Difference Between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism

The main difference between virtue ethics utilitarianism is that virtue ethics focuses on the person carrying out an action, whereas utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of the action.

Virtue ethics and utilitarianism are moral and ethical theories that have the ability to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. Virtue ethics is a moral theory that is concerned with the moral character or goodness of the individual carrying out an act while utilitarianism is the moral theory that states an action is right if it is useful or is beneficial for a majority.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Virtue Ethics 
     – Definition, Characteristics, Focus
2. What is Utilitarianism
     – Definition, Characteristics, Focus
3. Difference Between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Ethics, Morals, Utiliniarism, Virtue Ethics

Difference Between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism - Comparison Summary

What is Virtue Ethics?

Virtue ethics is a normative ethical theory that is based on character, rather than action. The theory emphasizes virtues of mind, character and sense of honesty. In virtue ethics, a right act is an act that is carried out by a virtuous person. In simple words, virtues ethics looks at the moral character or virtue of a character of the person carrying out an action, instead of the action itself, or the consequences of an action. Thus, this theory deals with the rightness or wrongness of individual actions and describes the characteristics and behaviours a virtuous or good person will seek to achieve. In brief, virtue ethics urges people to live a moral life by practice virtuous habits.

According to many virtue theorists, all human beings would benefit from a common set of virtues. Prudence, justice, fortitude/bravery and temperance were the traditional list of cardinal virtues. However, there is no general agreement on what virtues are; in fact, some virtues may be relative to a person’s culture and society.

Difference Between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism

Furthermore, virtue ethics is a very useful theory since most people are often interested in assessing the moral character of individuals rather than assessing the rightness or wrongness of a particular action. However, it is also important to note that although virtue ethics provide general guidance on how to become a virtuous person, it does not specify actions to take in moral dilemmas.

What is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a moral theory that focuses on the consequences of one’s actions rather than one’s intent. According to this theory, an action is right, if it tends to promote happiness – not just the happiness of the person who performs the action, but all those who are affected by that action. Similarly, an action is bad if it produces the opposite of happiness. Thus, a good action in utilitarianism is equal an action with good consequences. Basically, this theory is based on the concept that actions should be measured in terms of pleasure or happiness that produce. In brief, utilitarianists believe that we should act always so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. So, this is what we call the principle of utility.

Main Difference - Virtue Ethics vs Utilitarianism

Moreover, this theory stems from the concepts of late 18th and 19th-century English philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Besides, there are two main theories of utilitarianism as act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism states that the morality of an action is determined by its usefulness to people. Rule utilitarianism states that an action can be morally right if it conforms to the rules that will lead to the greatest good or happiness.

Difference Between Virtue Ethics and Utilitarianism

Definition

Virtue ethics is a moral theory that is concerned with the moral character or goodness of the individual carrying out an action while utilitarianism is the moral theory that states an action is right if it is useful or is beneficial for a majority.

Focus

Virtue ethics focuses on the person carrying out an action, whereas utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of the action.

Rightness or Wrongness of an Action

In virtue ethics, a right act or a good act is an act that is carried out by a virtuous person; in utilitarianism, a right act is an act that brings the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Conclusion

Virtue ethics is a moral theory that is concerned with the moral character or goodness of the individual carrying out an act while utilitarianism is the moral theory that states an action is right if it is useful or is beneficial for a majority. The main difference between virtue ethics utilitarianism is that virtue ethics focuses on the person carrying out an action, whereas utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of the action.

Reference:

1. “Ethics – Introduction to Ethics: Virtue Ethics.” BBC, Available here.
2. West, Harry R. “Utilitarianism.” Utilitarianism, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “947574” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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