Virtue ethics and the search for an account of right action

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (3):255 - 271 (2010)
Conceived of as a contender to other theories in substantive ethics, virtue ethics is often associated with, in essence, the following account or criterion of right action: VR: An action A is right for S in circumstances C if and only if a fully virtuous agent would characteristically do A in C. There are serious objections to VR, which take the form of counter-examples. They present us with different scenarios in which less than fully virtuous persons would be acting rightly in doing what no fully virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances. In this paper, various proposals for how to revise VR in order to avoid these counter-examples are considered. I will argue that in so far as the revised accounts really do manage to steer clear of the counter-examples to VR, something which it turns out is not quite true for all of them, they instead fall prey to other damaging objections. I end by discussing the future of virtue ethics, given what has come to light in the previous sections of the paper. In particular, I sketch the outlines of a virtue ethical account of rightness that is structurally different from VR. This account also faces important problems. Still, I suggest that further scrutiny is required before we are in a position to make a definitive decision about its fate.
Keywords Virtue ethics  Right action  Fully virtuous agent  Decent agent  Developmental account of virtue and right
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