Example Of Rosalind Hursthouse’s “Normative Virtue Ethics” Essay
The understanding of ethics as a word continues to vary in meaning as time passes. Philosophical history shows different approaches to the judgment of ethical behavior and the suggestion of changing methods. For instance, John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant approach moral acceptability using rules. Each philosopher has an identified set of rules through which persons can determine the morality of their actions based on the aims or the results of the same. On the other hand, philosophers like Plato and his student Aristotle describe a different approach to determining ethics. Instead of providing rules of judgment, they developed ethical systems based on a person’s character and encouraged moral reasoning. Rather than asking whether an action is right or wrong, the theorists promoted methods that went along the lines of what a virtuous person would do in given circumstances. That school of thought is virtue ethics and is the basis of Rosalind Hursthouse’s arguments in “Normative Virtue Ethics”. Instead of creating a system through which one can judge their actions as morally right or wrong, they determine ways in which a person can approach life ethically. By extension, the idea is that once individuals have the accurate nature of the world, they will automatically act justly and be able to determine a moral action regardless of the situation. For readers to understand Hursthouse’s views about abortion, there is the need to determine the main difference between the two schools of philosophy before analyzing her strongest premises.
Virtue-based morality is expectedly more favorable than rule-based morality. For instance, despite their efforts to provide principles that are universally appropriate to the determination of moral principles, rule-based ethics often create other obstacles. For example, utilitarianism calls for the majority happiness to be the result of actions; however, they can compel someone to do an offensive act that ignores their beliefs. A good illustration is evident in the case where executing a man will be acceptable to a utilitarian if the action will make societal members happy, even if the man is innocent. Still, the executioner might be for the idea of sparing the man’s life because he is, after all, innocent. However, the rules of utilitarianism call for the consideration of the majority, making it the philosophy that overlooks the needs of the minority for the happiness of many. In contrast, virtue-based ethics allows all people to make decisions based on the setting of their dilemma. For instance, at a personal level, it is acceptable to lie about one’s name if a gunman shoots people whose names start with a “B” and I happen to be “Ben”. Such an illustration does not just give the benefits of a virtue-based analysis to a dilemma but also shows the faults of rule-based reasoning. By extension, Immanuel Kant’s deontological theory would rebuke the lies because of the categorical imperative rules that prohibit all forms of dishonesty. As a result, virtue ethics gives room for common sense when handling situations and blatantly surpasses the philosophy of laws that prohibit lying even when lives are in danger.
About the rights of women, arguing that they are at liberty to do with their bodies as they see fit, makes all laws against abortions unjust and irrelevant. Concurrently, the laws merely prevent women from terminating pregnancies but do not necessarily mention anything about the morality of abortion. Consequently, if a woman decides to abort, people can view her actions as vicious because although she is practicing her law given liberty, she is immoral in the eyes of society. One way a person can further understand Hursthouse’s ideologies is to consider property rights and the independence a person has in handling their wealth. As per the law, citizens are free to distribute their money as they see fit but only if they do not cause harm, and they pay taxes. For that reason, if a rich man decides to open a hotel for dogs and cats while he refuses to provide shelter for the homeless people in his community, the law enforcers will not interfere. However, it makes more sense and will be ethically acceptable if a human considers another person before he or she looks at an animal. Hence, communities will frown upon a person for building big houses and hiring staff to look after many animals but will praise and award the one who feeds a single human being. Regardless, Hursthouse goes on to state “an action is right if it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically (i.e. acting in character) do in the circumstances” (646). The man might build the house for animals because he saw an injured dog, a picture that forced his actions. That event encouraged building homes for dogs, making it a moral act based on that setting. If a person encounters a malnourished dog and kicks it but in the next street finds a man moaning in pain and helps him, how can he be just? He overlooks the context in the first scene then switches his attitude in the next. That in Hursthouse’s views does not qualify as a moral act.
Next, there is the question of the status of the fetus, which happens to be beyond the theory of virtue ethics. Evidently, nobody knows how fetuses feel because there is no person alive who can remember their first years of life let alone the months inside the womb. Concurrently, as per the rules of virtue-based morality, one does not need to have information about the status of the fetus in making a virtuous decision. In other words, different reasons should influence a woman’s decision to abort. In concurrence, Hursthouse states that “the biological facts” pertaining to childbearing are more relevant to the argument. For example, sexual intercourse leads to conception after which a woman carries a pregnancy for nine months before undergoing a painful natural childbirth. Such facts have a scientific background and mothers verify them because they remember their pregnancies and personal experiences. Nevertheless, nobody can argue from the angle of the condition of a fetus as a persuasion for the mother to keep her child. In fact, the mother can refuse ideas of her keeping the child by pointing out her status and resources. Expectedly, in case the baby will be a liability, and maybe hinder the health of the mother, then it is morally right to abort. For those reasons, people against abortion need a new form of argument because going beyond what they can prove to argue against the action does not necessarily make it immoral. Hursthouse’s statement that “virtue is a character trait a human being needs for eudaimonia, to flourish or live well” corresponds with the mentioned views (647). Having too many children that stretch the family budget and force the woman into an unhappy life does not agree with the depiction of flourishing. In addition, when a person argues for the status of the fetus, they are pleading for the unborn child's life but cannot guarantee that the child will live well making their points baseless.
Hursthouse uses abortion to explain her understanding of “Normative Virtue Ethics” and repeatedly states that her views should in no way be an indication of her stand on the debate. However, seeing as virtue-based ethics gives room for common sense and encourages the use of reason based on the context of a situation, abortion may very well be legal. Maybe the safest way to decide the morality of abortion is with the use of religious teachings, such as Islam that prohibits abortion but allows the act if the life of the mother is in danger. If people recognize that, there will be universal rules and morals to judge abortion cases, and because it comes from religion societies will readily accept the rules. Nonetheless, every life is precious and even atheists will not be alive if their mothers had abortions.
Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Normative Virtue Ethics." Ethical Theory An Anthology. Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau. 2nd. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013. 645-652. Print.
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