Moral reasoning

In the modern world, many philosophers have argued that morality is a matter of feelings, not reason.  Although Aristotle recognizes the connative (or emotional) side of morality, he takes a decidedly different tack.  As a virtue ethicist, he does not focus on moral law but views morality through the lens of character. 

An ethical person develops a capacity for habitual decision-making that aims at good, reliable traits such as honesty, generosity, high-mindedness, and courage.  To modern ears, this may not sound like reason-at-work, but Aristotle argues that only human beings—that is, rational animals—are able to tell the difference between right and wrong.  He widens his account of rationality to include a notion of practical wisdom, which he defines as “a true and reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for man.” 

The operation of practical wisdom, which is more about doing than thinking, displays an inductive-deductive pattern similar to science which depends crucially on intuition.  One thinks of specific virtues and then deduces how to apply these ideas to particular circumstances.

virtue ethics

Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences. These traits derive from natural internal tendencies, but need to be nurtured; however, once established, they will become stable. For example, a virtuous person is someone who is kind across many situations over a lifetime because that is their character and not because they want to gain favors or simply do their duty. Virtue ethics do not aim primarily to identify universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. Instead, virtue ethics theories deal with wider questions—“How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”