There are a lot of ideas and theories out there about how a person can be a good and moral person. All of these explanations do their best to find a way to explain morality without saying there is a moral law giver. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a theory that people take up called Moral Relativism, a theory that couldn’t possibly be supported.
Today, we come across another theory that many philosophers are beginning to take up: Virtue Theory. The interesting thing is that as secular moral theory develops, the more they point to Christ. That’s something that not many philosophers would want to admit, but allow me to explain. By the end of this article you will:
- Have a basic understanding of Virtue Theory
- Be able to recognize pitfalls of this theory
- Be able to explain how Virtue Theory points to Jesus
Let’s Know the Basics
This way of thinking is often accredited to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Virtue Theory is concerned about explaining how someone can be a moral and upright person. Unlike other moral theories (Deontology and Utilitarianism), Virtue Theory focuses on certain traits. Virtue Theorists would say that by practicing upright traits, such as being brave, honest, just, generous, so on and so forth you will eventually end up actually being those traits.
According to this theory, to be a more moral person, you would consider a person that is of a higher moral standing than yourself. You are to learn from this person. They will teach you how to be moral. The theory says that when faced with a particular moral problem (like should you lie to save the life of a friend), you should consider how an already moral person would respond. The bottom line of this theory is you should do what a perfectly moral person would do.
What’s Missing Here?
Virtue theory doesn’t offer us much to go by. This theory requires years of experience. Aristotle said that you cannot expect children to be perfectly moral people simply after reading a book; it takes time. Aristotle’s complication is simply a minor one because in all walks of life, even if children can be moral, time is required to truly understand what’s going on and which options one should take. Although, there’s a bigger issue at play, and that is this…
Who is this better moral person than yourself?
The term “better” is extremely relative. According to Virtue Theory, you are simply to follow the moral agent (another word for person) that you think is better. This is problematic; let’s say that you are a barbarian that goes around killing people all the time. You could think that your barbarian friend Brian in the next village over is a far better killer of people than you. This is something that Barbarian Brian could then aspire to in their life.
Virtue theorist will try to get around this counter-argument by saying that people are basically good; however, there are many evidences against this (an article on that coming soon…). They would then say you should always look to do what the perfect moral agent would do. This means that even if you are the most moral person in the world, you would still have a theoretical person to follow: the perfect person.
Virtue Theory and Jesus
As the same with moral relativism, this theory lacks one important thing: authority. Who has the ability to say that one person is more moral than another? Without an outside objective law, it is impossible to decipher what is moral and what isn’t. While this theory gets very close to giving proper explanation for morality, it is missing just one thing: Jesus. This moral theory the entire time is crying out for the perfect person to look up to. NEWS FLASH! There has only been one perfect person in all of history: Jesus Himself. The more moral theories develop, the more they point to Christ and Virtue Theory is no exception.