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He claims that benevolence as a moral ideal can provide the foundation for an understanding of virtues that is distinctively non-Aristotelian which also avoids the utilitarian focus on consequences Slote , p. This position includes the idea that virtue ethics primary content is how our motivation for actions relate to excellence Slote , p. Cases such as the Good Samaritan show what ethical excellence mean by being paradigm and praiseworthy examples of benevolence Slote , p.

10. Virtue and Habit II

A reoccurring idea in the history of virtue ethical thinking is that human beings are not morally static creatures but can develop their moral virtues. Aristotle stressed the importance of proper moral teaching Aristotle , b20—a Hume claimed that the natural virtue of fellow feeling can be strengthened with education Hume , —4. MacIntyre too identifies the importance of learning the internal rules of excellence in a tradition MacIntyre , p.


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The idea of moral development has an important implication. We cannot be content with the current state of our moral capacity. We might be brave, just and humane but we have not achieved the final stage of these virtues. There is always room for improvement. Aristotle, Hume, MacIntyre and Slote all stress that it is only by learning from those who achieved a higher stage of virtue that we can become better persons.

Turning to the connection between virtues and disasters, we can note that disasters, in the sense of unforeseen radical events with significant negative impacts on many people, are linked to the idea of virtues in two ways. First, what is a morally excellent response to those disasters we ourselves might face? Second, what is a morally excellent response to disasters that others face?


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The main discussion partners will be classical virtue ethical thinkers. I will return to contemporaries in the section on the current state of virtue ethical research and disasters. Human life always has been, and still is, weak and vulnerable, it is to be expected that we can suffer in this life. Most humans have not had the tools or knowledge to do much about this vulnerability. Thus, suffering was simply considered to be a part of life. The primary philosophical question was not how to avoid suffering but how to relate to it.

Should a proper response to this human condition be defeatism, fatalism and horror or self-control and gratitude for the fleeing moments we have? Resilience is one term that describes the later kind of response. Excellence in responding to disasters can be described as possessing the virtue of resilience. Aurelius , The right response to disasters can also be discussed from the perspective of Aristotle.

He wrote about disasters in his reasoning about bravery. He notes that a brave person governed by practical reason would not be broken down by the events nor would he or she simply shrug it off. Instead, the virtuous person would acknowledge the horrors of the disaster but would not dwell upon it forever Aristotle , a5—b6. Hume also identifies the moral importance of perseverance and associated virtues such as resilience.

He claims that there are four distinct categories of personal character qualities. There are those qualities that are agreeable for ourselves, those that are useful for ourselves, those that are agreeable to others and those that are useful for others. Perseverance and resilience then is something that humans in general approve of as a character quality that is obviously useful for ourselves and therefore a virtue Hume , One can also argue that individuals with these qualities are useful for society as a whole since they can help rebuild the community after disaster has struck.

However, for Hume this quality would fall under the more general virtue of humanity, which itself is useful to society. The other dimension of the human response to disasters that connects with virtue ethics is how to respond to the suffering of others. The primary focus for this response is helping other human beings in need, and doing good for fellow men. This disposition for doing good is referred to with many different terms such as beneficence, benevolence and fellow feeling.

Humanity is part of doing good in general with the specific emphasis on helping those in need. The idea that a good person will assist others is fundamental for all classical thinkers on virtue. For example, both Aristotle and Aurelius claimed that helping others was the key to the good life.

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Aurelius , 6: That a virtuous person practices goodness towards his or her friends is not controversial. Humanity as a specific virtue, though, is not restricted to friendship but extends care to a much larger group, which in its most abstract form includes the whole of humanity. What nation does not despise, does not hate the haughty, the nefarious, the cruel, the ungrateful? Since from these things it may be understood that the whole race of human beings has been united among themselves, the final result is that knowledge of living correctly makes persons better.

Cicero , , p. Hume , Since such different thinkers as Aristotle, Cicero and Hume, who all lived in different times and different cultures, have found grounds to claim that humanity is a good character trait we have reasons to believe that this is an important part of a good human life. A quick survey of the general research field of virtue ethics shows that the number of texts that explicitly discuss virtues and disasters are limited.

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But one can identify three specific research themes. The first theme involves general writings on the connection between virtue ethics and disasters. The second theme concerns the professional virtues of humanitarian workers, and the third theme concerns the virtues of those suffering a disaster. There are several examples of research that includes a general analysis of the relation between virtues and disasters.

Slote argues for a virtue ethics based on Hume and Hutcheson as a response to the ethical challenges expressed by Peter Singer. Singer claims that the suffering of those with lesser means requires a significant transfer of resources of wealthy countries to poorer countries Singer As a response to Singer, Slote points to the human feeling for empathy with other human beings. Empathy is directed to specific persons and cannot be understood as having humanity at large as its object.

Virtue ethics

Instead, Slote claims that empathy is directed towards those we have a relation with, and this reduces the moral demand of helping all. A person who extends his or her empathy to include distant others simply extends this virtue more than is possible for most persons. Slote also argues that our empathy can be trained to include more and more people and that we have moral reasons to conduct such training Slote , p.

Naomi Zack discusses virtue ethics in relation to disasters and makes a detailed comparison between different ways of relating to disasters. She contrasts the character traits of such fictional reckless heroes such as Achilles and the modern day agent Mitch Rapp with the bonds between the boy and father in the novel The Road and the real life description of Ernest Shackleton in his failed expedition to Antarctica. Zack argues that it is not the traditional heroic virtues such as fast thinking and bravery that are needed in facing disasters.

Instead it is the virtues of integrity and diligence that makes it possible to rise to the occasion Zack , p. One of the chief points of integrity as a virtue involves staying away from the slippery slope of justifying extreme actions because they are unique Zack , 60f. Zack notices how Shackleton rose to the occasion as a leader. When he and his crew got stranded in Antarctica, he took the lead in a situation of extreme hardship and became an example of a moral role model.

Shackleton showed integrity in all small details ranging from food distribution to caring of the sick. Moreover, Zack also notices that Shackleton as an explorer went searching for challenges, which is an important difference compared to the life of many contemporaries. This raises the wider issue of how virtues and disasters should be interpreted from a political and institutional perspective Zack , pp. Sara Kathleen Geale provides an example of a more applied approach to virtues and disasters She argues that disaster management includes a wide variety of virtues such as prudence, courage and resilience.

She also notices that it is difficult to formulate a finished list of virtues and that disaster response is an ongoing work process Geale , p. This implies that new situations could accentuate other character traits of those who respond. Another issue she analyses is the virtue of justice and how a disaster can raise the need for applying a triage in resource allocation. This can be considered problematic for those who believe medical care is a right and will require that all people receive fair treatment.

It is part of a virtuous response to balance these demands Geale , p. Numerous authors have studied professional virtues. For example, the specific virtues associated with physicians has been analysed by Oakley and Cocking and the virtues of nurses and social workers by Banks and Gallagher Others have focused on the virtues of disaster relief workers, humanitarian workers, and how they need to be prepared to act in relation to moral dilemmas where every alternative action might include harming some persons or values. Perhaps the most prolific current writer on humanitarian ethics is Hugo Slim , Slim provides a broad discussion about the moral challenges for relief professionals and the ethical resources available to meet these challenges.

He argues explicitly that virtue ethics provides the most integrated account of morality since it gives due weight to both reason and emotions. Moreover, Slim notes that ethical principles are just one limited part of ethics. An appropriate ethical response will often require good personal character traits, which can only be developed by experience Slim , pp. Slim also provide a list of possible professional virtues for a humanitarian worker. The professional virtues should be complemented with everyday virtues such as courage and practical wisdom Slim , pp.

Slim also makes a compelling case for the importance of role models. Role models can be found in both international and local relief organizations and Slim argues for a larger role of non-western role models Slim , p. For Aristotle, it was clear that a person could excel in technical skills such as shoemaking but fail to excel in goodness, in virtue. Similarly, must one be morally good to excel in disaster relief? The answer is not obvious since we can think of professions such as engineering and surgery where the professional virtues are distinct from the personal moral virtues.

One can argue that there are internal goods in humanitarian work that can only be obtained by practicing certain moral virtues. Thus, in order for a relief worker to be good, he or she must show proper attitudes and actions, including humanity, towards people in need. Other researchers have also noted the possible implications of a virtue perspective for professional humanitarian workers.

Matthew Hunt analyses the different medical ethical frameworks that can help relief workers in morally challenging situations. Besides medical ethical codes, he too supports the importance of good role models but he does not provide a longer elaboration of what this means from a virtue perspective. Eva Wortel makes a detailed analysis of different humanitarian principles such as humanity and impartiality and argues that these principles can be understood also as values and virtues.

Wortel refers to Aristotle, Jean Pictet, and Thomas Aquinas, and defends the idea that humanity includes an emotional motivation to help those in need, which requires experience and practical wisdom. Trying to reduce both humanity and other ethical principles into a doctrine would then be a misinterpretation of their ethical meaning Wortel , p. Some of the findings are the need to retain experienced staff as role models, initiating training programs that support development of virtues and the need for an open discourse about the final aims of relief work professions.

A third research theme that concerns the relation between virtues and disasters is the resilience discourse. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from a disaster, involves a broad discourse including sociological, economic and ecological dimensions. Resilience as an ethical virtue focuses on what character traits is required to face, manage and overcome the shock, fear and effects of a disaster. Gritti , p. First, resilience is the ability to cope in adverse conditions; it endures, minimizes, or overcomes hardship. Third, resilience creatively constructs and adapts after adversity; it implies recovering with maturity, confidence, and wisdom to lead a meaningful and productive life.

Titus , p. Teaching resilience. Conceiving resilience as a virtue is fruitful since it stresses human capacity for personal development. Instead of looking at resilience as a personal quality that is static and stable, one can see it as dynamic. Resilience training is obviously relevant for all those who face unsecure living conditions including both natural and manmade disasters. But when one looks at historical thinkers such as Aristotle and Hume it is clear that they do not believe that resilience is just a virtue for those who regularly face disasters.

Instead resilience is part of a good human life in general since the lack of this virtue will have negative effects and make it more difficult for us to lead our life. Aurelius is one interesting example of a person who despite secure living conditions saw the benefits of learning to face adversity.

Further research can provide greater insights into how the virtue of resilience can be taught as well as its relationship to other virtues such as bravery. Ethical excellence in professional ethics for relief workers. It is a challenge for the humanitarian profession to move beyond lists of ethical principles and systematically consider how such lists should function in the strive towards ethical excellence.

The obvious benefit with the quasi-legalistic framework is that it can be adapted to project evaluations and the interests of different donor institutions. This can help donors, organizations and beneficiaries to accomplish more ethical relief operations and avoid doing harm to people in need. Viewed as a minimum standard the principles are fruitful but we must be aware of their limitations. Virtuous behaviour is about moral excellence, and meeting minimum standards simply fails to achieve this goal.

In the virtue ethical tradition, an individual is understood as a person in the process of becoming morally better. The risk with minimum standards is that one can believe that the quest for moral improvement can be relaxed when one has achieved this standard. One can see this in the case of how humanitarian workers relate the idea of accountability to recipients.

From the perspective of minimum standards this might be adequate, but the virtue of humanity might demand a constant striving to find better ways to show accountability to those in need. From this background, the humanitarian discourse would benefit from an ongoing explicit discussion of what excellence means.

One can, for example, ask in what way partnerships with local humanitarian actors mean only that they should accept the priorities of the international organizations and their donors? Or does it mean that the international organizations accept revisions and even total reorientations based on the concerns of the local organization?

The search for ethical excellence can have deep effects on the power between local and international humanitarian actors, which needs to be explored further. From this short descriptive investigation it is clear that virtue ethics is an untapped philosophical resource for the analysis of human responses to disasters. A virtue ethical perspective can identify several promising paths for future research. Resilience is of general importance for a good life since every person would benefit in being able to come back to everyday life after an extreme experience.

It is also clear that virtue perspective provides a more stringent moral ideal than traditional professional ethical codes. Virtues are not about meeting minimum standards but about actively pursuing excellence in moral matters. There is no room for complacency in such an ideal.

Ethical standards will therefore need to be understood as pedagogical tools in the pursuit of excellence or to be set so high that they are seldom or ever achieved. The ancient and contemporary thinkers who analyse virtues does not believe that such moral excellence is beyond human ability.

Virtue Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

However, they do acknowledge that morality make strong demands on us and a general benefit of virtue ethics is to make this demand explicit. This distinction between two types of virtues is methodological and not ontological. One can follow Aristotle and argue that a person who possess the virtue of practical reason also possess all other virtues Aristotle , a0—5.

Fortitude is an alternative term. The term resilience is more inclusive since it can include both how a person withstands difficulties and how he or she recovers from them. Both groups and individuals can be resilient. However, since virtues are individual traits, I will focus on how a person relate to extreme circumstances such as disasters. The images or other third party material in this book are included in the book's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material.

If material is not included in the book's Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Open Access. First Online: 17 October Download chapter PDF. A modern day virtue ethicist in the Aristotelian tradition, Alistair MacIntyre b.

The modern philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre proposed three questions as being at the heart of moral thinking:. Most virtue theorists say that there is a common set of virtues that all human beings would benefit from, rather than different sets for different sorts of people, and that these virtues are natural to mature human beings - even if they are hard to acquire. This poses a problem, since lists of virtues from different times in history and different societies show significant differences.

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Virtue ethics Character-based ethics A right act is the action a virtuous person would do in the same circumstances. A good person is someone who lives virtuously - who possesses and lives the virtues.