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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 27, 2002

Jane Singleton
Pages 537-551

Virtue Ethics, Kantian Ethics, and Consequentialism

Contemporary theories of Virtue Ethics are often presented as being in opposition to Kantian Ethics and Consequentialism. It is argued that Virtue Ethics takes as fundamental the question, “What sort of character would a virtuous person have?” and that Kantian Ethics and Consequentialism take as fundamental the question, “What makes an action right?” I argue that this opposition is misconceived. The opposition is rather between Virtue Ethics and Kantian Ethics on the one hand and Consequentialism on the other. The former two are concerned with, respectively, the development of a virtuous character and a good will, whereas Consequentialism is essentially a doctrine that just provides a justification of the right option without specifying how this is to be achieved. Furthermore, I show that Consequentialism, interpreted as a justificatory doctrine, is both an impoverished doctrine and one that cannot be enriched by taking a “pick and mix” approach to other ethical theories in the way that Consequentialists advocate. I argue that there is at least one reason to prefer Kantian Ethics: Kantian Ethics necessarily avoids the objection of selfcenteredness, whereas the avoidance of this objection is only contingent in the case of Virtue Ethics.