The purpose of this paper is to define and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the three ethical systems of virtue, duty, and consequential ethics using the understanding I gained during the E100 course. The paper also discusses why I selected virtue ethics as my personal philosophy and how I might best apply my personal philosophy to my professional and personal life. Virtue is a trait of character manifested in habitual action,1 and virtue ethics is what makes the character traits of people (e.g., bravery, greediness) virtuous or vicious. About 2500 years ago, Aristotle, one of the most well known names in philosophy stated that the uniqueness of a virtuous person comes from their arête, phronesis, and eudaimonia. Arête means virtue or excellence and can be exemplified as a person of generosity, courage, honesty, duty, loyalty, compassion, and other virtues. Phronesis, is described as moral or practical wisdom that knows the correct path to take in any circumstance. Eudaimonia is happiness or flourishing life.2
These characteristics are often mistaken, for what brings happiness to people, virtues, and wisdom are different for each person. Furthermore, they do not focus in what is wrong, but only in how decisions are made. A person who does something generous or brave once is not a generous or brave person Therefore, I disagree that the uniqueness of a virtuous person only comes from their arête, phronesis, and eudaimonia. A virtuous person uniqueness’s also comes from the trait that contributes to a person functioning well as a human being on a regular basis; thus, a person that ask the crucial moral question of: what sort of person should I become. However, Aristotle postulated that a person with arête and phronesis has true eudaimonia.
Aristotle also stated that virtuous people come in two categories, fully virtuous people, and those with natural virtue. To be fully virtuous would be one who does not struggle with life’s problems; his virtuous characteristics are easy to maintain. On the contrary, one who is of natural virtue is forced to use his will power not to be seduced into a non-virtuous act.4 For example, picking up money on the sidewalk and returning it to someone who does not know they have lost it instead of keeping it for yourself. Virtue ethics is a concept that motivates moral by guiding people to act right. However, virtue ethics is weak in a sense that it does not focus on what is wrong, only on how decisions are made, and it does not consider that different societies equal different virtues.
As opposed to achieving the good, i.e., virtue ethics, duty ethics are based on the notion of what is right, and must be both unconditional (no exceptions) and universal, which means that ethics are absolute moral rules which universally applied to all human beings. According to Kant (1724-1804), “a philosopher who believed that morale rules are absolute,” argues that only actions performed from duty have moral worth and that lying is wrong under any circumstances.
In addition, Kant describes duty as a high regard for universal law. Moral value establishes the intention of the person acting (Duty), and consequences are irrelevant to morality. Maxim is a principle or rule upon which one intentionally acts, a conditional maxim based on relative means/ends in the everyday circumstances is a hypothetical imperative ought meaning that if a course of action will get you what you need then do not deviate from the plan. It depends on the desire of the actor6. E.g., if you want to be smart and confident, then study hard. I agree with this concept because the goal is not based on pure reason alone but is also use upon desire.
As mentioned earlier, moral rules for Kant, have no exceptions, this lead us to the categorical imperative ought, a rule stating what ought to be done based upon pure reason alone and not contingent upon sensible desires. Killing is always wrong. Lying is always wrong. I argue Kant’s reasoning because I believe that a person acts based on unexpected circumstances differently instead of pure reasoning. For example, should the crucial “I will never take the life of another person being with malice contemplated” apply in the same manner if the circumstances of an unlawful situation, self-defense, wartime, or a lawful situation? For Kant, this is immoral and irrational, in my opinion is common sense.
People are not to be used in an unjust manner in order to obtain your goals or to obtain an unfair advantage. This is what Kant describes as practical imperative. This is a concept that I do support because humanity is to be treated as an end-in-itself and never as a means. What I meant by this is that no human being has the right to take advantage of another human being for its own interests and desires. I consider that Kant’s duty ethics concept is a weak concept because it provides no exceptions, does not allow individual to account for unique situations, and prevents growth.
On the contrary, consequential ethics purpose is for morality to make the world as happy as possible. The basis for morale action is to maximize the good and to minimize suffering (bad). It holds that an act is only moral or ethical if it results in a good conclusion (the ends justify the means) and the individual is who determines what is right. Morality in this concept is not based on religious creed or divine directive. The point is the happiness of being in this world and nothing more.7 I like this concept because the outcome is consequential of the respect of freedom that a person has to select the best action. Therefore, “it judges morality by examining the nature of the outcome rather than the act itself”.8 Consequential ethics is a concept that is applicable to put into practice vice just being a theory, it is quantifiable, and produces tangible results. However, consequential ethics is weak in a sense that is subject to your bias, it is subjective, and it does not account for unintended consequences.
Based on my study and understanding of the three ethical systems I consider that my personal philosophy tie directly into value ethics here described by Aristotle. I am honest, generous, compassionate, and raised to treat others with respect. I believe as Aristotle describes that virtue and duty ethics are based on the notion of what is right. As an enlisted man entering the Army and earning my commission as an officer, I always believed all of the Army values, but now I like to place duty above the rest. My definition of duty involves completing my mission, which I proudly did for the past twenty years; however, my duty now is to take care of my family above all as I am in the process of retiring from the Army. I believe that possessing all of these values (arête) helps me to be a virtuous person. I have served in the Army for over twenty years and the experiences I have gained so far have given me some practical wisdom (phronesis). These experiences have directed me to leaders I want to resemble as well as to ones I do not.
My biggest concern (weakness) of virtue ethics is that it does not address the problem just the outcome, and to me the outcome sometimes is not by choice, sometimes the outcome is a consequence of a problem not generated by the actor. I consider that I can best apply my moral philosophy by sharing with my subordinates and peers all of the good and bad experiences I had throughout my military career. I can accomplish this during counseling sessions or by simply taking advantage of opportunity conversations. I have taken a deep, reflective look at myself to try to ascertain whether I am a virtuous person and whether I carry these character traits into my leadership style. I will take every opportunity to share the knowledge I have with others. I considered my military career almost culminated, so my moral philosophy is family driven. My virtue of excellence (arête) is my courage to retire, my phronesis is the path to my retirement, and my eudaimonia is my happiness to promptly achieve my goal.
As I have said, I defined the three ethical systems of ethics, virtues ethics as trait of character manifested in habitual action, and the uniqueness of a virtuous person comes from their arête, phronesis, and eudaimonia. Duty ethics are based on the notion of what is right, and is unconditional and universal, and judges morality by the action rather than the outcome. And consequential ethics is for morality that makes the world as happy as possible, and judges morality by examining the outcome rather than the act itself. I further, discussed how virtue ethics is the ethical system I selected to match my personal philosophy because it ties my values with the concepts described. Finally, I described how I best apply my moral philosophy to my personal and professional life by sharing my good and bad experiences with my subordinates and peers.
The Utilitarian Approach: Chapter 7 from the Elements of Moral Philosophy, Seventh Edition by Rachels, Rachels, 2012, p. 29 2 Virtue. Retrieved 25 September 2014 from http://plato.standford.edu/entries/ethics/ethics-virtue/#2 3 IIbid
5 Are There Absolute Moral Rules?: Chapter 9 from the elements of Moral Philosophy, Seventh Edition by Rachels, Rachels, 2012, p.128 6 Ibid. pgs.
7 Ibid pg. 99
8 E103-Duty and Consequential Ethics Power Point, retrieved from black board