Virtue and the Scientist: Using Virtue Ethics to Examine Science’s Ethical and Moral Challenges

Science and Engineering Ethics 21 (1):75-94 (2015)
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Abstract

As science has grown in size and scope, it has also presented a number of ethical and moral challenges. Approaching these challenges from an ethical framework can provide guidance when engaging with them. In this article, I place science within a virtue ethics framework, as discussed by Aristotle. By framing science within virtue ethics, I discuss what virtue ethics entails for the practicing scientist. Virtue ethics holds that each person should work towards her conception of flourishing where the virtues enable her to realize that conception. The virtues must become part of the scientist’s character, undergirding her intentions and motivations, as well as the resulting decisions and actions. The virtue of phronêsis, or practical wisdom, is critical for cultivating virtue, enabling the moral agent to discern the appropriate actions for a particular situation. In exercising phronêsis, the scientist considers the situation from multiple perspectives for an in-depth and nuanced understanding of the situation, discerns the relevant factors, and settles upon an appropriate decision. I examine goods internal to a practice, which are constitutive of science practiced well and discuss the role of phronêsis when grappling with science’s ethical and moral features and how the scientist might exercise it. Although phronêsis is important for producing scientific knowledge, it is equally critical for working through the moral and ethical questions science poses.

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Citations of this work

Ethical Ambiguity in Science.David R. Johnson & Elaine Howard Ecklund - 2016 - Science and Engineering Ethics 22 (4):989-1005.

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References found in this work

After virtue: a study in moral theory.Alasdair C. MacIntyre - 1981 - Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Intelligent Virtue.Julia Annas - 2011 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The virtues in medical practice.Edmund D. Pellegrino - 1993 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by David C. Thomasma.

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