Right action and the non-virtuous agent

Journal of Applied Philosophy 28 (1):80-92 (2011)
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Abstract

According to qualified-agent virtue ethics, an action is right if and only if it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances. I discuss two closely related objections to this view, both of which concern the actions of the non-virtuous. The first is that this criterion sometimes gives the wrong result, for in some cases a non-virtuous agent should not do what a virtuous person would characteristically do. A second objection is it altogether fails to apply whenever the agent, through previous wrongdoing, finds herself in circumstances that a virtuous person cannot be in. I focus on Rosalind Hursthouse's account of right action, and argue that it can provide a satisfactory response to both these objections. I do so by drawing attention to the distinction between action guidance and action assessment, and arguing that while the above criterion is adequate as a means of action assessment, we should turn to the virtue- and vice-rules (v-rules) for action guidance.

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Liezl Van Zyl
University of Waikato

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