Aristotle says that the virtues are necessary for humans to attain happiness, but he happiness for him is something closer to what we might call “flourishing” or “living well”, not just feeling good. Thus, according to Aristotle some people might feel that they are happy, but because they lack the virtues, they are not truly flourishing. However, imagine someone who is deceitful, selfish, greedy, self-indulgent, yet enjoys great pleasure and appears to be quite content. Is someone like this truly happy or not? Explain your answer this by referring to this week’s readings and media, and if possible provide examples from real life and/or from literature, film, TV, etc.
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Paragraph must be atleast 300-400 words long. Below are the required readings for this week.
Congratulations on completing Week 3! As in Week 2, there is no paper assignment for this week, but there is plenty of material to cover. Here are the topics covered in this guidance.
What is virtue ethics?
During Weeks 2 and 3, we studied two approaches to formulating an ethical theory: consequentialism and deontology. This week, we will examine a third approach, one that has a quite different starting point from the first two. This third approach is called virtue ethics.
Recall that, in Week 1, we learned that ethics is concerned with two questions.
- What is the best way to live?
- How do we distinguish between right actions and wrong ones?
Consequentialism and deontology begin by formulating answers to the second of these. Although they differ in the details, both are primarily concerned with finding a way to distinguish between morally right actions and morally wrong ones. Once this distinction is in place, the answer to the first question is pretty straightforward: one lives the best kind of life by performing as many morally right actions as possible.
Virtue ethics, by contrast, begins by answering the first question before turning to the second. That is, a virtue-ethical theory will begin by formulating some kind of conception of what makes a life good; right actions, then, will be those that are conducive to living such a life.
Different kinds of virtue-ethical theories will offer different accounts of the best kind of life. The most influential of these is that proposed by the most influential virtue ethicist: Aristotle. According to Aristotle, the best kind of life is a happy life. This might sound trivial, but it has important consequences. By insisting that happiness is the ultimate good in life, Aristotle is able to rule out as unimportant all of those things that are not necessary for happiness. For example, since it is possible to be happy without being wealthy, Aristotle concludes that wealth is not essential to a good life (though he grants that abject poverty will make living a happy life very difficult).
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