Is Aristotelian Virtue Ethics a Successful Moral Theory?

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Virtue ethics is a moral theory that was first developed by Aristotle. It suggests that humans are able to train their characters to acquire and exhibit particular virtues. As the individual has trained themselves to develop these virtues, in any given situation they are able to know the right thing to do. If everybody in society is able to do the same and develop these virtues, then a perfect community has been reached. In this essay, I shall argue that Aristotelian virtue ethics is an unsuccessful moral theory. Firstly, I shall analyse Aristotelian virtue ethics. I shall then consider various objections to Aristotle’s theory and evaluate his position by examining possible responses to these criticisms. I shall then conclude, showing why Aristotelian virtue ethics is an unpractical and thus an unsuccessful moral theory in reality.
Aristotle develops his virtue ethics by first considering ends and goods. He claims that “every action and decision, seems to seek some good” (Shafer-Landau 2013, 615). Aristotle states that we pursue certain things because of the benefits it brings itself and other consequences it may bring. Aristotle suggests that this is the same for goodness. We must pursue what is good for good itself and for any other benefits it may bring. Furthermore, Aristotle suggests that through pursuing the good, we are able to determine the best way of life (Shafer-Landau 2013, 615).
From examining ends and goods, Aristotle formulates eudaimonia. He questions “what is the highest of all the goods achievable in action?” (Shafer-Landau 2013, 616). Aristotle argues that the majority of people agree that the highest good is achieving happiness, however, they disagree over what happiness actually is, for example, some claim t...

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... individuals interpret human experience in different ways and thus interpret virtues in different ways. This means that virtue ethics cannot be an objective and universal theory. This, consequently, causes Aristotelian virtue ethics to be an unpractical and unsuccessful moral theory in reality. This is because there cannot be an agreed consensus of what is the actual mean, the virtue, between the vices of deficiency and excess.
Word Count: 1988

Works Cited

Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Virtue Ethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
Lemos, J. (2007) ‘Foot and Aristotle on Virtues and Flourishing’ Philosophia, Volume 35, Issue 1, 43-62.
Shafer-Landau, R. (2013) Ethical Theory: An Anthology (Second Edition). West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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