Virtue Ethics

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : November 11th, 2020

Virtue Ethics

  • Virtue means moral excellence. It is a trait or a quality that is deemed to be morally good.
  • This theory focuses on the development of an individual rather than the morality of what they do.
  • It is the quest to understand and live a life of moral character.
  • Two main proponents: Plato and Aristotle.
  • Plato proposed four  Cardinal virtues of a “good man”.


  • Aristotle proposed the “Golden Mean”, which means avoiding vices of excess (extreme good or pleasure) and vices of deficiency (extreme bad). One has to develop virtuous mean, i.e. middle of excess and deficiency. Avoid being foolhardiness (excess) and cowardice (deficiency) and develop courage (virtuous /golden mean) .
  • The virtue ethics includes an account of the purpose of human life- harmony and happiness, which is achieved by being virtuous.
  • We acquire virtue through practice.
  • By practicing being honest, brave, just, generous, and so on, a person develops an honorable and moral character.
  • According to Aristotle, by honing virtuous habits, people will likely make the right choice when faced with ethical challenges.

How to develop Virtues?

  • Aristotle says we are what we repeatedly do, Greatness then is not an act, but a ‘habit’.
  • It is based on defining personal qualities that make a person moral. Developing character that best suited to produce a virtuous human being. Developing character that leads to a good life and binds society together.
  • Pursuing happiness or good life has intrinsic value for the integration of society. It focuses on agent, not action. It focuses on how we are good people.

Indian Virtue Thinkers

  • Buddhism: He suggested Madhyama Prathipad or the Middle Path. The path of moderation- avoiding the extremes of self-gratification on one hand and self-mortification on the other.

Virtues play a key role in public administration as officers must have moral virtues: prudence, courage, temperance and justice in order to ensure ethical governance.


  • Since it is agent-centric, it does not give you practical guidance for moral behaviour. In case of an ethical dilemma, for example, whether or not to have an abortion, it’s difficult to find an answer in virtue ethics.
  • Cultural Relativism: Ideas on good virtues are not universal; they change from society to society. So it is hard to know what is actually right or wrong. For example, some societies treat women on par with men, but some societies not. who are correct?
  • Since disconnecting from the action, they can lead to bad action.

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