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Character-Based Ethics

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Character-based ethics are also referred to as "virtue ethics." The focus of virtue ethics is the determination of what makes a person, or character, good rather than what makes an action good. Virtue ethics argue that a good person consistently performs good actions.


Aristotle, circa 325 B.C., began formulating the idea of virtue ethics. He saw virtue as a state of being or character, which includes elements such as courage, generosity, self-control and truthfulness. Although the philosophers during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance began to question the quality of actions, rather than the person, modern philosophers have returned to the focus on a person's character.


Ethics are a set of actions common to an individual or group. A working definition of "virtue," according to "The Elements of Moral Philosophy," is a trait of character, manifested in habitual action, that is good for everyone to have. In other words, although a person may be born with virtues or good qualities, virtues must be developed in a person. Therefore, people develop appropriate behaviors to their life setting and this behavior becomes a matter of habit.


Virtue ethics seek the greatest benefits from actions and decisions. Therefore, virtue ethics define and determine the proper, or most morally desirable, goal of procedures or actions undertaken for those with whom one is associated.

  • "The Elements of Moral Philosophy"; Stuart Rachels; 2010