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Virtue ethics

In philosophy, the term virtue ethics refers to ethical systems that focus primarily on what sort of person one should try to be; in other words, what sort of characteristics a virtuous person has.

Virtue ethics is explicitly contrasted with the dominant method of doing ethics in philosophy, which focuses on actions[?] - for example, both Kantian[?] and utilitarian systems try to provide guiding principles for actions that allow a person to decide, in any given situation, how to behave.

Virtue ethics, by contast, focus on what makes a good person, rather than what makes a good action.

Virtue ethics probably originate with Aristotle, who argued (in the Nicomachean Ethics[?]) that the virtuous person is one whose character displays the correct balance between different extremes. For example, the virtue of bravery[?] is located between the extremes of recklessness and cowardice.

The appeal of virtue ethics can be demonstrated by an example:

Suppose you are in hospital, and visited by your friend Jane. You thank her for taking the time to visit, but she says she's just doing her duty. You say to her that she is being too modest, but it soon becomes clear that, yes, she really is here only because she feels it is her duty. You would much rather she were here because of compassion.

The above example shows a situation where an agent who acts according to some sort of guiding principle seems somehow less moral than one who is just compelled by her virtuous nature to do what is right.

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