue theorists” are likely to turn to Aristotle, or a certain reading of Aristotle, to elaborate their picture of a
deliberative political life. They are not hostile to Kant, and they may even desire a synthesis of Aristotle and Kant."

But the second kind of virtue ethicist is "anti-Kantian," and and no 'friend of reason' as Nussbaum puts it. These 'virtue theorists' "Other “virtue theorists,” by contrast, begin from a dissatisfaction with Kantian ethics. They question the dominant role Kant gives to reason in human affairs, and the type of Kantian rationalism that they judge to
be dominant in contemporary ethical theory. They also question Kantian universalism, together with Kant’s idea that practical judgment should be based on principles that abstract from particular local features of the
agent’s situation. These theorists want more recognition of “non-rational” elements in our makeup, and they take emotions and desires to be such elements. On the whole, they believe that our social life would go better if it were less deliberative and less critical, more the outgrowth of entrenched habits of desire and entrenched features of social position. They are hostile to universal theorizing in ethics, and they are likely to have some sympathy with cultural relativism, although they do not all endorse it. These theorists are likely to have an uneasy relationship to Aristotle (or to read him in a reductive biologizing way), and to be more friendly to David Hume (or a particular reading of Hume). If feminists, they are likely to be attracted to the generous role a virtue theory might give to sentiments, habits, and the “animal” side of our personalities, which they hold to be unfairly marginalized by male-dominated Enlightenment philosophy. (In this category I shall place, in different ways, Annette Baier, Simon Blackburn, Philippa Foot, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Bernard Williams – though of course MacIntyre would shrink from being associated in any way with the hated Hume.)" (169)

Now I think this particular account of differences in virtue ethics is quite contentious, and reflective of a peculiar reading of the literature. While I won't go into yet, I am at least now closer to arguing directly that it falls short of her conclusion, already mentioned, that we should stop talking of "virtue ethics," agree that it reflects a "confused story," and simply go back "to speak of of Neo-Humeans and Neo-Aristotelians, of anti-Utilitarians and anti-Kantians" (201).
February 21, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
There is a lot going on here, but after some thought I agree that theory-neutral support is absent and needed, if the claim that virtue ethics can't possibly be a distinct third approach is to go through. (And as an aside, it is curious that Hurka describes consequentialism and deontology as "traditional" moral structures, when it seems to me that VE is the traditional moral view running from the ancient Greeks, through the medievals, and even through some key modern philosophers. I'm not claiming that much follows from this, but it is worth pointing out.)

I agree as well that the act/agent distinction breaks down, and so this story is confused. It seems to me that those who employ this story overlook the fact that Kant frames his discussion of the categorical imperative as an answer to the question, "Who has a good will?" Others would have likely found the act/agent distinction misguided as well. Dewey, in his Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics, states "Conduct implies more than something taking place; it implies purpose, motive, intention; that the agent knows what he is about, that he has something which he is aiming at." James Seth, in A Study of Ethical Principles, states that "Conduct, therefore, points to character, or settled habit of will. But will here is no mere faculty, it is a man's proper self. The will is the self in action; and in order to act, the self must also feel and know."

With respect to the 2 'confused stories', I do not think that the claim that virtue ethics is an independent approach ought to be based on either of these stories. As you point out, the need then arises to show how it is an independent third approach in normative ethics. I offer the following as a suggestion for further thought on this, and not much more than that, which probably is appealing to me in part because of my interest in applied ethics. One way in which virtue ethics is an independent approach is how it works when applied to moral issues. The Kantian employs the categorical imperative when trying to determine what to do with respect to some controversial or difficult moral issue, while the consequentialist employs the principle of utility or something similar to it. A virtue ethicist would employ individual virtues as a starting point. This is a methodological difference, but it brings to bear a distinct emphasis regarding what guides moral reasoning and determines one's moral judgments. For example, if I seek to determine my obligations as a parent using the categorical imperative or principle of utility, this has a very different phenomenological texture and substantially different emphases than if I consider what it would mean to be a courageous, humble, and compassionate parent, and use these individual virtues as my moral starting points, so to speak.
February 27, 2008 | Registered CommenterMike Austin
Guy, here’s my two cent response to your original question. It also touches on some of the issues that have emerged in subsequent posts.

If we think of consequentialism and Kantianism as attempts to specify the nature of morally right or permissible action, then I think the question of whether virtue ethics is a viable “third alternative” boils down to the question of whether the concept of moral virtue can plausibly play the relevant, basic explanatory role in an account of right action that Kantians give to the concept of moral duty and consequentialists to the concept of good outcomes. This, I take it, is what Hursthouse is largely up to in “On Virtue Ethics.” And it is virtue ethics understood in this way which I think is a genuine (though not necessarily successful) competitor with consequentialism and deontology.

Of course nothing about this sort of approach should prevent Kantians or consequentialists from giving a (non-basic) role in their theories to the concept of moral virtue. Here it might be helpful to distinguish between the claim (a) that virtues are morally important and (b) that the notion of virtue is the conceptual basis of right action. All three groups might reasonably accept (a), and this commitment might lead the Kantian or consequentialist to incorporate an account of virtue; but only virtue ethicists of the sort just indicated will accept (b).

It’s also worth noting that even if virtue ethics qua competitor with consequentialism or Kantianism, or qua analysis of right action, fails, this need not spell the demise of virtue ethics proper. And this isn’t because even with said failure, there’s still room in other accounts of right action for a consideration of virtue. Rather, it’s because the virtues and their role in the moral life are philosophically interesting in their own right: that reflection on the nature and structure of a virtue, on the substance of individual virtues, on how the virtues related to each other, on how they’re related to other elements of the moral life, and so forth, is itself philosophically interesting and fruitful.

Some have sought to mark the distinction here in terms of a distinction between “virtue ethics” and “virtue theory.” I’m not very satisfied with these labels, since it seems strange not to think of “virtue theory” as part of the enterprise of “virtue ethics.” But the distinction is an important one – and one that suggests a third alternative to the options identified by Nussbaum (i.e. the alternative of virtue ethics qua competitor with consequentialism/Kantianism and a concern with virtue within these latter approaches).

February 28, 2008 | Registered CommenterJason Baehr
I've been thinking more about the objection that Nussbaum basically relies on, that there just isn't enough unity to what self-described virtue ethicists hold, for that description to represent any kind of genuine alternative to the traditional divides she wants to re-institute--those between "Anti-Kantians and Anti-Utilitarians," or again between "Neo-Humeans" and "Neo-Aristotelians."

As I think about this, there's a burden this places on virtue ethicists to clarify grounds for the uniqueness of the approach, but a meetable one. There is also, independent of the question 'Was Dewey a Virtue Theorist?' a very strong response that a Deweyan could give for why the Deweyan approach, in which character and habit remain central concerns (and have an "independent root" than do the Good and the Right).

Pappas makes such a case when he argues that, "To move beyond the divide issue requires an ethics where action and character are equally central objects of moral evaluation, and neither one is to be taken as the exclusive or even more basic concern of moral philosophy."

And B. Williams and H. Putnam make such such a case when they each argue independently against "ethical centralism" as a doubtful shared assumption of many other moral theories, including deontology and utilitarianism.This question is I think clarified if we distinguish between ethical “centralism,” “non-centralism,” and “anti-centralism.” Those who Simon Blackburn refers to as ethical “thickies” are deniers of what Bernard Williams identifies as "centralism," a key target in his ethical thought. Ethical Centralism the claim of the explanatory priority of thin deontic and evaluative ethical concepts over thick evaluative ethical concepts. Williams takes centralism to be

"a doctrine about language and linguistic practice," a doctrine holding "that very general ethical truths were logically prior to more specific ones" (1995, 184).

Now if we add that Dewey's non-reductive stance as found in the "three independent factors" approach would commit him to rejecting centralism along with Williams and Putnam, we find more resources for responding to Nussbaum's argument. Their core interests, when identified with non-centralism, certainly aren't reducible to the traditional dichotomies that Nussbaum thinks we should return to. They spell instead some dynamic new directions in theory. and one's that, since centralism is a claim not restricted to ethical languages but has implications also for 'thickie' epistemology, invite a more general theory of value along virtue theoretic lines.

What's important, however, is that to realize this unity, virtue ethicists need to pay more attention to centralism as a central dogma shared by the thinnies, and to consider carefully the advantages of a more Deweyan explication of character and its role in moral reflection and judgment. The 'Third Force' issue is making me a more confirmed Deweyan, it seems.
September 8, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
It's been quite a while since the last post here but I'd still like to contribute my thoughts. I want to make this post as short as possible, so I'm going to word it in a dogmatic fashion. But understand that I'm not confident in all of the claims I make here (which is one good reason for the post).

The first generation of prominent virtue theorists (e.g. MacIntyre, Foot, and Williams) aimed at reviving philosophical interest in the virtues and moral psychology. Common to first generational virtue theory was the thesis that virtue cannot be properly understood as derivative from either consequentialist (c) or deontological (d) frameworks (this common claim seems pretty easy to argue for).

The second generation of prominent virtue theorists included some philosophers that were willing to make stronger claims about the centrality of virtue in ethical theory than those found in the first generation (e.g. Hursthouse, Swanton, and Slote but not Hurka, Adams, or Driver). This led Julia Driver (in "The Virtues and Human Nature") to distinguish between "virtue theory" and "virtue ethics."

I don't think this is a misleading distinction; virtue ethics is distinct from virtue theory in the same way that accounts of desirable states of affairs are distinct from consequentialism…you can account for a concept (e.g. virtuous inner state/desirable outcome) without claiming that that concept serves as an explanans in some other area such as that of rightness of action. So, while Foot was a virtue theorist, she was not a virtue ethicist and did not want to be thought of as one.

Granted Driver's distinction btw virtue theory and virtue ethics (as has been pointed out in the earlier comments), it is a fallacy to argue that since some virtue theories are compatible with either d or c theories, it follows that some virtue-ethical theories are compatible with either d or c theories.

But what distinguishes virtue ethics from virtue theory?

Common to second generational virtue theory (i.e virtue ethics) (but not found in first generational virtue theory) are the following claims:

(1) Rightness of action (both in the contexts of action guidance and action assessment) can be adequately understood on the basis of the action's relation to some virtuous or vicious inner state.

(The right-making relation has been fleshed out in different ways: right action expresses a non-vicious motive in Slote, hits the target of a virtuous character trait in Swanton, and would be characteristically performed by a virtuous agent in Hursthouse.)


(2) Not only can virtue (or virtuous inner states) not be properly understood as derivative from either c or d frameworks, but they can be adequately understood independently of them.

For instance, Swanton has argued that desirable states of affairs cannot form even part of the basis for understanding virtue, because desirable states of affairs are desirable (partially) depending upon their relation to virtue…e.g. whether pleasure is good is dependent upon that pleasure's relation to virtuous and vicious inner states….viciously enjoyed pleasures are not good (not even prima facie), neither is vicious knowledge, vicious love, or viciously appreciated beauty.

In order to get to the independence of virtue from d theories, I think we'd have to argue along the lines of particularism, thought not necessarily as strong as Dancy's version.

Now, if I'm right in taking (1) and (2) as components of virtue ethical theories, then I think it follows that virtue ethics is distinct from c and d theories. I'm not sure it follows that no virtue ethical theories are consistent from all d and c theories, but it does follow that at least some are.

This brings me to a new question for the post: should we expect all virtue ethical theories to be inconsistent from all c and d theories or only some?

if a deontological theory of right action is a "duty-based " one, then act-consequentialism can be viewed as a deontology insofar as it holds that we have one and only one duty (maximizing good outcomes) that grounds right action. This possibility doesn't undermine their distinction though, bc some d theories are inconsistent with some c theories. By analogy, I would expect an adequate taxonomy of theories to ground distinctive theory types in terms of possible inconsistencies rather than necessary ones.
December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Smith
Nicholas, You make some good points and raise anotehr question for us, "should we expect all virtue ethical theories to be inconsistent from all c and d theories or only some?" I'm not sure I have an answer to that, but perhaps others will offer one. You make an intriguing point about particularism being a distinctive mark of virtue ethics, though I'd like to hear more about that.
December 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
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December 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDigimaster II