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Virtue Ethics


Virtue ethics focuses on moral character and virtues such as honesty, courage, and wisdom as the foundation for ethical behaviour rather than focusing on rules or consequences. 

Unlike other ethical theories, virtue ethics does not prescribe specific actions but encourages individuals to cultivate virtuous traits to guide their conduct.


Some essential virtues 

Virtues are often seen as interrelated and mutually reinforcing, and different philosophical traditions and philosophers like Aristotle may emphasize some virtues over others. Here are a few of the recurring virtues in moral theory: 


  1. Courage: The ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.

  2. Prudence: The capacity to make sound judgments and decisions based on practical wisdom, discernment, and understanding of ethical principles.

  3. Justice: The commitment to treating others with fairness, equity, and respect and to upholding principles of fairness and equality in social and moral matters.

  4. Honesty: The commitment to truthfulness, sincerity, and integrity in one's words, actions, and dealings with others.

  5. Integrity: The consistency between one's principles, values, and actions, and the commitment to moral uprightness, honesty, and ethical behaviour.

  6. Temperance: The practice of self-control and restraint, particularly in relation to desires and appetites, to achieve a balanced and harmonious life.

  7. Compassion: The ability to empathize with others, to show care and concern for their well-being, and to act with kindness and empathy.

  8. Humility: The recognition of one's limitations, the willingness to learn from others, and the avoidance of arrogance or excessive pride.

  9. Generosity: The willingness to give freely and selflessly to others, to be generous in spirit, and to act with kindness and compassion.


Let us take Nelson Mandela, the first president of South Africa and a renowned anti-apartheid activist, as a case study. 


In Nelson Mandela's life, his forgiveness of those who oppressed him, despite enduring 27 years of imprisonment under apartheid, embodies virtue ethics. Mandela forgave his captors upon his release, and this forgiveness wasn't a weakness but a display of moral courage. His leadership during South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy demonstrates how virtues guide actions, inspire others, and ultimately lead to positive societal impact.


Let us also look at the character of Nedumaaran Rajangam from the Tamil film ‘Soorarai Potru’ to understand how virtue ethics needn’t be compromised to bring about change. 


Despite facing numerous obstacles, Nedumaaran remains committed to his goal of making air travel accessible to all. His integrity is evident in his refusal to compromise his values, even when tempted by corruption. He also demonstrates compassion by prioritizing the well-being of his employees and passengers over personal gain. The film illustrates how virtue ethics can guide actions to achieve noble aspirations. 


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