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On Virtue Ethics Paperback – February 7, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0199247998 ISBN-10: 0199247994
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Editorial Reviews


"With this book virtue ethics finally comes of age. Hursthouse elegantly dispels the aura of unattractive high-mindedness that has clung to the approach. Firmly rebutting both psychological and moral criticisms of the view, she shows how the life of the virtuous is both possible and even enjoyable. This volume will effortlessly take its place as the defining exposition of the view."--Simon Blackburn, University of North Carolina

About the Author

Rosalind Hursthouse is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199247994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199247998
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.8 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Tertiary Thought on July 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in a philosophy course at Dartmouth, and wrote a 20-page paper on it. For those not familiar, virtue ethics has recently come into fashion as an alternative to both deontological (rule-based) and consequentialist (results-based) ethics.
Hursthouse is a big fan of Aristotle (although she does "update" a few of his sexist remarks), and often hearkens back to his discussion of "the virtues," and the idea that there is no set of rules that can ever properly encompass every situation -- rather, the ideal virtuous agent is someone who is actually _skilled_ at ethics, and simply knows the virtuous thing to do.
An example that might help get across the idea of virtue ethics -- take a classic ethical case such as Ayn Rand's example of a man whose wife is very sick and who spends extraordinary amounts of money to save her life. It turns out, however, that he could have spent the same amount of money and saved the lives of ten women he didn't know. The utilitarian says that the lives of ten are more important than the life of one. The virtue ethicist says that the fact that we place the interests of loved ones above the interests of strangers is good -- a vital part of humanity we would not want to sacrifice to some mathematical moral calculation. And who would want to live in a world where we forsake our spouses to save strangers?
The book also contains a very interesting chapter on naturalism in ethics. Overall, a very worthwhile read, especially if your entire background in ethics consists of Kant, Bentham, Mill, etc.
A note -- this is not the most abstruse philosophy text I've ever read, but I wouldn't suggest approaching it without some sort of academic philosophy background.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Karen Stohr on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I cannot help but take issue with H. Gintis's uninformed and uncharitable review of this book. The philosophical community regards this work as an important and interesting contribution to the literature in virtue ethics and ethical theory more generally. Certainly, many philosophers disagree with Hursthouse on various points, but this is compatible with believing that it is a philosophically important book.

Hursthouse takes pains to make her work readable to those without extensive philosophical training. Although the ideas are philosophically sophisticated, the language is engaging and accessible. It is well worth reading for those who want to know more about one of the great philosophical traditions in ethics.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mark Silcox on July 17, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a really valuable book. A lot of philosophers have been talking for the past twenty years about "Virtue Theory" as an approach in normative ethics that can rival deontology and utilitarianism for depth, plausibility and coherence. But Hursthouse's book is the first that I'm aware of to attempt a full statement of precisely what it is that makes the approach distinctive. And anyone who's familiar with the work of other philosophers (e.g. Elizabeth Anscombe, John McDowell, Bernard Williams) who've been viewed as the standard-bearers for VT during this period of time will be able to recognize that it's an unqualified success in at least this respect.
So, does the book actually make VT seem appealing? Well, there's some excellent stuff on how to distinguish rule-based approaches from character based approaches to ethical evaluation. And there's a wonderfully subtle discussion of precisely how Aristotlelian accounts of the moral significance of a person's motivations differ from those traditionally given by Kantians. There's also some very silly stuff at the end though. Her discussion of the difference between human beings and animals is jaw-droppingly simplistic - really, almost Philistine. Like Foot and McDowell, she fails to register the fact that thousands of very smart people have thought about this subject in zoology, anthropology and biology departments around the world and that it might be at least somewhat worthwhile to take a bit of glance at what they have to say. And at the end she delivers a stunning battery of ad hominems against Bernard Williams for daring to suggest that the Aristotelian notion of a distinctive human function doesn't stand up to careful and impartial scrutiny.
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