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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 18, 1993

Mary Ella Savarino
Pages 243-259

Toward an Ontology of Virtue Ethics

Although ethicists are increasingly interested in virtue ethics, very little has been written about the nature of virtue. Yet understanding it is crucial for understanding virtue ethics. Some philosophers of science claim that virtue is a property reducible to the mere disposition to behave in certain specified ways given a particular situation. A virtue is correctly ascribed after the observation of the relevant behavior. This view reverses the classical virtue ethics of Aristotle. For him, behavior is identified as virtuous in the proper sense after determining that the agent has the relevant virtue. The focus on virtue rather than action differentiates virtue ethics from the action-centered theories that have been dominant untiI recently. In this paper, I argue that virtue is an actual qualily. In the first part, I review Aristotle’s claim that virtue is not a mere potentiality. In the second part, I propose that this claim is supported hy the fact that we are aware of some virtues as actual qualities. If and only if virtues are actual qualities can they be the fundamental values virtue ethicists claim they are.

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