In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Virtue Ethics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classical Sources
  • Sources Critical of Impartialist Approaches to Ethics
  • Particular Virtues and Vices
  • The Impact of Luck or Fortune on Virtue
  • Unity of the Virtues
  • Applied Virtue Ethics

Philosophy Virtue Ethics
Julia Driver
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0030


Virtue ethics is a type of normative ethical theory that regards virtue evaluation as the primary form of evaluation, in contrast to theories that focus on “right” action. Some writers fold theories about virtue into virtue ethics, though the two are distinct. A Utilitarian, for example, can provide an account of virtue that is based on or compatible with her theory, without being committed to virtue ethics. Again, virtue ethics treats virtue evaluation as primary. There has been much recent interest generated in virtue ethics. Often writers have been inspired by Aristotle’s ethics, though some have developed broadly Humean accounts of virtue ethics, and others, pluralistic accounts that borrow from a variety of traditions. At the beginning of this new wave of interest in virtue, the project was primarily negative, focusing on problems with other theories, particularly Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. The following resources are resources that include articles on virtue itself, as well as articles that explicitly develop, defend, or criticize virtue ethics.

General Overviews

The following works provide very helpful overviews of virtue ethics. They lay out the different motivations for developing a normative ethics based primarily on virtue evaluation and then set out various positive accounts. Copp and Sobel 2004 focuses on an overview of the literature, Hursthouse 2003 on what the general virtue ethical approach to moral evaluation is committed to, and Oakley 1996, to the different forms a virtue ethics might take.

  • Copp, David, and David Sobel. “Morality and Virtue: An Assessment of Some Recent Work in Virtue Ethics.” Ethics 114 (2004): 514–554.

    DOI: 10.1086/382058

    Copp and Sobel provide a detailed overview of the state of virtue ethics literature.

  • Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2003.

    This is a well-written and comprehensive overview of virtue ethics. Hursthouse does an excellent job of going over the different alternatives for developing virtue ethical approaches to moral evaluation. She also discusses challenges to the approach.

  • Oakley, Justin. “Varieties of Virtue Ethics.” Ratio 9.2 (1996): 128–152.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9329.1996.tb00101.x

    This essay explores the different ways, in principle, one could develop a virtue ethics. This topic was of considerable debate, since it had not been clear in the literature what made a virtue ethics distinctive.

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