Value Theory and Virtue Theory are concerned with how a moral person would live
Scholars of Value Theory and Virtue Theory believe that morality includes many grey areas
Virtue can be classified as intrinsic value and instrumental value
Understand the difference among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology
Suggested teaching period: 5 lessons Teacher shall first prepare:
Knowledge Content of the Subject (1): What are “Virtue Ethics, Value Theory and Virtue Theory”?
Knowledge Content of the Subject (2): Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology
Discussion log: Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology
Worksheet (1): Story -- Mr Ho’s Cornea
This chapter is the first part of “Virtue Ethics, Value Theory and Virtue Theory”. The teacher should first explain Knowledge Content of the Subject (1): What are “Virtue Ethics, Value Theory and Virtue Theory”?
The teacher may ask students to give the three definitions of Virtue Ethics, Value Theory and Virtue Theory and provide a summary:
Value Theory and Virtue Theory are concerned with how a moral person would live.
Scholars of Value Theory and Virtue Theory believe that morality includes many grey areas.
Virtue can be classified as intrinsic value and instrumental value.
The teacher may ask students to give definitions of “Utilitarianism” and “Deontology”, in order to introduce the second topic --- “Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology”.
The students are divided into groups of 4 or 5 and given approximately 5 minutes to discuss the differences among Virtue Ethics, Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology. The key points should be recorded in the discussion log.
After the discussion, each group is asked to choose a representative to report the group’s answers.
The teacher should summarise by explaining Knowledge Content of the Subject (2): Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology”.
The students are divided into groups of 4 or 5 to briefly discuss and complete Worksheet (1): Story: Mr. Ho’s Cornea.
After the discussion, each group is asked to choose a representative to report the group’s views.
The teacher may explain and distribute the answers.
Knowledge Content of the Subject (1)
What are “Virtue Ethics, Value Theory and Virtue Theory”?
“Value Ethics”, along with Utilitarianism and Deontology, is one of the major schools of thought in Ethics. The ancient Greek thoughts of Plato and Aristotle, as well as ancient Chinese Confucian thinking, can all be considered representative of Virtue Ethics. Virtue Ethics proposes two concepts: “Value” and “Virtue”.
What are “Value” and “Virtue”
“Value” starts from the individual, so that the individual is driven to take certain actions because he or she holds or agrees with certain values. For example, if a person believes in “respecting the elderly”, they will give their seat to an elderly on the bus.
“Virtue” means taking a certain person’s behaviour as an indicator of their character, such that we can suppose from their actions that they have certain virtues. For example, if a certain person often gives their seat to an elderly, we can suppose that they have the virtue of “respecting the elderly”.
In addition to proposing the concepts of “Value” and “Virtue”, Virtue Ethics also has the following key characteristics:
Individual actions Vs overall behaviour and the complete individual
“Virtue Ethics” does not decide based on individual actions whether an action is moral. Instead, it makes judgements regarding the person carrying out the action, and their motives, environment, personal relationship networks, identity and other factors, and then analyses the situation from the person’s own perspective, before finally deciding whether the action is moral. Virtue Ethics is concerned with how a moral person would live. How to make moral choices is a higher priority than seeking moral principles to judge between right and wrong.
The Analects: Zilu brings up the example of Confucius’ belief that if the father steals a sheep, the son should conceal his actions. Virtue Ethics would ask why the father stole the sheep, whether the father’s character was usually good, how kind the father had been to his son, how the father’s relationship with his son and family were, and why the son had informed on his father. Supposing the father was a caring and responsible man who loved his family, who had lost his job a year ago in unfortunate circumstances, and whose poverty now left his family cold and hungry to the point of starvation; he therefore went out and stole a sheep, hoping to feed and clothe his family. If the son informed on his father in such circumstances, proponents of Virtue Ethics would feel that the son was immoral.
Is there an inevitable answer to whether something is moral or immoral?
Proponents of Virtue Ethics believe that morality includes many grey areas, as when people of supposedly moral character make moral choices, they take different factors into account, making it difficult to find an unchanging principle. As described in the case of the son concealing the father’s theft of a sheep, many different factors must be considered to decide whether an action or a person is moral. For this reason, if different people do the same thing in the same circumstances, or the same person does something similar in different circumstances, there may be different answers to the question of whether the person or action is moral.
Knowledge Content of the Subject (2)
Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology
Differences among Virtue Ethics, Value Theory, Virtue Theory and Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism determines whether an action is moral based on the principle that a moral action “brings happiness for the majority”. However, Value Theory and Virtue Theory cannot judge right or wrong using any particular principle as a single standard.
Utilitarianism judges right and wrong based on the consequences of an action, ignoring motives, intentions and other factors, and is therefore also known as Consequentialism. Value Theory and Virtue Theory, however, stress the need to weigh all the relevant factors and judge from the individual’s position. To a certain degree, Value Theory and Virtue Theory reduce the importance of “consequences” in making moral judgments.
Utilitarianism appears to regard morality as an inhuman mathematical formula, concerned only with calculating the degree of benefit or harm of a result. By contrast, Value Theory and Virtue Theory always require people to put themselves in someone else’s place and take into account the overall situation, and are thus more consistent with human ways of moral thinking.
Differences among Virtue Ethics, Value Theory, Virtue Theory and Deontology
Deontology and the theories of Kant in particular, place special emphasis on the importance of responsibility and rationality. Kant believes that any rational action that stems from duty/responsibility is necessarily moral. Virtue Ethics, however, states that any action must be comprehensively analysed, and one cannot consider only a single factor.
According to Deontology, an action is either moral or immoral because it already has inherent moral factors, and therefore an action is moral because it is already moral in itself. Value Theory and Virtue Theory, however, acknowledge that there are many grey areas in the real world, and consider that the morality of an action may be different depending on the time, place, person, and so on.
Deontology emphasises universal values and equal treatment, while Value Theory and Virtue Theory also consider the idea that relationships between people can affect the morality of an action. For example, let us suppose your own mother and a total stranger are both drowning; neither can swim, and you can only save one of them. A deontologist may save the stranger due to the principle of “unconditional obligation”, while a proponent of Virtue Ethics might save his/her mother, because of their mother’s kindness to them.
Differences among Value Theory, Virtue Theory, Utilitarianism and Deontology
Differences among Deontology, Virtue Ethics, Virtue Theory and Value Theory
Story - Mr Ho’s Cornea
In Hong Kong in the 1980s, very few people were willing to donate their organs when they died, and so eye-disease patients could wait for up to ten years for someone to donate their cornea for a transplant.
Mr Ho, was a kind, public-spirited, life-loving young man in his twenties. Although he was worried about pain and disliked the sight of blood, he accepted the idea of organ donation, and believed that he had a responsibility to help others in need. Therefore, after careful consideration, he signed an organ donor card. One day, Mr Ho sustained severe head injuries in a car accident, leaving him in a coma. Two days later, he became brain-dead and was put on a life-support machine to sustain his breathing, pulse and other essential bodily functions. One month later, despite the doctors’ best efforts to save him, he died from organ failure.
Mr Ho’s wife mentioned to the doctor that her husband had signed a donor card and indicated that she would respect her husband’s wishes, as she also approved of the idea of helping other patients in need. After thinking it over repeatedly, she therefore agreed to donate all her husband’s organs. However, as Mr Ho’s vital organs had failed and were unsuitable for donation, only his cornea was to be transplanted to another patient. The doctor told Mrs Ho that the removal of the cornea from the body would be virtually undetectable to the naked eye, and would not damage the external appearance of the body.
However, Mr Ho’s father found out about the proposed transplant, and refused to give permission for his son’s organs to be donated to those in need on the principle of “keeping the body whole”.
Put yourself in Mrs Ho’s place, and analyse the situation from the perspectives of Utilitarianism, Deontology and Virtue Ethics respectively. Assess the events described above, and explain your position and your reasoning. Put your answers in the following worksheet.
Does the action of donating organs bring happiness for the majority of people?
Would all rational people consider organ donation to be moral?
Does organ donation stem from a sense of duty?
Does the action of donating organs involve any virtues?
If you put yourself in their place, would you donate your organs?
From the perspective of Rule Utilitarianism, in overall terms, the action of donating organs brings happiness to the majority of people in society.
The recipient’s disease is treated
The donor can obtain happiness by helping those in need
An atmosphere of pulling together in difficult times spreads through society
The government can save on palliative medical costs, as citizens’ diseases can be cured by organ transplants
Mr and Mrs Ho hoped to help those in needs, and they took the action of donating organs only out of a sense of duty and responsibility, and so their actions are moral.
Everyone agrees that “helping others” is moral, especially when it does not affect oneself, and so donation is moral.
Mr and Mrs Ho only decided to donate organs after “careful consideration” and “thinking it over repeatedly”, and so it was a rational and therefore moral decision.
Mr and Mrs Ho donated organs because they believed they had a responsibility to help people in need, and “helping others” and “being responsible” is a type of virtue, so organ donation is moral.
Before he died, Mr Ho made a promise by signing an organ donor card, and “keeping promises” is a type of virtue, so donating his organs is moral.
Mrs Ho consents to donating her husband’s organs because she respects his wishes, and “respecting others” is a type of virtue, so donating his organs is moral.
Consequently, organ donation is moral.
The elder Mr Ho’s opposition to organ donation in order to “keep the body whole” was a “selfish” and “superstitious” decision, and the vast majority of rational people in society would consider it immoral.
The elder Mr Ho’s opposition to organ donation in order to “keep the body whole” was a “selfish” and “superstitious” decision, and as a form of evil behaviour, is therefore immoral.
If we put ourselves in the place of a moral person in this situation, we would console the elder Mr Ho and then donate the organs, and so donating organs in this situation is moral.
From the perspective of Act Utilitarianism, if we look at the issue of whether Mrs Ho should donate her husband’s cornea in isolation, donating could certainly bring happiness for the aforementioned majority, and would bring unhappiness only to the elder Mr Ho. Consequently, it can also be moral according to this perspective.