Environmental virtue ethics: What it is and what it needs to be

Matt Zwolinski, David Schmidtz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

14 Scopus citations


Act and character, principle, and rule. If we ask what makes an action right, one plausible answer is that the right action is the one that does as much good as possible. Roughly speaking, this is the theory known as consequentialism. The theory is most often associated with John Stuart Mill, and it is one of the simplest theories we have. An alternative theory: What makes an act right is not whether it promotes what is good so much as whether it respects what is good. Associated most often with Immanuel Kant, this theory is known as deontology and says, more specifically, that the only thing that is an unqualified good in itself is the good will of an autonomous person and therefore, an action is right if, but only if, it expresses respect for all persons as ends in themselves and therefore treats no person merely as a means to further ends. Yet another alternative, virtue ethics, is so different it might be best to see it not as an alternative answer to the same question but as responding to a different question altogether. Often associated with Aristotle, but with roots in various traditions as discussed in this volume, virtue ethics tells us that what is right is to be a certain kind of person, a person of virtue: courageous, modest, honest, evenhanded, industrious, wise. A virtuous person will, of course, express his or her virtue through action. But, for virtue ethics, the specification of rules of right action is largely a secondary matter - one that in many ways presupposes the kind of practical wisdom possessed by the person of virtue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to
Subtitle of host publicationVirtue Ethics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511734786
ISBN (Print)9781107001169
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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