Handbook of Economics and Ethics
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Handbook of Economics and Ethics

Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren

The Handbook of Economics and Ethics portrays an understanding of economic methodology in which facts and values, though distinct, are closely interconnected in a variety of ways. From theory building to data collection, and from modelling to policy evaluation, this encyclopaedic Handbook is at the intersection of economics and ethics.
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Chapter 74: Virtue Ethics

Irene van Staveren


Irene van Staveren Aristotle’s virtue ethics Virtue ethics has its roots in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Here, Aristotle offers a contextual and personhood-based ethics which he developed in response to the more universalist and abstract ethics of his master, Plato. Virtue ethics is not so much concerned with the question of what is the right thing to do, but rather the question what is the good life – human flourishing, or eudamonia. The good life is a pluralist type of good and not reducible to a single dimension, such as pleasure (utility) or right (a set of rules). The key to eudamonia is, as Aristotle argued, the self-sufficiency of the virtues. Humans seek to follow the good for itself, they have a plurality of commitments that are incommensurable and not instrumental for any other goal, as Aristotle explained more than 2000 years ago: If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. (Aristotle 1980, pp. 1–2) Examples of virtues are benevolence, civility, courage, fairness, generosity, honesty, justice, patience, prudence, self-discipline and tactfulness. Each virtue represents a mean between two extremes. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness....

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