Virtue Ethics and Deontic Constraints
Ethics. July 2009 Volume 119, Number 4
By Mark LeBar
"There seems to be an important difference between accounting for the wrongness of a wrong action in terms of its effects on the victim and in terms of its effects on the perpetrator. Some see this difference as the basis for an objection to virtue‐ethical theories, which focus (so the objection runs) on the agent and the agent’s character rather than on the effects of the agent’s actions.1 Such theories must, it appears, account for the wrongness of a wrong action in terms of a lack of virtue (or the presence of vice) in the agent and not in terms of the effects of the action on its victim. But this is quite implausible for egregious forms of wrongdoing. Surely an account of the wrongness of, for example, murder must give central place to the effect on the victim—namely, that he has been wrongly killed. But even if virtue‐ethical theories correctly identify such actions as wrong, they would seem to locate that wrongness in the states of agents that eventuate in the actions in question. Virtue‐ethical theories (so the objection runs) do not accord the proper regard to victims of wrong action and thus fail to properly account for an important class of moral wrong.
In this essay I mount a response to this objection (which I hereafter refer to as “The Objection”). I argue that at least one form of virtue‐ethical theory—the form grounded, as the ancient Greek virtue‐ethical theories were, in the agent’s happiness, or eudaimonia—can maintain that virtue requires that we regard others in just the ways The Objection suggests we should. The argument draws on recent work by Stephen Darwall on the “second‐person standpoint,” in which we see others as sources of claims on us—as sources of what I will refer to as “deontic constraints.” Eudaimonist virtue‐ethical theories can maintain that we have reason to occupy that standpoint, and since that standpoint takes the standing of others to be the grounds of our regard for them as (potential) victims, eudaimonist virtue‐ethical theories can hold that we must have just the attitudes toward them that, intuitively, we think we should. Virtuous agents should and will have reasons to respect deontic constraints."
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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2009