Relationship between virtue and character

Virtue and Character |

relationship between virtue and character

Value and virtue both refer to the same thing — beliefs, principles, ideals, qualities, traits, properties, attributes, expectations, or characteristics. How is the difference between being a person of virtue and character, and the possession of the individual virtues, to be understood? Can a person possess. This paper will examine the relationship between one's actions and one's character. When one is pressured or convinced or even willing to perform an action.

I put the keys on the bookshelf again when I really wanted to put them on the new hook by the door, so I take them off the shelf and put them on the hook. Eventually, I will remember to put them on the hook instead of the bookshelf, and that will then become a new habit. The physician who automatically writes a prescription for contraception for patients who ask and no longer thinks it through has acquired a habit.

The physician who automatically says no to such a request also has acquired a habit. Another type of automatic action is a skill. Actions become skills through repetition and experience. The rugged-terrain hiker automatically reaches a hand out to steady the inexperienced hiker who is losing his or her balance on the steep path. The potter's hands automatically smooth out the small bumps in the clay pot he or she is making. The baker automatically stops kneading the bread dough when it reaches a certain elasticity.

These actions are done without consciously thinking through all the steps and reasoning and judgments. These actions are skills. Physical education thus means much more than merely bodily hygiene, physical exercise, or physical habituation. It means directing the will to a planful, conscientious, and free forming of the body.

relationship between virtue and character

And such a free forming is possible because of the fact that the soul is the form of the body, so that the soul's attitude expresses itself naturally in the body. Stein—29, original emphasis One trains one's body through experience and repetition in how to act and react in a certain environment or under certain circumstances. This functions as a kind of physical memory, a memory in the body. A third way actions become automatic is through what Aquinas calls habitus, that is, inclination or disposition.

I may give a dollar to the man in the orange beanie every time I see him, and that is a habit. But if every time I see someone begging, I give them a dollar; and I regularly give my restaurant leftovers to a homeless person; and I see a person without a coat shivering in the middle of winter and give them my coat, and on and on, example after example, that is a habitus, an inclination, a will-ingness, to respond charitably to anyone in need as the situation arises.

The will has been trained to recognize the situation when it arises and to be willing to act in a charitable way. Rather than a habit as a type of muscle memory always putting my keys on the bookshelfthe repeated actions of a specific kind e. With habitus, one becomes a charitable person rather than a person with a habit. The source of this last type of action is character.

In order for the physician to write a prescription for contraception or not out of a habitus rather than a habit, he or she needs to act out of the detailed definition of character discussed at the beginning of this paper: While this example is about charity, there is nothing about habitus that requires it to be good.

One may also will to be miserly and act in a miserly way and therefore develop a bad disposition or habitus of miserliness. The morality of the action also determines the morality of the habitus. But not all acts can be cataloged as moral or immoral.

  • Integrity and virtue: The forming of good character

There are different types or categories of actions. Even the biological functions of the body are or can be part of the self. Aquinas calls these acts of a human being actus humanus and distinguishes them from human acts actus humanis. Human acts are more closely associated with character than are acts of human beings, because the former actions come from the whole person. They are a commitment of the whole person 21 ; the body did what the will willed.

In other words, the person threw the whole of themselves, as a psycho-somatic unity, into the action.

relationship between virtue and character

The person could have chosen to do something different, but chose this particular action. In contrast, an act of a human is not a matter of choice. A person cannot choose to stop the physical act of their stomach growling. A growling stomach is not a choice. One can choose to eat something and thereby stop the growling but cannot choose to stop the growling directly by willing it.

Even laughing at funny things is a moral act, in contrast to laughing because one is being tickled, which is an act of a human being. In the former, there is choice. One can choose to laugh or not. Laughing that is ridicule is a bad moral act. Laughing at oneself can be good e. In fact, training oneself to not laugh at racist jokes or sexual innuendos is considered by many to be a moral responsibility.

One can write it or not write it as one wills and chooses. In other words, human beings own their actions and the consequences of them. This even applies to actions that are accidental rather than willed and chosen. If I unintentionally bump into someone while walking on a crowded sidewalk, the person I bumped into does not stop to ask if I did it on purpose but instead automatically expects an apology, and I automatically hopefully give it.

relationship between virtue and character

In non-human animals, the why is instinct and nature, in human acts of human beings, it is a combination of will, freedom, and choice. The will is the rational power of human beings to act. It is the ability to choose what is good or what one thinks is good directed by reason. Voluntary actions have their source in intention while involuntary actions, such as being startled, do not. The incontinent physician mentioned above is writing the prescription out of a backward-looking motive, fear.

The continent or continent-like physician is writing the prescription out of a forward-looking motive, health of the patient. Both are acting for a good end keeping job or reputation, and health of patient. But both are acting out of a limited freedom. The former's freedom is limited by fear, the latter's by ignorance or obstinacy. Most importantly, the actions of both are coming from what is internal and inseparable from them, the will John Paul IIn.

Responsibility and intention are rooted in the will, which is the source of the self-possession and self-governance of human beings. Self-possession is different from possession of an object. One can own or hold an object, such as a rock, and therefore have possession of it. But one owns and holds oneself internally in a way one cannot with a rock. We are conscious of the rock as something that is external, but we are conscious of ourselves from the inside.

We are both the object of our consciousness and the subject. Human beings are what they possess; they possess what they themselves are. Even under duress, a person is self-possessing.

One can be stopped from doing something through external sources such as obstacles put in one's way or even physical restraint, but no one can be forced to do something. The interesting thing here is that a physician may feel forced to write prescriptions for contraception through fear of ostracism or losing his job, but at the point at which he actually writes the prescription, he is no longer forced but actually willing the writing of the prescription.

One can be prevented from doing something by external forces, but carrying through with an action has an element of the voluntary, of willing to do it and therefore cannot be forced. But if one knows that the water is that high, one would not drive across it or will to drive across it, because one knows the car will stall in the middle.

In other words, while the will cannot be forced to will something, it can be hindered from doing what is willed AquinasI-II, q. A corollary of self-possession is self-governance. Self-governance includes self-control but is farther and wider reaching into the interior of the self Wojtyla It is not mere control, but rule, which includes control and more. The human being is self-governing in that he can carry out a human action or not carry it out as he wills.

He can choose to write a prescription or chose not to write it. Because of self-possession and self-governance, human beings both intend their actions and have responsibility for their actions. Integration Along with self-possession and self-governance, comes self-determination. To say that one's actions have no effect on one's character is a form of Cartesian dualism in which the mind controls the body as it would a machine.

In this case, the body has no effect on the mind or the person; and one's character is only what one makes of it. The person is self-directed and formed in an internal process isolated from external events and influences. For character, what I am and who I am are the same: The what is internal to the who. Whereas, for action, they are separable; we can isolate the what, writing a prescription, from the who, the physician.

The what is external to the who. Certainly, it is true that the who can be distinguished from the what, but they cannot really be separated from each other. A particular person did this specific action. If one changes perspective, from an external examination of the action performed and the person performing, to an internal examination of the person performing this action, then one can see that while there is distinction there is not separation. The person is the source and cause of his or her own actions.

All voluntary action upon the body, however, and all formative influence which the I—through the instrumentality of the body—exerts upon the external world rest upon the fact that human freedom is not restricted to the purely spiritual realm and that the realm of the spirit is not a separate, isolated sphere.

The foundation upon which the spiritual life and free acts arise and to which they remain attached is the matter which is placed at the disposal of the human being's intellect and free will to be illuminated, formed, and used.

In this way the bodily sentient life of the human being becomes a personally formed life and a constituent part of the human person. Ricoeur—73 Ricoeur's separation of an agent from an act is a separation only externally and on the surface. Internally the agent, possessing will, self-governing, and self-possessing, is the direct cause of his or her action and therefore inseparable from it.

Therefore, whichever choice is made to write a prescription or notthe action is an expression of one's character and also reinforces or changes one's character, i. When a person recognizes a habit in himself as bad e. We recognize when someone is acting out of character. Our character allows others to predict, in a way, the types of actions we will do. We do not expect Mother Teresa of Calcutta to throw a sick person into the gutter, such an action would be out of character for her, rather we expect her to pick up a person out of the gutter.

Being of good character means that some actions are excluded, but also that some are included and expected. We expect to perceive the virtues being expressed in the actions of one of good character. At the same time, one of good character tries to increase the virtues in oneself. Actions are expressive of character precisely because human beings are self-possessing, self-governing, and self-determining.

That habit then becomes part of one's character. As previously noted, Ricoeur called this sedimentation, a permanence acquired over time that therefore is seen as expressive of one's character Ricoeur Another way in which action becomes character is through inclinations or virtues. Recall the difference noted above between the habit of giving a dollar to a beggar in an orange beanie and the habitus of acting charitably in any situation in which one finds someone in need.

Virtues are acquired only after hard work, attention to one's actions, and much repetition: More than a crackerjack lecture on temperance is going to be required if you are to become temperate. You must change your heart. Only by dint of repeated acts, performed with difficulty and against the grain, will temperance become your good such that acting in accord with it in changing circumstances is merely a matter of your acting in character.

McInernyEven a single act forms character in that it expresses one's will and one's acceptance of the action. Action, then, redounds upon the whole person, so that self-determination is also self-formation and self-development.

Because action draws upon the whole person as agent, it affects the whole person; and because ethical action engages the good of the person through personalistic values, it cannot leave the person indifferent to his or her action. It transforms the person, for better or for worse. Paul Taylor sees four ways in which we can train ourselves to be morally good: If a physician sees use of contraception as morally bad, then acting out of his good moral character or if he wants to develop good character, he will not facilitate the use of contraception by writing prescriptions for it.

It is intrinsic to the definition of a prescription that the physician is recommending and expecting that it will be filled and the medication taken by the patient, and this for the good of the health of the patient. It cannot be separated from this context. If a physician acts against his judgment that contraception is morally bad and still writes a prescription for it, his character is affected.

Integrity and virtue: The forming of good character

By his action, he actually wills that contraception be used, he wills what he considers an evil. If it becomes a habit then he may no longer even be thinking of the evil but just doing it automatically. Through repetition, it may become an inclination or habitus such that he starts recommending it in appropriate situations even to patients who do not ask for it. Laws are the habits and characteristics we create to help us stay on track, regulations that we break and remake as we move towards—but never fully realize—virtues.

I will draw on French philosopher Jacques Derrida to elucidate my point. Derrida writes about Justice as an overarching value that guides the making, interpretation, and application of laws. Laws, as Derrida lays out, in an ideal sense ought to be made in the name of Justice, but then what is Justice? Whereas value may suggest something definable and finite, Justice is the opposite; it is indefinable and beyond the scope of comprehension, according to Derrida.

Justice is a point of uncertainty that cannot be pinned down, though it is also a source of guidance because in resisting certainty it requires that we constantly question and reaffirm a purpose. Justice is not a means to an end, it is not in service of anything, but rather it is the guiding light by which we question all our actions and laws. Justice is nondeconstructible, that is, something that is infinite, something that we cannot pull apart into composite parts in order to construct an all-encompassing definition.

The deconstructible element, law, can help us to have experiences of Justice, but it does not in itself constitute and can never supplant Justice. In moving towards a true understanding of the nondeconstructible element, we must constantly return to the deconstructible elements, rethink them, reinvent them.

To do so, we must be attuned to the details of language, and we must reinstate meaning in the things under consideration in order to begin to understand them in the present situation. That is, in the localized context of a community, culture, socio-economic group, we must look again at a law or policy, pull it apart and ask whether it is in the service of a political or economic agenda, for example, and fundamentally whether it is in the name of truth or justice.

In this way, we are saying that laws and policy should not be in the service of a limited and limiting political agenda, but rather should aim toward a greater purpose of truth or justice. It is important to recognize that this is a perfunctory account of ideas that are developed in great detail in Aristotle. They are related briefly here as they have been central to virtue ethics' claim to put forward a unique and rival account to other normative theories.

Modern virtue ethicists have developed their theories around a central role for character and virtue and claim that this gives them a unique understanding of morality. The emphasis on character development and the role of the emotions allows virtue ethics to have a plausible account of moral psychologywhich is lacking in deontology and consequentialism.

Virtue ethics can avoid the problematic concepts of duty and obligation in favor of the rich concept of virtue. Judgments of virtue are judgments of a whole life rather than of one isolated action. Virtue ethicists have challenged consequentialist and deontological theories because they fail to accommodate this insight. Both deontological and consequentialist type of theories rely on one rule or principle that is expected to apply to all situations.

Because their principles are inflexible, they cannot accommodate the complexity of all the moral situations that we are likely to encounter. We are constantly faced with moral problems.

Should I tell my friend the truth about her lying boyfriend?

relationship between virtue and character

Should I cheat in my exams? Should I have an abortion? Should I save the drowning baby? Should we separate the Siamese twins? Should I join the fuel protests?

All these problems are different and it seems unlikely that we will find the solution to all of them by applying the same rule. If the problems are varied, we should not expect to find their solution in one rigid and inflexible rule that does not admit exception. If the nature of the thing we are studying is diverse and changing, then the answer cannot be any good if it is inflexible and unyielding.

The answer to "how should I live? At best, for virtue ethics, there can be rules of thumbrules that are true for the most part, but may not always be the appropriate response. The doctrine of the mean captures exactly this idea. The virtuous response cannot be captured in a rule or principle, which an agent can learn and then act virtuously.

Knowing virtue is a matter of experience, sensitivity, ability to perceive, ability to reason practically, etc. The idea that ethics cannot be captured in one rule or principle is the "uncodifiability of ethics thesis. As a result some virtue ethicists see themselves as anti-theorists, rejecting theories that systematically attempt to capture and organize all matters of practical or ethical importance.


Conclusion Virtue ethics initially emerged as a rival account to deontology and consequentialism. It developed from dissatisfaction with the notions of duty and obligation and their central roles in understanding morality. It also grew out of an objection to the use of rigid moral rules and principles and their application to diverse and different moral situations. Characteristically, virtue ethics makes a claim about the central role of virtue and character in its understanding of moral life and uses it to answer the questions "How should I live?

Virtue ethics is character-based. Virtue Ethical Theories Raising objections to other normative theories and defining itself in opposition to the claims of others, was the first stage in the development of virtue ethics. Virtue ethicists then took up the challenge of developing full fledged accounts of virtue that could stand on their own merits rather than simply criticize consequentialism and deontology.

These accounts have been predominantly influenced by the Aristotelian understanding of virtue. While some virtue ethics take inspiration from Plato's, the Stoics', Aquinas', Hume's and Nietzsche's accounts of virtue and ethics, Aristotelian conceptions of virtue ethics still dominate the field.

There are three main strands of development for virtue ethics: Eudaimonism, agent-based theories and the ethics of care. Eudaimonism "Eudaimonia" is an Aristotelian term loosely and inadequately translated as happiness. To understand its role in virtue ethics we look to Aristotle's function argument. Aristotle recognizes that actions are not pointless because they have an aim.

Every action aims at some good. For example, the doctor's vaccination of the baby aims at the baby's health, the English tennis player Tim Henman works on his serve so that he can win Wimbledon, and so on. Furthermore, some things are done for their own sake ends in themselves and some things are done for the sake of other things means to other ends.

Aristotle claims that all the things that are ends in themselves also contribute to a wider end, an end that is the greatest good of all. That good is eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is happiness, contentment, and fulfillment; it's the name of the best kind of life, which is an end in itself and a means to live and fare well.

Aristotle then observes that where a thing has a function the good of the thing is when it performs its function well. For example, the knife has a function, to cut, and it performs its function well when it cuts well. This argument is applied to man: Man's function is what is peculiar to him and sets him aside from other beingsreason. Therefore, the function of man is reason and the life that is distinctive of humans is the life in accordance with reason.

If the function of man is reason, then the good man is the man who reasons well. This is the life of excellence or of eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is the life of virtueactivity in accordance with reason, man's highest function.

Bishop Barron on Morality, Character, and Relationships

The importance of this point of eudaimonistic virtue ethics is that it reverses the relationship between virtue and rightness. A utilitarian could accept the value of the virtue of kindness, but only because someone with a kind disposition is likely to bring about consequences that will maximize utility. So the virtue is only justified because of the consequences it brings about. In eudaimonist virtue ethics the virtues are justified because they are constitutive elements of eudaimonia that is, human flourishing and wellbeingwhich is good in itself.

Rosalind Hursthouse developed one detailed account of eudaimonist virtue ethics. Hursthouse argues that the virtues make their possessor a good human being.

Like Aristotle, Hursthouse argues that the characteristic way of human beings is the rational way: Acting virtuouslythat is, acting in accordance with reasonis acting in the way characteristic of the nature of human beings and this will lead to eudaimonia. This means that the virtues benefit their possessor.

One might think that the demands of morality conflict with our self-interest, as morality is other-regarding, but eudaimonist virtue ethics presents a different picture. Human nature is such that virtue is not exercised in opposition to self-interest, but rather is the quintessential component of human flourishing. The good life for humans is the life of virtue and therefore it is in our interest to be virtuous.

It is not just that the virtues lead to the good life e. It is important to note, however, that there have been many different ways of developing this idea of the good life and virtue within virtue ethics.

Philippa Foot, for example, grounds the virtues in what is good for human beings. The virtues are beneficial to their possessor or to the community note that this is similar to MacIntyre's argument that the virtues enable us to achieve goods within human practices. Rather than being constitutive of the good life, the virtues are valuable because they contribute to it. Another account is given by perfectionists such as Thomas Hurka, who derive the virtues from the characteristics that most fully develop our essential properties as human beings.

Individuals are judged against a standard of perfection that reflects very rare or ideal levels of human achievement. The virtues realize our capacity for rationality and therefore contribute to our well-being and perfection in that sense. Michael Slote has developed an account of virtue based on our common-sense intuitions about which character traits are admirable. Slote makes a distinction between agent-focused and agent-based theories. Agent-focused theories understand the moral life in terms of what it is to be a virtuous individual, where the virtues are inner dispositions.

Aristotelian theory is an example of an agent-focused theory. By contrast, agent-based theories are more radical in that their evaluation of actions is dependent on ethical judgments about the inner life of the agents who perform those actions. There are a variety of human traits that we find admirable, such as benevolence, kindness, compassion, etc.

relationship between virtue and character

Developed mainly by feminist writers, such as Annette Baier, this account of virtue ethics is motivated by the thought that men think in masculine terms such as justice and autonomy, whereas woman think in feminine terms such as caring.

These theorists call for a change in how we view morality and the virtues, shifting towards virtues exemplified by women, such as taking care of others, patience, the ability to nurture, self-sacrifice, etc. These virtues have been marginalized because society has not adequately valued the contributions of women. Writings in this area do not always explicitly make a connection with virtue ethics. There is much in their discussions, however, of specific virtues and their relation to social practices and moral education, etc.

Conclusion There are many different accounts of virtue ethics. The three types discussed above are representative of the field. There is a large field, however, of diverse writers developing other theories of virtue.

Virtue Ethics

For example, Christine Swanton has developed a pluralist account of virtue ethics with connections to Nietzsche. Nietzsche's theory emphasizes the inner self and provides a possible response to the call for a better understanding of moral psychology. Swanton develops an account of self-love that allows her to distinguish true virtue from closely related vices, e. She also makes use of the Nietzschean ideas of creativity and expression to show how different modes of acknowledgement are appropriate to the virtues.

Historically, accounts of virtue have varied widely. Homeric virtue should be understood within the society within which it occurred. The standard of excellence was determined from within the particular society and accountability was determined by one's role within society. Also, one's worth was comparative to others and competition was crucial in determining one's worth.

Other accounts of virtue ethics are inspired from Christian writers such as Aquinas and Augustine see the work of David Oderberg. Aquinas' account of the virtues is distinctive because it allows a role for the will.

One's will can be directed by the virtues and we are subject to the natural law, because we have the potential to grasp the truth of practical judgments. To possess a virtue is to have the will to apply it and the knowledge of how to do so. Humans are susceptible to evil and acknowledging this allows us to be receptive to the virtues of faith, hope and charityvirtues of love that are significantly different from Aristotle's virtues. The three types of theories covered above developed over long periods, answering many questions and often changed in response to criticisms.

For example, Michael Slote has moved away from agent-based virtue ethics to a more Humean-inspired sentimentalist account of virtue ethics. Humean accounts of virtue ethics rely on the motive of benevolence and the idea that actions should be evaluated by the sentiments they express.

Admirable sentiments are those that express a concern for humanity. The interested reader must seek out the work of these writers in the original to get a full appreciation of the depth and detail of their theories.

Objections to Virtue Ethics Much of what has been written on virtue ethics has been in response to criticisms of the theory. The following section presents three objections and possible responses, based on broad ideas held in common by most accounts of virtue ethics. Self-Centeredness Morality is supposed to be about other people.