Virtue based ethics can be interpreted many ways since there is such a variation of moral beliefs and various definitions of what is virtuous. For the most part virtue ethics has advantages since there is many universal virtues or much common ground when it comes to what is ethical. The biggest disadvantage is that there are differences among cultures, times in history, and even in between groups, organizations, tribes, and families in certain types of virtue based beliefs. I believe Kant’s duty-based theory overlaps and is very easily integrated with virtue ethics since most duties are virtue based. As I explore more about virtue based ethics and Kant’s theories in this blog I will expound on how these two belief systems could be merged.
It is pretty easy to explore virtue ethics from a deontological and a consequentialist viewpoint. Under deontology it is simple to see virtues as rules of what is right and wrong and that an individual has a duty to honor such virtues for personal peace and to serve a greater good. Through the viewpoint of consequentialism it also seems clear that the majority of results or consequences that are good or virtuous can only come through actions that are also virtuous, good, or right.
Based on Kant’s Doctrine of Virtue and his duty-based theory a person can only be truly happy and have their life flourish if they are living in accordance to their virtues and duty to honor and respect themselves and others. Where so many people have a commonality among their beliefs of what are acceptable or even expected norms as far as what are virtuous beliefs, intentions, and actions/behaviors it seems that the world would be far more peaceful if everyone lived up to this duty to honor self and others. This level of commitment to others would even go farther if everyone also honored the universe in a similar fashion. By universe I mean animals, nature, mother nature, the earth, places, things, cultures, etc., etc..
As stated above I believe Immanuel Kant’s duty-based theory fits hand in glove with virtue based ethics since the responsibility to honor or serve something greater than yourself comes as part of virtue or values based belief system. Both Plato and Aristotle spoke and taught of virtue based beliefs being a motivation for much of what a person thought, said, and did. So many Eastern based philosophies are based on doing what is good for self and others because it is the only way one can have peace and happiness. Many spiritual and religious beliefs are based on doing unto others as you would want done unto yourself. In most cultures common virtues such as generosity, loyalty, honesty, and courage are aspired to.
Approaching life with a goal to live a more virtue centered life may at times have the dilemma of potential ethnocentrism, where we judge others as we judge ourselves, wanting us all to fit perceived norms and expectations. It would seem one of the most important parts of virtue ethics and duty-based living is to value openness and forgiveness with ourselves and others and let go of those rigid expectations. We will never have the peace, joy, and love in our life we often seek if we cannot be satisfied enough to be happy, while still remaining unsatisfied enough to continue growth. Self-acceptance, and the acceptance of others “as they are” may be the highest virtue of all.