Practising Virtue: A challenge to the view that a virtue centred approach to ethics lacks practical content

Nursing Ethics 12 (6):622-637 (2005)
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A virtue centred approach to ethics has been criticized for being vague owing to the nature of its central concept, the paradigm person. From the perspective of the practitioner the most damaging charge is that virtue ethics fails to be action guiding and, in addition to this, it does not offer any means of act appraisal. These criticisms leave virtue ethics in a weak position vis-à-vis traditional approaches to ethics. The criticism is, however, challenged by Hursthouse in her analysis of the accounts of right action offered by deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics. It is possible to defend the action guiding nature of virtue ethics: there are virtue rules and exemplars to guide action. Insights from Aristotle’s practical approach to ethics are considered alongside Hursthouse’s analysis and it is suggested that virtue ethics is also capable of facilitating action appraisal. It is at the same time acknowledged that approaches to virtue ethics vary widely and that the challenges offered here would be rejected by those who embrace a radical replacement virtue approach.



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