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Understanding Moral Action

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Virtue Ethics and Moral Character

Virtue ethics suffer from the danger of relativism and too much consideration of an individual’s circumstances. By definition, virtue ethics is the focus on character and an interest in the individual’s life. A person who follows virtue ethics strives to live as the ideal virtuous person. In addition to this, they also believe that moral decisions should not be made in regards to consequences or duties. Because of the ambiguity of “the virtues”, virtue ethics are established by the individual. While an individual’s virtues can stem from other belief systems such as utilitarianism and naturalism, the virtue theorist’s foundational focus on character and the individual’s life opens the door to a less ambiguous moral belief: relativism. The relativist’s judgement of the quality of a moral decision based on its relativity to culture and personal circumstances stem from the roots of virtue ethics. A relativist may develop into an egoist if they put too much consideration on their own individual circumstances. This is because the egoist is foundationally based around self-interest. Virtue ethics can suffer from the negatives of these two belief systems if the individual guided by virtue ethics chooses to overemphasize themselves in regards to a moral decision.

A virtue theorist’s probability of abusing relativism is solely dependent on their environment and upbringing. The sole principle of relativism is the denial of an absolute universal moral truth. Furthermore, the relativist holds the claim that moral and ethical propositions are based on societal, cultural, historical, and personal circumstances. The abuse takes place when the virtue theorist puts their personal circumstances above all other aspects of relativism. The virtue theorist-turned relativist believes that the focus on character must be upheld by the interest of themselves so that they can become the ideal virtuous person (which is also ambiguous). Therefore, personal circumstances play a major role in the cultivation of the virtue theorist’s abusiveness of relativism. The concept of the ideal virtuous person is based around “what someone ought to be”, which then leads to “what someone ought to do”. The danger of this is that the ideal virtuous person supposes that what they ought to do is become the kind of person [they] want to be. Thus, the desire of the virtue theorist parallels the egoism foundation of self-interest. This principle is appealing to the virtue theorist-turned relativist because it takes moral character and personal circumstances into account through the argument that the true judge of morality is based on the individual’s virtues and character, not society’s. The judgement of moral decisions is therefore relative to the individual’s self, which is skewed towards an egotistical mindset. The explained process is the process of how virtue ethics can fall to the danger of relativism and too much consideration of an individual’s circumstances i.e. egoism.

It is important to focus on the moral quality of a person’s actions while also keeping a focus on the moral quality of a person’s character. A person’s actions are only applied to the situation that is presented to them, whereas a person’s character is the foundation of any action a person takes in any situation. All actions are tied to morality because a decision must be made in regards to the parties of the situation. In a visual analogy, a gymnast can properly make minute movements only if they have a strong form and developed skills. Similarly, a morally correct action can only be made if the individual in question has a strong, developed, positive moral character. This also goes for morally incorrect decisions.

An example of a moral dilemma where moral character is taken into account is the decision of instinctually talking to your mom when you get home from school because you saw her first when you walked instead of your dad and therefore is an oppression of your dad’s feelings because you seemingly chose your mom over him. A different situation is the decision of doing your english homework before your math homework even though you have more math homework because you enjoy english more. This is a decision based around the moral belief that self-interest comes before the consequences of pushing off a more daunting task. The moral character of the individual in question in the example with the mom and dad is much harder to look at as a moral decision because of the determining factor being instinct without an analysis of values. However regardless of the determining factor, the negative effect on the dad brings morality into question because it caused an outcome of emotion and difference of values (the dad does not think that the individual values them). In the latter example, however, it is clearly a moral decision because the individual chose to use egoism and as a basis of their reasoning for their action in addition to rejecting consequentialism. In the previously mentioned examples, any and all actions are based on the moral character of the individual. The action of talking to the mom first shows the character’s absence of the ability to analyze the feelings of all present parties. The action of talking to the mom first without second thought shows a characteristic of the control that instinct has over the individual. These characteristics directly affected the actions of the individual. The moral quality of actions is based around the quality of the moral character that acts out the actions, as seen in the above examples.

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Understanding Moral Action. (2019, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
“Understanding Moral Action.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2019,
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