What virtue ethics can learn from utilitarianism

Publication Status: 
Academic Publication
Year Published: 
The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism

I am not a utilitarian. My own thinking in ethics has been in line with a very different tradition, one in which the central concept is an excellent character trait – a virtue, for short – and so that tradition is nowadays called virtue ethics. Utilitarians say that whether an action or policy is right or not depends entirely on its consequences for all concerned. Virtue ethicists say something very different: ultimately what is right is to be a certain kind of person, a person with the virtues of character – generosity, for instance, and fairness, and benevolence – which express themselves not only in feeling and motivation but also in action.
The obvious thing for me to do in this chapter, then, would be to focus on the differences between these two traditions, and especially on why I think those differences speak more in favor of virtue ethics than utilitarianism. So it may come as a surprise that that is not in fact what I am going to do: I come not to bury utilitarianism but to praise it. Or, if not strictly that, then at least to say what I think virtue ethicists like me can learn from the sorts of cause-and-effect thinking that have always been the hallmark of good utilitarian philosophy.

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Research Paper
Type of Scholarly Article: 
Research Paper
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