Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions, Virtue Ethics

Up until now, we have been concentrating on actions. What is the right thing to do? Consequentialists say the right thing to do is that which produces the best consequences. Deontologists say the right thing to do is that which fulfills our moral obligations. However, many ethicists believe that we are asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking is, “What kind of person do I want to be?” Rather than concentrating on the right thing to do, we should be concentrating on becoming virtuous people. Virtuous people are those who have developed moral characteristics as part of the fabric of their being and therefore consistently live morally upright lives. In our final lesson in this unit, we will explore the tradition of virtue ethics.




Read Chapter 14 of Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions, “Virtue Ethics” and Chapter 13 (just the section “Our Telos: The Highest Good”). As you read, make sure you understand and can explain the following points and questions:


  • List and explain Alasdair MacIntyre’s three objections to the 19th (and 20th) century conception of “moral science” (From Chapter 13).

·         Explain Aristotle’s concept of relating the moral life to a goal (telos) and how it relates to Christianity (this is important to understanding the basis for virtue ethics).

·         Explain how virtue ethics allows a place for motives and intentions to play a part in morality that deontology may ignore.

·         How are virtues acquired, and how do they affect our moral decision making and behavior?

·         How do virtues relate to God?

·         How does Holmes answer the question of the relativity or diversity of different virtues within different communities or traditions?

·         Explain Aristotle’s concept of virtue as a means between excess and deficiency.

·         How does Aristotle view character development?

·         Contrast the 2 views of character development that arose in the 19th century: rational vs. passions and desire. Why does Holmes favor the latter?

·         What is the main problem with Freud’s deterministic view of character development?

·         What does Aquinas say we need along with habituation of the virtues?

·         Explain Stanley Hauerwas’ emphasis on the need for community in character development.




Make sure you fully understand the following terms and concepts:


·         Telos (See page 128)

·         Eudiamonia (See page 128)

·         Virtue

·         Plato’s 4 Cardinal Virtues

·         Aquinas 3 Theological Virtues

·         Vice


Study Guide: Lesson 22


Lesson Overview:


In this lesson, we explore the major ethical theories. The first of these is consequentialism. Consequentialism is the view that says the right thing to do is that which produces the best consequences. According to this view, ethics is about achieving good results and therefore an action is judged by the results it produces. For example, lying is wrong if it produces bad results, but is right if it produces good results. We will examine 2 consequentialistic theories in the chapter. The first, egoism, says an action is right if it produces the best consequences for me. The second, utilitarianism, says an action is right if produces the best consequences for all concerned.




Read Chapters 4 and 5 of Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions, “Ethical Egoism” and “Utilitarianism.” As you do, consider the following questions and points:


·         List some modern examples of egoism.

·         Explain the leap from psychological fact to ethical ought in psychological egoism.

·         Problems with psychological egoism.

·         Butler’s argument against psychological egoism.

·         Contrast the hedonic paradox with true self-love.

·         Know the distinction between psychological egoism and ethical egoism.

·         Explain Holmes’s argument for why egoism cannot succeed as a viable ethical theory: Why does individual egoism reduce to universal egoism? Why would universal egoism collapse into anarchy?

·         Explain Holmes’s 4 conclusions concerning ethical egoism.

·         List 2 reasons utilitarianism is probably the most popular ethical theory.

·         Explain Holmes’s non-consequential argument against utilitarianism.

·         Know the distinction between Bentham and Mill.

·         What are the problems with quantifying pleasure?

·         Explain the “simplified” problem of distributive justice.

·         Explain the inherent conflict between utilitarian distributive justice and equal rights.

·         What does the empiricism that supports utilitarianism end up saying about the value of persons?

·         How does the concept of moral integrity criticize utilitarianism?

·         Contrast hypothetical and categorical imperatives.




Make sure you fully understand the following terms and concepts:


·         Egoism

·         Hedonistic Egoism

·         Psychological Egoism

·         Hedonic Paradox

·         Ethical Egoism

·         Individual Egoism

·         Universal Egoism

·         Utilitarianism

·         Hedonic Calculus

·         Distributive Justice

·         Moral Integrity

·         Hypothetical Imperative

·         Categorical Imperative


Study Guide: Lesson 23

Deontology and Christian Ethics

Lesson Overview:


In our last lesson, we explored 2 ethical theories based on consequences. These theories hold that the morally right thing to do is that which produces the best consequences. In this lesson, we will explore ethical theories that are non-consequentialistic. These are called deontological theories, and they hold that the right thing to do is not based on consequences but on obligations. Deontological theories hold that we have a moral obligation to perform certain actions whether or not they produce good consequences. For Christians, these obligations are grounded in our commitment to God. We will read 3 chapters from Holmes for this lesson. In Chapter 6, Holmes sets up a structure from which to approach a Christian ethic and will introduce the 2 overriding principles that must guide our thinking about moral obligations. In Chapter 7, we will explore the different ways we can learn about our moral obligations. Finally, in Chapter 8 we will examine exactly how our obligations are grounded in our relation to God.




View and take notes on the video, “A Comparison of Consequentialism and Deontology.” While it is brief and aims mainly to orient you to the readings, try to catch these points in the video:


·         the areas of contrast between consequential ethics and deontological ethics

·         how the terms “right” and “good” may be used differently in consequentialism and deontological ethics

·         how “rules” figure into both of these types of ethics


Read Chapters 6 and 7 of Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions: “Toward a Christian Ethic,” and “Moral Knowledge.” As you read, make sure to know and understand the following questions and points:


From Chapter 6:


·         What is the most important good for Christians?

·         What 2 major principles should guide all Christian ethics?

·         Why does Holmes believe Christian utilitarianism fails?

·         List the 4 ingredients to Holmes’ structure for a Christian ethic.

·         List some characteristics of moral principles in general.

·         How do love and justice relate to and balance each other?

·         Know the distinction between an act-ethic and a rule-ethic and why the latter is superior.

·         Why is a rule-ethic not legalism?

·         What are 2 ways deontologists normally deal with moral dilemmas?


From Chapter 7:


·         Know the problems with appealing to common morality, conscience, and intuition as sources for moral obligations.

·         Explain Kant’s form of deontology (duty for duty’s sake). What are some problems with applying the categorical imperative?

·         What are some reasons Holmes offers in support of deriving our moral obligations from Natural Law? What are some biblical reasons that support it?

·         Know the distinction between what is essential to human nature and what is culturally or historically relative.

·         Know and be able to explain the 3 aspects of Holmes’ moral reasoning for Christians.




Make sure you fully understand the following terms and concepts:


·         Intrinsic/Extrinsic Value

·         Love

·         Justice

·         Moral Cases

·         Area Rules

·         Moral Principles

·         Basis for Morality

·         Rule-ethic

·         Act-ethic

·         Moral Dilemma

·         Common Morality

·         Conscience

·         Intuitionism

·         Categorical Imperative

·         Natural Law

·         Pragmatic

·         Principlistic

·         Extrinsic Value

·         Intrinsic Value

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