On the surface, it appears that virtue ethics is a plausible theory; however, when analysed critically, this is not so. Virtues Ethics merely concentrates on what a person should be and what is that that makes a person good, rather than determining what is good. This, as expressed by Louden, is not of a benefit to someone faced with a moral dilemma. Louden writes that ‘We ought, of course, to do what the virtuous person would do, but it is not always easy to fathom what the hypothetical moral exemplar would do were he in our shoes. ‘
For example, if someone were faced with the issue of abortion during a woman’s pregnancy, Virtue Theory would be of no help. Virtue Theory does not say what the right or wrong thing to do is, but simply says what the virtuous person would do. But, what if the person does not know what the virtuous person would do? How is the lady in this situation meant to choose between the virtues ‘be brave’ and ‘be compassionate? ‘ Surely this is a contradiction of itself. On the other hand, perhaps this guidance of virtues is what a person needs to establish what’s best for them.
Being told what to do isn’t always the best thing, so perhaps when a person reflects upon the dilemma baring the virtues in mind, the correct decision can me made. This is echoed in the view of Rosalind Hursthouse. In her book, she shows how virtue theory might apply to issues such as abortion. When Virtue theory is assessed, it is said that to strive for the ideal, which is to strive towards the virtuous person. But what is the virtuous person, if they do indeed exist? Do all virtuous people bare the same qualities? If not, which one do we opt to be like?
However, although many arguments suggest that virtue theory is of little help when faced with a moral dilemma, an argument in favour of this premise is that a virtue, when practiced enough, becomes habit. Therefore, if a person has practiced virtues like ‘be brave’ all their lives, then, when faced with a dilemma, virtues like ‘be brave’ and ‘be courageous’ come naturally to them, thus guide them through moral dilemmas. Whether or not virtue theory guides people through a moral dilemma is weighted heavily upon the person. If a person prefers to be told what to do in a situation, then virtue theory is definitely not for them.
If a person prefers to search for the right or wrong thing to do, through exploration of the soul, then virtue theory would be a solid base for them to start. An argument opposing virtue theory is that is concentrates to much on reason, rather than action. If someone has committed a murder under the virtue of ‘be happy’ in order to pursue a happier life without a father, then surely the end result cannot be considered correct? There must, therefore, be some sort of relation to the end result. In conclusion, Virtue Theory does not determine what is right, or wrong, and looks at ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.
Although it could be said that the doing follows on from the being, it is sometimes harder to determine what the being is. How do we know the right way to live? If we think correctly, then surely, in turn, we will act correctly. But what is the definition of living ‘correctly? ‘ Virtue theory can help those with a moral dilemma, if a person follows certain virtues, but, virtues can be misinterpreted, and mean different things to different people. Therefore, the virtue ‘be brave’ could be misinterpreted and an empty statement.