Virtue ethics is a moral theory that focuses on the character traits of individuals, rather than the specific actions they take. In her article, Dr. Christina Sommers explains how virtue ethics can address the main problem of moral education today. According to Sommers, the main problem lies in the focus on rules and principles, rather than character development. She argues that moral education should be more concerned with cultivating virtuous individuals, who possess the necessary moral qualities to make ethical decisions in various situations.
Sommers’ basic answer to this problem is to focus on cultivating virtues of character, such as honesty, compassion, and integrity. She states that “character education…teaches basic values and virtues such as honesty and decency” (Sommers, 2015, p. 2). Instead of relying solely on rules and principles, Sommers emphasizes the importance of instilling character traits in individuals. She argues for a more holistic approach to moral education that goes beyond teaching what is right and wrong, and focuses on developing good character.
Similarly, in her video lecture, Tamar Gendler explains Aristotle’s virtue ethics and how normative commitments can be turned into descriptive laws. According to Gendler, normative commitments are moral principles or values that guide our actions. She explains that Aristotle believed virtue ethics can be understood as a type of human programming, where these normative commitments become habituated and ingrained in our character through repeated actions. Gendler argues that this process of habituation allows virtue ethics to become a natural response without conscious thought.
Turning normative commitments into descriptive laws, according to Gendler, refers to the process of habituating these moral principles into our character so that they become automatic. This means that ethical behavior becomes a matter of instinct or second nature to virtuous individuals. She states, “virtuous agents express a kind of wisdom in their spontaneous judgments and…their actions are effortlessly aligned with the norms of virtue” (Gendler, 2017).
The view presented by Gendler challenges the idea of good human behavior as solely a matter of choice. She argues that virtue ethics, through habituation and programming, becomes a part of our identity and shapes our behavior without conscious thought. This perspective suggests that virtuous behavior is not just a matter of deliberate choice, but rather a deeply ingrained response.
In assessing whether Gendler’s view aligns with Sommers’ thesis on what is needed in schools today, we can see some overlap. Both Sommers and Gendler emphasize the importance of character development in moral education. However, there is one key difference between their perspectives. Sommers advocates for teaching virtues explicitly, while Gendler emphasizes the importance of habituation and ingraining virtues through repeated actions.
Sommers’ analysis and proposal are convincing in that she highlights the limitations of a solely rule-based approach to moral education. She argues that character development is essential for individuals to become morally responsible agents. This aligns with Gendler’s view that virtuous behavior is a result of habituation and programming. However, it is questionable whether Gendler’s perspective fully addresses the need for explicit instruction in virtues, as emphasized by Sommers.
In conclusion, virtue ethics is a moral theory that focuses on character development rather than rules and principles. Sommers argues that the main problem in moral education today is the neglect of character development in favor of rule-based approaches. Gendler explains how normative commitments can be turned into descriptive laws through habituation and programming. This perspective challenges the idea of good behavior as solely a matter of choice. While there is overlap between Sommers and Gendler’s views on the importance of character development, there is also a difference in their approach. Sommers advocates for teaching virtues explicitly, while Gendler emphasizes habituation. Overall, both views offer valuable insights into the cultivation of good moral behavior.