Ethics: Virtues, Behaviours and Consequences
As both a Master Facilitator with The Virtues Project™ and a business educator who has taught Business Ethics… and before we go any further on this exploration of character and virtue… let me offer this on Virtues Ethics from Stanford. It is a great read that explores the three perspectives on ethics and dives into that which is referred to as Virtues Ethics.
Excerpted, to start…
Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that which emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism). Suppose it is obvious that someone in need should be helped. A utilitarian will point to the fact that the consequences of doing so will maximize well-being, a deontologist to the fact that, in doing so the agent will be acting in accordance with a moral rule such as “Do unto others as you would be done by” and a virtue ethicist to the fact that helping the person would be charitable or benevolent.
Here is my take.
Deontology references ethics as a response to a set of prescribed rules. This is the notion that ethics are guided by rules of behaviour or commandments, if you will. You are not supposed to steal, we are taught at an early age. As children, whether we questioned it or not, we knew that there were rules. The rules dictate whether an action is acceptable.
Consequentialism references ethics as a response to the notion of the consequences of an action. The emphasis is on the consequences of action; the rewards or punishments. It is whether you win or lose… that matters. Indeed, here… the ends do justify the means. The consequences dictate whether an action is acceptable.
Virtues Ethics contends that virtues are pre-existent qualities or strengths of character. They exist whether we practice them or not. We practice them not for some set of rules or the consequences they manifest, but because they exist.
Part of the criticism of this approach has been that Virtues Ethics can be seen as defying coding or rules and ignoring consequences; and I understand that. Our work with Epic Engage™ and The Virtues Project™ both recognizes virtues as pre-existent, ancient and eternal qualities which have a life of their own whether we practice them or not… and as being associated with certain behaviours and consequences. First and foremost, because one does not practice compassion does not mean that compassion does not exist. It pre-exists as a quality and strength. That being said, our work would also recognize that there are behaviours that manifest virtues and results that come from them. Virtues are practiced, in action… and there are behaviours that can be codified in a way that encourages the application of virtues.
In other words, we might consider a code of character instead of conduct… one that identifies the character of our work space by identifying clear actions that manifest that character, and what we seek to achieve through their application. For example…
- We practice respect by listening to one another to ensure team strength.
- We practice compassion by taking the time to be present so that we hear what needs to be heard from our customers.
- We practice confidence by speaking our best voices to build trust and understanding in the classroom.
I like to refer to these as Virtues Mission Statements, identifying a virtue we hold paramount, how we manifest it and the results we seek to realize. Take a look at any Virtues Reflection Card and you will see a description of the virtue and the identification of behaviours associated with same… as well as its core aim. For example, the oft quoted virtue of …
I practice patience by refusing to rush so that I keep my peace.
We practice patience, living in the moment, always ready.
These are, in my humble opinion, powerful virtues mission statements that account for ethics bases on virtues, rules and consequences alike. Behaviours manifest virtues. Results come from the practice of virtues. Indeed, practicing a virtue both requires action and produces them; behaviours and consequences. Practicing a virtue requires you to behave in certain ways… and continuing to practice it results in new habits; entrenched behaviours. The process is cyclical and reciprocal.
So, my challenge to you, this week, is to practice a virtue. Pick one. Consider the behaviours necessary to manifest it fully. Consider the expected aim of practicing them. Create your own virtues mission statement. Practice it. See what results.
In so doing, you start to recognize virtues and codify behaviours expected to live them daily at school, family, work and community… and the results you are intent to realize. Ultimately, practice makes permanent.
Until next time… peace, passion and prosperity.
Barry Lewis Green, aka The Unity Guy™