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.