Virtue School

It has been reported in the news that a policeman has transformed his town, reducing antisocial behaviour by half, by setting up a night school to teach children about medieval notions of respect and chivalry. More than a hundred children have taken the course which he says instils, �a sense of personal pride, of mannerly and compassionate behaviour and of respect for others.� This teaching of virtues is something Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair Macintyre might be proud of. Anscombe wrote in 1958 that it had been a mistake to focus on good actions rather than good people. MacIntyre felt that we need to go back to the traditional virtues in history and recover an idea of the things which a good person should have. For people to be morally better they need to cultivate certain patterns of behaviour informed by certain characteristics, virtues. If we want good people, we need to help people learn to be good. Aristotle thought that people should practice at certain characteristics and they should have them in just the right amount. Virtue theory then is different from traditional teleological ethics which is interested in the end or result, when deciding what is right, or deontological ethics, which thinks certain actions are just plain right or wrong. Virtue history is a person centred approach and interested in human moral development. Sgt Gary Brown seems to capture something of that in his course for children in Spilsby, Lincs. Nevertheless, there are some problems with this approach. We may be interested in developing good people but our moral abilities are challenged by actual situations, actual options from which we must choose courses of action and others will judge them right or wrong. How will those actions be judged? Traditional virtues are often expressed or passed down by communities but sometimes people stand out for being moral by going against the norm, by resisting peer pressure. How can we be sure the community virtues are the right ones to have? Perhaps virtue theory adds an opportunity to think about the moral person as well as actions or ends or other aspects of moral thinking, rather than replacing them.

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