The Consequentialist Critique of Virtue Ethics

Authored by: Julia Driver

The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics

Print publication date:  February  2015
Online publication date:  February  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415659338
eBook ISBN: 9780203071755
Adobe ISBN: 9781135096694

10.4324/9780203071755.ch23

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Abstract

Virtue ethics in its most recent forms was largely motivated by dissatisfaction with impartialist forms of normative theory, including consequentialism. Consequentialism in its most general form holds that the moral quality of something (e.g. action, character trait) depends completely upon its consequences, or the consequences of something relevantly related to it (e.g. rule). The consequences are considered impartially: everyone’s happiness matters equally. Critics of this approach note that this makes it difficult to account for norms that seem partial, such as the norms of love and friendship. It is perfectly fine, and even obligatory in some cases, to favor the happiness of family members over the happiness of strangers. One would be a terrible parent if one did not favor one’s children. Virtue ethicists maintain that their account of virtue can include virtues characterized by commitments to partial norms, and thus avoid problems that other theories such as consequentialism have with respect to these norms. 1

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