Virtues and vices

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L112-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

The concept of a virtue can make an important contribution to a philosophical account of ethics, but virtue theory should not be seen as parallel to other ‘ethical theories’ in trying to provide a guide to action.

Modern accounts of the virtues typically start from Aristotle, but they need to modify his view substantially, with respect to the grounding of the virtues in human nature; the question of what virtues there are; their unity; and their psychological identity as dispositions of the agent. In particular, one must acknowledge the historical variability of what have been counted as virtues.

Aristotle saw vices as failings, but modern opinion must recognize more radical forms of viciousness or evil. It may also need to accept that the good is more intimately connected with its enemies than traditional views have allowed. Virtue theory helps in the discussion of such questions by offering greater resources of psychological realism than other approaches.

    Citing this article:
    Williams, Bernard. Virtues and vices, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L112-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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