Thursday 21 May 2015

What *is* Virtue Ethics?

This question is raised and discussed in Marcia Baron's chapter "Virtue ethics in relation to Kantian ethics" (see book in last post). The question is important as we try to set out virtue ethics as either part of or distinct from deontology and/or consequentialism (or its sub-theory, utilitarianism).

A plausible answer offered comes from Christine Swanton's Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View:
In virtue ethics, the notion of virtue is central in the sense that conceptions of
rightness, conceptions of the good life, conceptions of “the moral point of view”
and the appropriate demandingness of morality, cannot be understood without
a conception of relevant virtues. (Swanton 2003: 5) (quoted on Baron, p.28)
The question naturally arises: can Buddhist ethics be a form of virtue ethics by this definition? Even the arguably later (Mahayana) twin virtues of wisdom and compassion are not the foundations around all else revolves in Buddhist ethical thought.

Rather, I think, the dhamma (or law) is the foundation and the "moral point of view" around which all else turns. This is why various sets of virtues have arisen in Buddhist history; all of which aim at attuning the practitioner to the dhamma. 

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