Can virtue ethics help society in 2021?

In a previous blog, we discussed what ‘character education’ is – a nurturing process that aims to support and develop young people’s good human traits, such as:

  • respect
  • empathy
  • honesty
  • gratitude
  • courage
  • forgiveness
  • patience
  • compassion
  • and most importantly wisdom

These good human traits, these moral qualities, determine how someone treats and respects other people. Moral qualities, virtues, are core to a person’s personality. Virtues make a person who they are and form the basis of that person’s ethical code – the framework by which they determine what is good or bad, what is right or wrong.


Nurture or nature?


Ethics denotes two meanings integrated into one whole; first, to innately know virtues with the ability to know how and when to use them. In this way, this quality is in itself an intellectual virtue that has the capacity to determine the standards of right and wrong conducts, and actions. When moral and character virtues are habitually guided and informed by this knowledge, the process begins to transform and cultivate this intellectual virtue of knowing into the virtue of wisdom, or practical wisdom – the ability to know right and wrong spontaneously. The second meaning is to practically cultivate, nurture, and refines one’s character by habitually applying the virtue of wisdom in guiding actions and making the right decisions and choices.


“Knowledge is not necessary for the possession of the virtues, whereas the habits which result from doing just and temperate acts count for all.” Aristotle


In this way, there is both nurture and nature. It is nature to the extent that human beings innately and universally share a common sense of goodness and rightness. It is nurture in the sense that good values can only become a part of character, or be formed as character, through continuous and habitual training.


A continual and habitual process

Virtue ethics, therefore, is a continual and habitual process of developing wisdom and strengthening character traits which in turn leads to inner contentment; a genuine sense of conscious happiness attained through deliberate efforts, and knowing that life is being lived trying to make the right choices and decisions, and, at the same time, innate potentials are being utilised and actualised in the process to their fullest capacity.


The purpose of life is contained within character – the more it cultivates, the clearer it becomes”. Virtue Ethics Foundation


When moral virtues are habitually guided, such as through structured character education, a person will not ‘choose’ to make a right choice, instead, they will come to spontaneously ‘know’ what is right and wrong.


“By doing just acts the just man is produced, by doing temperate acts, the temperate man; without acting well no one can become good.” Aristotle


Not only is virtue ethics important for living a happy life, and in that, fulfilling one’s purpose, but it is important to actually be able to bring about the changes that our society and humanity need right now – to learn self-respect and the respect and dignity of others. It requires one to have freedom from selfishness, and the recognition of human dignity.


“Happiness is not in things, power or fame, but in self-dignity and freedom.” Virtue Ethics Foundation


Tackling the most important issues

Hate crimes, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, terrorism, and other inequalities continue to grow by the day. Statistics show that from 2018 to 2019, there was an increase in reported hate crimes by 10% from 2017 to 2018.

We believe that respect, fairness, courage, forbearance, and compassion are not ‘duties’ we should be told to adopt, but instead are the basis of good moral character. It is our duty as teachers, parents, and carers to support and nurture our children to develop these compassions.

Without a doubt, such virtues of respect, self-respect, and the respect of the dignity of others, are essential if we are to nurture a generation that is more tolerant and respectful of others than our own.

Please support our petition to help us do this.

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