Virtue Ethics and Nonviolence

Authored by: David K. Chan

The Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138194663
eBook ISBN: 9781315638751
Adobe ISBN:


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Virtue ethics is not a rule-based ethics, and the choice of action by a virtuous agent requires the exercise of practical wisdom to judge what is right in the circumstances. Pacifism is the view that as a rule, violence should never be used against another human being, regardless of what that person is doing to oneself or others. Is there any reason to think that a virtue ethicist would advocate absolute pacifism? There are indeed actions that, according to Aristotle, are so evil in themselves that a person of good character would never choose to do them (Aristotle 1998: II.6). 1 However, it does not seem obvious that killing in self-defense would clear the bar to count as the kind of action that is ruled out absolutely, and which should not be chosen regardless of the circumstances. Thus, in this paper, I will discuss virtue ethics in relation to the rejection of the use of lethal violence. I will argue that, given how I apply virtue ethics, a person of good character will have a very strong intrinsic desire to avoid the killing of another human being, so that only in rare circumstances where the alternative to violence is immensely evil would the use of violence to prevent the evil be the morally appropriate choice for the person to make.

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