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virtue ethics, or ethical consequentialism

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Matthew J
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In my ethics course at my university, Ayn Rand and Objectivism are listed under Ethical consquentialism with the rest of the so called "ethical egoism". i rather thought that (after reading OPAR) O'ism was an instance of Virtue ethics.

does anyone have any evidence for either case?

Thank you

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Here is a definition from Wikipedia that is consistent with what I know (and I've studied them both breifly). This quote explains both systems. I included the last sentence because Rand's admiration for Aristotle is potentially significant in talking about her ethics, although of course she did differ with him on many points.

Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism). The origins of this theory date at least back to Plato and Aristotle (it, arguably, has roots in Chinese philosophy that are even more ancient).
So, to sum up, virtue ethics advocates living virtuously, while consequentialism advocates making choises that produce the best outcome. Utilitarians are consequentialists, but I'd say rational egoists are as well. The basis of Rand's ethics is that it's in one's self-interest to act morally, because it has the best consequences.

So it should be clear why someone would advocate consequentialism, as Rand did, to those of us on this forum. But why did Aristotle advocate virtue ethics? From Wikipedia and also consistent with what I know:

To achieve eudaimonia (happiness) one must live by what can be considered virtues such as justice, wisdom, courage, prudence and so forth. A virtue ethicist would argue that this is what all humans would rationally choose to live by. To help us achieve eudaimonia we must practice to be virtuous.

Notice the part in bold. If we assume what Aristotle meant was A virtue ethicist would argue that this is what all humans would rationally choose to live by because it produces the best outcome for the human, his ethics would be both in line with consequentialism, and in line with Rand.

I like use this analogy: "virtue ethics" is to "rational ethics" as "sense of life" is to "rational integration of the world." Virtue ethics is a shortcut to help people apply ethical principles - for example, to act justly, wisely, etc. - without having to go through detailed ethical arguments as Rand presents in her books every time they want to make a good decision.

Note: The Wikipedia quotes are, as far as I know, objectively true. But my argument that virtue ethics can be considered a subset of consequentialism, and my analogy relating virtue ethics to rational ethics as advocated by Rand, are my own arguments. As a footnote, I think virtue ethics could also be considered a subset of deontology, depending on how you back up your argument for virtue ethics.

Also, I realize Rand didn't advocate hedonism - that happiness was the highest goal - which is what Aristotle seemed to advocate, at least based on what I know (haven't read much original Aristotle). The commonality is that they both advocated, from what I know about Aristotle, practicing a system of ethics that produced the best result for the individual practitioner.

*Edited to add second footnote

Edited by BrassDragon
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Here is a definition from Wikipedia that is consistent with what I know
While we're on the topic, I'd like to first mention that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a superb source of information on philosophy, so if I wanted to find out something about a topic, I would look there. There is an article, written by Professor Rosalind Hursthouse of the University of Auckland, which starts... "Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism)."

I had the idea that the person who stole that essay and illegally posted it without attribution is a living repudiation of virtue ethics. But I suppose that is being a bit harsh. Still, I recommend the Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia.

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My first off the cuff response is that "Life as the standard of value" sort of synthesizes virtue ethics and consequentialism.

I haven't started Tara Smith's two books, but a quick scan of the index shows that virtue ethics appears multiple times as does Utilitarianism. I would think that she at least provides some clues.

Life as the standard of values is metaethics, i.e. defining where ethics derives its basis, and it would seem that the answer would be determined here.

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Well... there are virtues: rationality, productivity etc, but they are not valuable in themselves, they are valuable for the consequence to your life. So I guess it would have to be consequentialist. (?)
It might seem. Actually, this is why I think these "which kind of philosophy" taxonomy questions are so totally bogus. Bentham and the rest of the pragmatists / utilitarianists are consequentialists. Consequentialism holds that all that matters is the bottom line, so it's the consequentialists who actually advocate the "prudent predator" strategy. In practice, consequentialists refer judgment to the notion "greatest common good" or "the end justifies the means", and in fact "consequentialism" is a postmodern lit-crit way of coping with views stemming from Mill and Bentham. Clearly Objectivist ethics has nothing worth mentioning in common with pragmatism.

Consequentialism basically says that you should act only with concern for consequences, so murder is bad only if if has bad consequences.

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  • 2 years later...

I think that Objectivism is a kind of consequentialism, and as Kendall stated, it is mixed in with virtue ethics. Rand was clearly opposed to the idea of morality separated from reality; doing things when you know it isn't going to benefit anything.

It is also clear that she believed in moral principles, and I think Peikoff's "Why One Should Act On Principle" is a good demonstration of a synthesis of these things.

While I believe Objectivism once again doesn't fit into a philosophy branch dichotomy, I don't think it's completely unfair to call Objectivism consequentialist, with caveat.

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I couldn't object more strongly to a consequentialist characterization of Oism. Consequentialism is completely incompatible with acting on principle. It is the ultimate pragmatist, fragmented nonsense moral philosophy and, ironically, where it falls down is in its decision procedure, which is impossible, because of the magnititude of the calculations required with basically some form of precognition mixed in, differing for EVERY INDIVIDUAL CASE. Consequentialism is about producing the "best outcome" in any given instance (usually evading the question of what that even means). Objectivist ethics is about rationally identifying principles to live by and hence creating a morality that is actually useful and beneficial to human life.

As for virtue ethics, I think of it more as a (generally good) moral methodology than an ethical theory in itself, as it is usually agnostic as to how we decide what the virtues ARE (Aristotle, for example, gave no further justification for his choices of what is a virtue...it is somewhat of a grab bag). In Nichomachean Ethics there is an entire chapter dedicated to how not to be incontinent. I always got a kick out of that one. Maybe it's translated differently in other volumes.

In summary, to call Oism a form of consequentialism is to allow established philosophy to lump rational egoism in with other, immoral and expedient forms of ethical egoism, which is a bad path to go down. Remember that they still generally think of egoism as being about pursuing whims at anyone's expense.

I think that Objectivism is a kind of consequentialism, and as Kendall stated, it is mixed in with virtue ethics. Rand was clearly opposed to the idea of morality separated from reality; doing things when you know it isn't going to benefit anything.

It is also clear that she believed in moral principles, and I think Peikoff's "Why One Should Act On Principle" is a good demonstration of a synthesis of these things.

While I believe Objectivism once again doesn't fit into a philosophy branch dichotomy, I don't think it's completely unfair to call Objectivism consequentialist, with caveat.

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Objectivist ethics is about rationally identifying principles to live by and hence creating a morality that is actually useful and beneficial to human life.

I think the debate is pointless. Objectivsim is both and neither. The distinction is pointless because it carries with it the idealism/practicality dichotomy as a premise. The point Objectivism makes is that principles and consequences are related. One gets good consequences through living by principles (i.e. practicing virtue).

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I had the idea that the person who stole that essay and illegally posted it without attribution is a living repudiation of virtue ethics. But I suppose that is being a bit harsh. Still, I recommend the Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia.

I don't understand what you mean. As I understand it, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy articles are writen by the philosophers for the encyclopedia. So that one you referenced was written by Hursthouse specifically for the purpose of being published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Unless you mean something else was ripped off.

It might seem. Actually, this is why I think these "which kind of philosophy" taxonomy questions are so totally bogus. Bentham and the rest of the pragmatists / utilitarianists are consequentialists. Consequentialism holds that all that matters is the bottom line, so it's the consequentialists who actually advocate the "prudent predator" strategy. In practice, consequentialists refer judgment to the notion "greatest common good" or "the end justifies the means", and in fact "consequentialism" is a postmodern lit-crit way of coping with views stemming from Mill and Bentham. Clearly Objectivist ethics has nothing worth mentioning in common with pragmatism.

Consequentialism basically says that you should act only with concern for consequences, so murder is bad only if if has bad consequences.

True enough, except that I think today we're generally considering consequentialism simply not-deontology, and so Objectivism would fall very clearly into the realm of consequentialism.

To address the whole topic, Objectivism is both consequentialism (as it is not deontology--it is concerned with affecting reality, namely, for the betterment of the individual agent) and virtue ethics, and naturalism (because it arises from the nature of man--more specifically, his nature as an individual).

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