Philosophical Papers

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Against Agent-Based Virtue Ethics

Michael S Brady


Agent-based virtue ethics is a unitary normative theory according to which the moral status of actions is entirely dependent upon the moral status of an agent's motives and character traits. One of the problems any such approach faces is to capture the common-sense distinction between an agent's doing the right thing, and her doing it for the right (or wrong) reason. In this paper I argue that agent-based virtue ethics ultimately fails to capture this kind of fine-grained distinction, and to this extent ought to be rejected. I focus first on Michael Slote's agent-based theory, according to which the moral status of actions depends upon an agent's actual motives, and argue that this leads to a paradox. I then consider whether the 'counterfactual' version of agent-basing favoured by Rosalind Hursthouse and Linda Zagzebski fares any better, and conclude that it does not.

Philosophical Papers Vol.33(1) 2004: 1-10
AJOL African Journals Online