Virtue ethics is person rather than action based it looks at the virtue or moral character of the person carrying out an action, rather than an ethical duty or rule, or even the consequences of particular actions. Virtue ethics not only deals with the rightness or wrongness of the actions of an individual, but it provides guidance to the sort of quality and behaviours a good person will seek to achieve.
It's a useful theory since human beings are often more interested in assessing the character of another person than they are in assessing the goodness or badness of a particular action which a person may not usually think about when doing or seeing an action. This suggests that the way to build a good society is to help its members to be good people, rather than to use laws and punishments to prevent or deter bad actions, instead of saying that the person is bad, you can instead say the action they are doing or have done is wrong.
Virtue theory asks the question of how you can be a better person and it defines good people and the qualities that make them good. Most virtue ethics theories take their inspiration from Aristotle who was the founder of virtue ethics and said that it is good to be courageous, but that you can have too much courage. Each of the moral virtues is a midpoint between excess and deficiency, this being the 'golden mean'. Aristotle did not say what the midpoint was, and it was clearly not a precise middle. In other words, you don't need to have a specific amount of, generosity.
It was more about being generous at the right time. For example to give a few pounds to a beggar on the street is not good as it keeps them trapped into being dependant on others, and that it would be much better to give to else where like a shelter. Aristotle believed that your can practice a virtue and after time that it could just become a habit. He explains that a virtuous person is someone who is kind across many situations over a lifetime because that is their character and not because they want to maximize utility or gain favours or simply do their duty.
As Aristotle says that to practice to be a good person it then becomes a habit the good life is involved into developing a good character. Moral virtues are refined by habit. To become a generous person, I must get into the habit of being generous. In another way, it is not enough to be told that I should be patient. To become patient, I need to practice patience. Aristotle believes that every action is directed towards an aim. I get up in the morning because I want to go to work, I go to work because I want to earn a living and have a good career, then to think that I want a good career and to earn a living so I can live the good life.
He argued that whenever we did something, we did it to gain an end, and that the ultimate of all ends was the chief good, the greatest good, After the theories from Aristotle Finally, the ideas of Macintyre acted as a motivation for the increased interest in virtue ethics, Macintyre reinvented virtue ethics and gave a more modern outlook towards virtue ethics, and is a key feature within this. He outlines that to which he identifies the central question of morality as having to do with the habits and knowledge concerning how to live a good life. His approach seeks to demonstrate that good judgment coming from a good character.
Being a good person is not about seeking to follow formal rules. Macintyre proposed three questions as being at the heart of moral thinking 'Who am I? ' 'Who ought I to become? ' 'How ought I to get there? ' Macintyre calls the virtues or qualities of character 'internal goods'. He says we also place value on 'external goods'. Aristotle would have agreed here. The idea that we could be without money but still happy did not come from Aristotle, he would have said that having good food, a decent place to live and clothes to wear is all part of the 'good life'.
Another way, Aristotle would ask if the house, clothes and food would make a poor person happier. If they would, they must be part of this life and it is as good as it gets. Physical well-being, food, clothing, housing etc. are called 'external goods', which shouldn't always have to make a person happy. He argues that modern ethics has lost sight of its roots and has forgotten all that has gone before, he see's that a moral society as one in which people recognise commonly agreed virtues and strive to meet them, those virtues improve and clarify themselves over time.
Virtue theory encompasses all aspects of life rather than particular actions, rather than simply looking for rules, virtue ethics looks at the most important issues of what it is to be human, although arguably virtue ethics ultimately depends on moral duty and moral absolutes. It demands that you effectively define the virtue, but how you do this is far from clear, it then offers reintroduction of an important element of ethics that focuses on the person, rather than the act that is being carried out and the consequences at the end. To what extent do the weaknesses outweigh the strengths of the theory?
The biggest criticism of Virtue Ethics is that it doesn't give clear guidance on how to act in specific circumstances, although a strength to back this weakness up is that although it does provide general guidance on how to be a good person presumably a totally virtuous person would know what to do and we could consider them a suitable role model to guide us through actions and situations. In this case the weakness may be seen to be trouble-free as it could be sorted through the idea that if you are a virtuous person then you could guide yourself through behaviour and situations.
There is no general agreement on what the virtues are and it may be that any list of virtues will be relative to the culture in which it is being drawn up, and as everybody will have a different perception to what their virtues would be and how to act in different religions and cultures is totally different so no one could exactly agree on one list of virtues that would be set in stone. Although this strength shows that not just one group of people can follow virtue ethics and since not everyone can follow these rules, it is versatile so can be changed to suit everyone's needs.
A strength such as it centres ethics on the person and what it means to be human may go some way to making such a weakness obsolete because as it focuses on the person and not the action it may mean that someone may commit a murder but instead of looking at the action they only focuses on the person which is dire, if you are so focused on the person then no matter how bad the action is it's not looked upon. The main strength of virtue theory, though, is that unlike other ethical traditions it affords a central role to character. Other ethical theories neglect this aspect of morality.
Kantian ethics, for example, holds that it is important to act out of duty rather than inclination, that whether or not you want to do the right thing is irrelevant; all that matter is whether or not you do it. Also this presumably could be outweighed by a weakness were just because you do something to be a generous person but you didn't actually want to do it in the first place is not always the right thing to do. Another strength that comes with virtue ethics is that it can learnt overtime, if your practice it enough then it can be become natural and a habit of doing so.
Another objection to virtue theory is that it does not focus on what sorts of actions are morally allowed and which ones are not, but rather on what sort of qualities someone must foster in order to become a good person. In other words, while some virtue theorists may not criticize, for example, murder as a naturally immoral or impermissible sort of action, they may argue that someone who commits a murder is severely lacking in several important virtues, such as compassion and fairness, which if they were not lacking in these virtues murder would have not been an option.
Proponents may also mention the strength of virtue ethics to be a simple system based on a universal well-being for the individual and community, meaning that it is easy to follow and to understand making it easy for everyone universally and not being restricted by cultural or religious differences.
Other strengths to bring down the weaknesses could be that how do we decide which virtues should be cultivated the most, and in which situations, as it universally applied and easy to follow and understand we may not be sure when and where we should use these virtues making it more complicated then its made out to be, and some virtues may be used I different situations by one person where another may not agree, making it hard to be sure whether your doing the right thing or not.
The theory seems to be held in a fine balance of strengths and weaknesses that more than likely outweigh each other giving an equal balance to the argument and theory's and that it is fair to say that they both demonstrate all the issues that is addressed in virtue ethics and is a result that this argument is a good one to follow and rather as it being look at as a theory as a 'tool' in the ethical problem solving it could be seen as a 'tool kit' and instead of only solving one moral dilemma it is able to solve many.