I hope this question makes sense, but is it correct to say that virtue ethics accounts are based on self-interest?

If virtue ethics are concerned with achieving a good life, is it possible for them not make ethical action based on the individual's interest in having a good life?

I think Kantian ethics are not based on self-interest, but rather on moral duty. Could I defend something similar for a virtue ethics, even though it seems to boil down in the end to my own interest in achieving a good life?

  • 1
    Not all virtue ethics is eudaimonia ("good life") related, one can pursue virtues as such, without linking them to that. Even with eudaimonia-based ethics the language is confusing: the "good life" is not good in the sense that it is subjectively desirable, but rather an objectively determined condition. The interest, if any, has nothing to do with the self, eudaimonia is no different than moral duty in this respect, see SEP.
    – Conifold
    Jun 11, 2019 at 20:43
  • @Conifold Thanks for the link! But it says "Eudaimonia is, avowedly, a moralized or value-laden concept of happiness, something like “true” or “real” happiness or “the sort of happiness worth seeking or having.” Even though I might be wrong on how to achieve this good (life), it seems to me still that I should be interested in it just because it will lead me to a better life. This is not like some deontological ethics that argue that even if an action will lead me to a worse life I'm still obligated to do it
    – flen
    Jun 12, 2019 at 1:00
  • Indeed, you should be interested, just as you should be interested in moral duty. It is the interest that comes from a should, not a should that comes from an interest. If one pursues virtues because they believe it will make them feel better they may well behave like a virtue moralist, but their ethics will be utilitarian at the core. Same as if one fulfills their moral duties for such a reason. One can reduce any ethics into utilitarian "self-interest" if the "interest" is interpreted broadly enough and swapped with the should.
    – Conifold
    Jun 12, 2019 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


Virtue ethics - fixing the focus

Virtue ethics is an approach emphasizing the centrality of the role of character traits (virtues), the possession of which is needed for persons to be good and to live well. As a distinctive approach within normative ethics, it contrasts especially with theories emphasizing acting in accord with universal rules or duties, or acting in order to bring about good consequences, and so on. Virtue ethicists highlight the moral importance of cultivating habits or dispositions such as generosity, courage, humility, friendship, love, and honesty, along with their associated moral sensitivities. (Guy Axtell and Philip Olson, 'Recent Work in Applied Virtue Ethics', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 3 (JULY 2012), pp. 183-203: 183.)

Virtue ethics and self-interest

Virtue ethics appears to assume (a) that human beings are a natural kind (a point to which I will return) and (b) that they are a natural kind whose proper condition is one in which certain character traits are acquired and exercised. Even if it is the case that a human being in this condition is in a 'flourishing' state which it is in his/ her self-interest to be in, it does not follow that once in that state s/he acts self-interestedly in all, some or any situations.

So it may well be in my self-interest to acquire and exercise certain character traits but - quite a different matter - there need be no reference to self-interest when I act on these traits. 'To be good and to live well' I may have to endure self-sacrifice to any degree.

Virtue ethics and natural kinds

I have invoked the idea of a natural kind because virtue ethics fits well with it and has historically, as in Aristotle, been associated with it. But I could withdraw the idea and rely on some such notion as that to acquire and exercise certain traits of character is proper to a creature made 'in God's image'. I do not take this approach but others do and it is a conceptual possibility.


Is the Virtue Ethics based on self-interest?.

To answer this question we need to ask ourselves some questions:

  • Is it hard for normal Humans to be present?.

  • Are Virtue Ethics, Ethics of normal Humans or Super Humans?.

  • Ontologically, is this the only world that could be present?.

  • Ontologically, doesn't existence owe his sons for a normal world, practices Ethics effortlessly?.

  • Normal World=Normal people.

  • The Seven Christian Virtues, Don't include Virtues against Killing and Stealing.

  • Development of a person means complete change in personality, i.e: a 100% new person, or just 10-30% change?.

  • Ethics, either Arestoteleian, Christian or Kantian are still Ethics.

From all the above we conclude that Normal World will exist. The Virtue Ethics are not based on self-interest. The world existing right now has a little deviation from the Normal World.

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