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The Ethics of Character Virtues and Vices


Title: The Ethics of Character Virtues and Vices Author: Lawrence M. Hinman Last modified by: gordana Created Date: 2/15/1998 7:04:36 AM Document presentation format – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Ethics of Character Virtues and Vices

Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic Department of Computer
Science and EngineeringMälardalen
The Ethics of CharacterVirtues and Vices
Moral Reasoning and Gender
Based on Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D. Director, The
Values Institute University of San Diego
The Ethics of CharacterVirtues and Vices
  • Concern for character has flourished in the West
    since the time of Plato, whose early dialogues
    explored such virtues as courage and piety.

Plato (by Michaelangelo)
Two Moral Questions
  • The Question of Action
  • How ought I to act?
  • The Question of Character
  • What kind of person ought I to be?
  • Our concern here is with the question of character

An Analogy from the Criminal Justice System
  • As a country, we place our trust for just
    decisions in the legal arena in two places
  • Laws, which provide the necessary rules
  • People, who (as judge and jury) apply rules
  • Similarly, ethics places its trust in
  • Theories, which provide rules for conduct
  • Virtue, which provides the wisdom necessary for
    applying rules in particular instances

  • Strength of character (habit)
  • Involving both feeling, knowing and action
  • Seeks the mean between excess and deficiency
    relative to us
  • Dynamic balance
  • Secure desirable behavior

Aristotle (by Michaelangelo)
Virtues and Spheres of Existence (1)
Virtues and Spheres of Existence (2)
Two Conceptions of Morality
  • In a simplified scheme, we can contrast two
    approaches to the morality.
  • Restrictive conception
  • Child vs. adult
  • Comes from outside (usually parents).
  • Dont touch that stove burner!
  • Rules and habit formation are central.
  • Affirmative conception
  • Adult vs. adult
  • Comes from within (self-directed).
  • This is the kind of person I want to be
  • Virtue-centered, often modeled on ideals.

The Purpose of Morality
  • Both of these conceptions of morality are
    appropriate at different times in life.
  • Teenage years are the time when people make the
    transition from the adolescent conception of
    morality to the adult conception.

Rightly-ordered Desires and the Goals of Moral
  • Moral education may initially seek to control
    unruly desires through rules, the formation of
    habits, etc.
  • Ultimately, moral education aims at forming and
    cultivating virtuous conduct.

Virtue As the Golden Mean
  • Strength of character (virtue), Aristotle
    suggests, involves finding the proper balance
    between two extremes.
  • Excess having too much of something.
  • Deficiency having too little of something.
  • Not mediocrity, but harmony and balance.

Virtue and Habit
  • For Aristotle, virtue is something that is
    practiced and thereby learnedit is habit
  • This has clear implications for moral education,
    for Aristotle obviously thinks that you can teach
    people to be virtuous.

  • The strength of character necessary to continue
    in the face of our fears
  • Deficiency
  • Cowardice, the inability to do what is necessary
    to have those things in life which we need in
    order to flourish
  • Too much fear
  • Too little confidence
  • Excess
  • Too little fear
  • Too much confidence
  • Poor judgment about ends worth achieving

feghet, rädsla
Nichomachean Ethics, 3.7
  • What is terrible is not the same for all men but
    we say there are things terrible even beyond
    human strength. These, then, are terrible to
    every one- at least to every sensible man but
    the terrible things that are not beyond human
    strength differ in magnitude and degree, and so
    too do the things that inspire confidence. Now
    the brave man is as dauntless as man may be.

Nichomachean Ethics, 3.7
  • Therefore, while he will fear even the things
    that are not beyond human strength, he will face
    them as he ought and as the rule directs, for
    honor's sake for this is the end of virtue. But
    it is possible to fear these more, or less, and
    again to fear things that are not terrible as if
    they were.

EN, 2
  • Of the faults that are committed one consists in
    fearing what one should not, another in fearing
    as we should not, another in fearing when we
    should not, and so on and so too with respect to
    the things that inspire confidence.

EN, 3
  • Of those who go to excess he who exceeds in
    fearlessness has no name (we have said previously
    that many states of character have no names), but
    he would be a sort of madman or insensible person
    if he feared nothing, neither earthquakes nor the
    waves, as they say the Celts do not..

EN, 3
  • while the man who exceeds in confidence about
    what really is terrible is rash. The rash man,
    however, is also thought to be boastful and
    only a pretender to courage.
  • At all events, as the brave man is with regard to
    what is terrible, so the rash man wishes to
    appear and so he imitates him in situations
    where he can.

överilad, obetänksam, förhastad , överdådig,
EN, 5
  • The brave man, on the other hand, has the
    opposite disposition for confidence is the mark
    of a hopeful disposition. The coward, the rash
    man, and the brave man, then, are concerned with
    the same objects but are differently disposed
    towards them for the first two exceed and fall

överilad, förhastad
EN, 5
  • while the third holds the middle, which is the
    right, position and rash men are precipitate,
    and wish for dangers beforehand but draw back
    when they are in them, while brave men are keen
    in the moment of action, but quiet beforehand.

överilad, förhastad
Hercules (Heracles) A Role Model
  • Heracles in Greek mythology, was a hero known for
    his strength and courage
  • The son of the god Zeus and a human mother
  • Hera, Zeus jealous wife, was determined to kill
    Hercules, and after Hercules was born, she sent
    two great serpents to kill him. Hercules, while
    he was still a baby, strangled the snakes.

Hercules (Heracles) A Role Model
  • Hercules conquered a tribe that had been
    demanding money from Thebes. As a reward, he was
    given the hand in marriage of the Theben princess
    Megara and they had three children.
  • Hera, still filled hatred of Hercules, sent him
    into madness, which made him kill his wife and

Hercules (Heracles) A Role Model
  • In horror and remorse at what he did, Hercules
    was about to kill himself. But he was told by the
    oracle at Delphi that he should purge himself by
    becoming the servant of his cousin Eurystheus,
    king of Mycenae.
  • Eurystheus, urged by Hera, planned as a
    punishment the 12 impossible tasks, the Labors
    of Hercules.

Hercules (Heracles) A Role Model
  • The first task was to kill the lion of Nemea, a
    lion that could not be hurt by any weapon.
  • Hercules knocked out the lion with his club
    first, then he strangled it to death. He wore the
    skin of the lion as a cloak and the head of the
    lion as a helmet, a trophy of his adventure.
  • The second task was to kill the Hydra that lived
    in a swamp in Lerna. The Hydra had nine heads.
    One head was immortal and when one of the others
    was chopped off, two grew back in its place. ..

Hercules (Heracles) What can we learn?
  • The impossible deeds were defined by gods.
  • Gods define the rules of the game
  • Gods show both virtues and vices. Hera is jealous
    in a typical human way.
  • Gods do not hesitate to use intrigue to fight

Hercules (Heracles) What can we learn?
  • Great hero Heracles could go mad at times
  • He was however forgiven for his good deeds sake
    (justice of compensation)
  • Heroic deeds were both to help other people or to
    overcome ones own fear and weakness
  • Courage was a typical male virtue

Courage as a contemporary virtue
  • Both children and adults need courage.
  • Without courage, we are unable to take the risks
    necessary to achieve some of the things we most
    value in life.
  • Risk to ask someone out on a date.
  • Risk to show genuine vulnerability.
  • Risk to try an academically challenging program.

Courage and the Unity of the Virtues
  • To have any single strength of character in full
    measure, a person must have the other ones as
  • Courage without good judgment is blind, risking
    without knowing what is worth the risk.
  • Courage without perseverance is short-lived,
  • Courage without a clear sense of your own
    abilities is foolhardy.

ihärdighet, uthållighet, ståndaktighet
Issues of Courage
  • Fears, dangers, and rightly-ordered fears
  • Seeking out danger mountain climbing
  • Courage and nonviolence Gandhi
  • Courage and gender
  • Womens courage is often undervalued
  • Mens courage is tied to their gender identity

Compassion and Pity
  • Pity looks down on the other.
  • Consequently, no one wants to be the object of
  • Compassion sees the suffering of the other as
    something that could have happened to us.
  • Consequently, we welcome the compassion of others
    when we are suffering.

ömkan medlidande
  • Etymology to feel or suffer with
  • Both cognitive and emotional
  • Leads to action
  • Contrast with pity

  • Emotion is often necessary
  • to recognize the suffering of others
  • emotional attunement
  • part of the response to that suffering
  • others often need to feel that you care
  • Compassion and gender
  • Mens compassion is often suppressed
  • Womens compassion is tied to their gender

Cleverness and Wisdom
  • The clever person knows the best means to any
    possible end.
  • The wise person knows which ends are worth
    striving for.
  • Wisdom and gender
  • Equally distributed
  • Often expected from old men and women

Self-LovePrincipal Characteristics
  • Characteristics of self-love
  • Valuing yourself from feelings of self-love
  • Knowing yourself a long, often arduous, and
    never completed task
  • Acting in ways that promote your genuine
  • Having feelings of care, appreciation, and
    respect for others

  • Deficiency
  • Too little feeling self-loathing
  • Too little self-valuing self-deprecating
  • Too little self-knowledge unwilling or unable to
    look at ones own motivations, feelings, etc.
  • Too little acting not taking steps to insure
    ones own well-being

  • Excesses of self-love take many forms arrogance,
    conceit, egoism, vanity, and narcissism are but a
    few of the ways in which we can err in this
  • Too much caring self-centeredness
  • Too much self-valuing arrogance, conceit
  • Too much self-knowledge narcissistic
  • Too much acting for self selfishness

  • This, too, is a virtue indispensable for human
  • In any long-term relationship (friendship,
    marriage, etc.), each party will do things that
    must be forgiven by the other.
  • Long term relationships are necessary to human
  • If we cannot forgive, we cannot have continuing
    long term relationships

ForgivenessExcess and Deficiency
  • Excess the person who forgives too easily and
    too quickly
  • may undervalue self
  • may underestimate offense
  • Deficiency the person who can never forgive
  • may overestimate his or her own importance
  • usually lives a life of bitterness and anger

Concluding Evaluation
  • Virtues are those strengths of character that
    enable us to act according to ideals of good and
  • The virtuous person has practical wisdom, the
    ability to know when and how best to apply these
    various moral perspectives.

Footnotes to Plato (and Aristotle)
  • "The safest general characterization of the
    European philosophical tradition is that it
    consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."

Alfred North Whitehead, the great 20th-century
British philosopher
Moral Reasoning and Gender
  • The Kohlberg-Gilligan Debate and Beyond

An IntroductionVirtue Ethics Freud on Femininity
  • Thus, we attribute a larger amount of narcissism
    to femininity, which also affects women's choice
    of object, so that to be loved is a stronger
    motive for them than to love. The effect of
    penis-envy has a share, further, in the physical
    vanity of women, since they are bound to value
    their charms more highly as a late compensation
    for their original sexual inferiority.

Virtue Ethics Freud on Femininity
  • It seems that women have made few contributions
    to the discoveries and inventions in the history
    of civilization there is, however, one technique
    which they may have invented that of plaiting
    and weaving.
  • Freud, S. (1933). New introductory lectures on
    psychoanalysis. Lecture 33 Femininity. Standard
    Edition, v. 22. pp. 136-157.

Le Deuxième Sexe - The Second SexSimone de
Beauvoir 1949
  • Woman as Other
  • For a long time I have hesitated to write a book
    on woman. The subject is irritating, especially
    to women and it is not new. Enough ink has been
    spilled in quarrelling

Simone de Beauvoir
Lawrence Kohlberg
  • American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (Harvard)
    studied under Swiss psychologist and philosopher
    Jean Piaget (1965), who had developmental
    approach to learning. Kohlberg extended the
    approach to stages of moral reasoning.
  • Using surveys, Kohlberg presented his subjects
    with moral dilemmas and asked them to evaluate
    the moral conflict. He was able to prove that
    youth at various ages, as youth proceed to
    adulthood, they are able to progress up the moral
    development stages presented,

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927 - 1987)
Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development
Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development
  • Kohlberg believed that individuals could only
    progress through these stages one stage at a
    time. That is, they could not "jump" stages.
    Kohlberg's ideas of moral development are based
    on the premise that at birth, all humans are void
    of morals, ethics, and honesty.
  • He identified the family as the first source of
    values and moral development for an individual.
  • He believed that as one's intelligence and
    ability to interact with others matures, so does
    one's patterns of moral behavior.

Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development
Preconventional Morality
  • Stage 1 Punishment-Obedience Orientation
  • Avoid (physical) punishment
  • High school example One middle school teacher
    has latecomers do pushups (50 of them) in front
    of the class.

Kohlbergs StagesPreconventional Morality
  • Stage 2 Personal Reward Orientation
  • You scratch my back, Ill scratch yours
  • High school example A group of high school
    students involved in a cooperative learning
    activity get upset because one of their group
    members is repeatedly absent and did not do any

Kohlbergs StagesConventional Morality
  • Stage 3 The good boy/nice girl Orientation
  • "I am going to work harder in school so I won't
    let you down because if you think I can make it
    then I can make it"
  • Stage 4 A Law and Order Orientation
  • "Move carefully in the halls". This rule
    reinforces the fundamental purpose of government
    to protect the health and welfare of its citizens

Kohlbergs StagesPost-conventional Morality
  • Stage 5 Social Contract Orientation
  • "Please remember that this is your room and your
    class. The behavior and participation of each
    person will shape the type of learning that will
    occur. Since one person's behavior affects
    everyone else, I request that everyone in the
    class be responsible for classroom management. To
    ensure that our rights are protected and upheld,
    the following laws have been established for this

Kohlbergs StagesPost-conventional Morality
  • Stage 6 Universal Ethical Principle Orientation
  • An orientation toward universal ethical
    principles of justice, reciprocity, equality, and
  • Examples Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther
    King, Jr.
  • "I will not tolerate any racial, ethnic, or
    sexual slurs in this classroom. In this room,
    everyone is entitled to equal dignity as a human

nedsättande anmärkning
Kohlbergs Method
  • Initially, Kohlberg administered his test to
    people all over the world, being careful to
    include all races, to include rural as well as
    urban dwellers, etc.
  • a Malaysian aboriginal village,
  • villages in Turkey and the Yucatan, and
  • urban populations in Mexico and the United States
  • There was only one thing he forgot
  • He only administered his dilemmas to males!

Gender and Kohlbergs scale
  • When Kohlbergs instrument was administered on a
    large scale, it was discovered that females often
    scored a full stage below their male counterparts.

Gender and Kohlbergs scale
  • Women are more likely to base their explanations
    for moral dilemmas on concepts such as caring and
    personal relationships. These concepts are likely
    to be scored at the stage three level. Men, on
    the other hand, are more likely to base their
    decisions for moral dilemmas on social contract
    or justice and equity. Those concepts are likely
    to be scored at stage five or six.

Carol Gilligan
  • University Professor of Gender Studies, Harvard
    University (1997-present)
  • In a Different Voice Psychological Theory and
    Women's Development, book 1982.

Carol Gilligan, 1936 - present
Gilligans Initial Research
  • Gilligan began with an interest in moral
    development as a teaching assistant for Erik
  • She was particularly interested in the issue
    Kohlberg raised why do some individuals
    recognize a higher moral law, while others simply
    are content to obey the rules without question?

Gilligans Initial Research
  • Here initial research project was directed toward
    draft resisters during the Vietnam war.
  • Nixon cancelled the draft just as her project was
    getting started.
  • She switched to study women who had made
    difficult moral choices about abortion.
  • Not originally concerned about gender issue.

Gilligans CritiqueIntroduction
  • In light of the differences between the scores of
    males and females on the Kohlberg scale, one
    could draw either of two conclusions
  • females are less morally developed than males, or
  • Kohlbergs framework is biased against women.

Gilligans CritiqueIntroduction
  • Gilligan began to look more closely at the
    responses she was receiving in her work, and
    began to suspect that Kohlbergs framework did
    not illuminate the responses she was
    encountering. It was like trying to put round
    pegs into square holes.

pinne sprint, tapp, plugg
Gilligans Concept of Voice
  • The metaphor of voice in her book In a
    Different Voice
  • Concrete and specific
  • Allows harmony without imposing sameness
  • Not competitive or combative but collaborative
  • Combines both emotion and content
  • Voices may be described in a wide vocabulary that
    has nothing to do with right or wrong, true or
  • Voices may be different without excluding one

Differences between Mens Moral Voices and
Womens Moral Voices
Differences between Mens and Womens View of the
Differences between Mens and Womens View of
Moral Safety
Stages of Womens Moral Development
  • Concern for individual survival
  • Transition from selfishness to responsibility
  • Goodness equated with self-sacrifice
  • Transition from self-sacrifice to giving
    themselves permission to take care of themselves

Stages of Womens Moral Development
  • Goodness seen as caring for both self and others
  • Inclusive, nonviolent
  • Condemns exploitation and hurt

How do we understand Gilligans claims?
  • First of all there are historical differences in
    the roles of females and males.
  • Females give birth to children
  • Females traditionally take care of family
  • Females traditionally dominate the private sphere
    with close (short-range) relationships
  • Females have developed perseverance and patience

How do we understand Gilligans claims?
  • Traditionally
  • Males take care of the foreign affairs
  • Males protect family from the outside threat
  • Protective function is realized through groups of
    males military and other societal organizations
  • Males dominate official (public) sphere
  • Males as a group have developed strength

How do we understand Gilligans claims? Plato
  • SOCRATES () By the gods, Meno, be generous, and
    tell me what you say that virtue is ()
  • MENO () Let us take first the virtue of a
    man--he should know how to administer the state,
    and in the administration of it to benefit his
    friends and harm his enemies and he must also be
    careful not to suffer harm himself. A woman's
    virtue, if you wish to know about that, may also
    be easily described her duty is to order her
    house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her
    husband. Every age, every condition of life,
    young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a
    different virtue ()

How do we understand Gilligans claims?
  • With the advent of industrial revolution, and
    welfare state where all children are given
    education, and physical strength has no dominant
    role, women have entered the public sphere
    traditionally dominated by males.
  • Female professionals have encountered a culture
    that was historically male territory. It caused
    cultural shock.

How do we interpret Gilligans claims?
  • Four possible positions about female vs. male
    moral voices
  • Separate but equal
  • Superiority thesis
  • Integrationist thesis
  • Diversity thesis

The Separate but Equal Thesis
  • Separate but equal Men and women have different
    but equally valuable moral voices
  • Criticisms
  • Reinforces traditional stereotypes
  • Hard to retain the ...but equal part
  • Suggests that men and women have nothing to learn
    from one another, since each has its own
    exclusive moral voice
  • Devalues men with a female voice and women with
    a male voice

The Superiority Thesis
  • Superiority thesis
  • Womens moral voices are superior
  • Criticisms
  • Equal rights for men and women?
  • Inversion of traditional claims of male
  • Exclusionary
  • Demands that one side of the comparison be the

The Integrationist Thesis
  • Integrationist thesis
  • Only one moral voice, same for both men and women
  • Morality is androgynous
  • Criticisms
  • Loses richness of diversity
  • Tends to assimilation in practice, reducing other
    voices to the voice of the powerful majority

The Diversity Thesis
  • Suggests that there are different moral voices
  • Sees this as a source of richness and growth in
    the moral life
  • External diversity
  • Different individuals have different, sex-based
    moral voices
  • Males with female voices and females with male
    voices are admitted
  • Internal diversity
  • Each of us have both masculine and feminine moral
    voices within us
  • Minimizes gender stereotyping

Exclusive Models of Internal Gender Diversity
  • Traditionally, we have thought of gender in
    exclusionary terms
  • The more masculine a person is, the less feminine
    that person is
  • The more feminine a person is, the less masculine
    that person is

Exclusive Models of Internal Gender Diversity
  • In this model, which is the most common
    traditional model, an increase in masculinity is
    bought at the price of a decrease in femininity,
    and vice versa.

Sandra Bem Scale
Sandra Bem Scale
  • Thinking about gender in Sandra Bems framework
    allows us to to appreciate both the feminine and
    the masculine moral voices within each of us and
    to avoid traditional stereotypes.

Conclusion The Show must go on (Freddy
  • Kohlberg Gilligan controversy is but a
    beginning of a long process of re-thinking
    position of women in a post-modern society.
  • The end of industrialist era and the emergency of
    new information technology results in conditions
    that even more favor female professionals.

Conclusion The Show must go on (Freddy
  • Two processes go on concurrently
  • Females being a part of the public world for
    almost a century gradually win strong positions
    and take part in defining of the rules of the
    game. That improves the conditions for new
    generations of women professionals to come.
  • Female as a part of scientific establishment
    contribute with new insights in classical
    scholarship that will in the long term radically
    change our ideas (a critical mass of women is far
    from achieved yet)

Conclusion Contemporary Research
  • http//
    /moraldev.html Moral Development's Development
    Recent Research
  • http// Rival
    Traditions of Character Development Classical
    Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Empirical

Concluding Comments
World seen in different light
What if we could see in any wavelength of the
electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma-rays to
radio waves? How would the world appear to us?
Images of the sun
Images of the moon
Images of galaxy M81
World as seen in the light of different models
  • An example one country has started war on the
    other. What are the possible optics we can use
    to analyze the problem from the ethical point of
  • Virtue Ethics
  • The leader of one country was very bad character.
    Leader of the other was very good. Which one is
    which depends usually on the side in the war.

World as seen in the light of different models
  • Utilitarian Ethics
  • The country have to be helped, pacified,
  • The total benefit from the point of view of the
    one who sets the rules and counts benefits is
  • Rights
  • As a rule in a war human rights are violated. If
    you focus on that aspect of the problem you may
    get the different picture.

World as seen in the light of different models
  • Duty
  • In a war, defending your country/fighting for
    your country is seen as a highest duty.
  • Egoism
  • In egoist perspective war can be used to gain
    huge benefits.
  • Feminist ethics
  • Feminist claim wars are male business

World as seen in the light of different models
  • Justice
  • The distribution of wealth/natural resources can
    be a central issue in a war and so also in
    ethical analysis of it.
  • Divine Command
  • Very often a war can be seen as a clash between
    different religions. Each side fights with the
    divine support. (So it was even in ancient Greece)
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