Exploring the Contribution of Virtue Ethics to the Financial Crisis Discourse

“Exploring the Contribution of Virtue Ethics to the Financial Crisis Discourse”

 Dr. Aliza Racelis


To some people, the world of finance and business is purely mechanical, devoid of ethical considerations. But it has become quite obvious, given the most recent financial crisis alone, that there is no escaping the fact that ethical reasoning is vital to the practice of business and finance (Racelis, 2013). The material and psychological harm caused by the 2008 global financial crisis continues. As various actors —those deemed responsible, the victims, the reformers, etc. — cover the fallout from the financial crisis, a wide variety of symptoms or origins are offered: from unbridled greed, to complete financial deregulation, to the perverse effects of the incentives systems, among others (Rajan, 2005; Münchau, 2010; Koslowski, 2011). The appeal of greed as a causal variable in the economic crisis may stem from its suitability for crafting an engrossing economic narrative. Abstract formulations of the economy or politics, where mishaps and wrongdoings are attributed to systemic failures, can tend to absolve individuals of their responsibility. Greed on the other hand is popularly understood as a personal moral choice and, thus, correctly shifts the spotlight to the individual (Vedwan, 2009).

In the context of the recent economic crises, finance ethicists have begun emphasizing that the focus should be on virtues and the qualities of the practitioner.  There is accumulating evidence that the attribution of causes of behavior is significantly affected by cultural norms and values; this line of research seeks the causes of individual behavior and attitudes not in a person’s particular organizational or social environment but rather in the individual’s own personality or dispositions. Virtue ethics is situated within this ethical framework of investigating the individual person and his dispositions. Virtue ethics is a type of ethical theory in which the notion of virtue or good character plays a central role; it can provide guidance for action and illuminate moral dilemmas. Whereas the attention to consequences or duty is fundamentally a focus on compliance, it is believed that one should also consider whether an action is consistent with being a virtuous person (Hursthouse, 1999; Pfeffer, 1997; Bruner, Eades and Schill, 2009).

The current work is an extension of an earlier empirical virtue ethics study done by the author, which consisted of a survey of 141 Philippine managers, and revealed the following as the observed character traits of the superiors of the respondents: care and concern, competence, ambition, and superiority. The current work elicited the managerial traits viewed as desirable. The following are the resulting desirable managerial virtues among superiors: (a) honesty; (b) innovativeness; (c) competence; (d) kind-heartedness; (e) security, and (f) self-confidence. These results seem compatible with existing studies of preferred traits, like those of Boen (2010) and Lickona (1993). For instance, Boen’s survey revealed the following as the top three desirable character traits: (a) Respect, (b) Responsibility, and (c) Honesty.

The paper discusses the usefulness of the empirical results for both creating a greater awareness of virtues and virtue ethics among finance professionals and businessmen, and contributing to a moral framing of the discourse on the economic crises. Apart from highlighting the great interest in ethics ―and specifically in the ethics of the virtues― that the recent crises have aroused, the paper likewise sheds light on the proper ethical understanding of such terms as prudential regulation, practical wisdom, morally good corporate governance, and the like.

The approach of the paper has been exploratory, in that it has sought to corroborate the reality that there is a need to continuously debate ethics and values (Racelis, 2010). It points to several areas for future investigation, such as the demand made on business and finance to show that the possession of the elicited desirable character traits or virtues leads to ―or at least is correlated with― successful organizational performance (financial or otherwise).





Boen, Jennifer (2010), “Similiarities and Differences of Preferred Traits in Character Education Programs by Ethnicity and Class According to Parents, Faculty/Staff and Students at Two Middle Schools in California,” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Bruner, Robert, Kenneth Eades and Michael Schill (2009), Case Studies in Finance, McGraw Hill, London.

Clark, Charles M.A. (2010), “Practical wisdom and understanding the economy,” Journal of Management Development, 29(7/8): 678-685.

Hursthouse, Rosalind (1999). On Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Koslowski, Peter (2010), Elements of a Philosophy of Management and Organization, Springer Science+Business Media, Heidelberg.

Koslowski, Peter (2011), The Ethics of Banking, Springer Science+Business Media, Heidelberg.

Kuckartz, Anne & Michael Sharp (2011). “Responsibility: A Key Category for Understanding the Discourse on the Financial Crisis,” Forum: Qualitative Social Research. 12(1):1-8 (Article 22).

Lickona, Thomas (1993), “The Return of Character Education,” Educational Leadership, 6-11.

Meunier, Sophie (2013), “The dog that did not bark: Anti-Americanism and the 2008 financial crisis in Europe,” Review of International Political Economy, 20(1): 1-25.

Pesch, Heinrich (2004), Ethics and the National Economy, IHS Press, Norfolk, Virginia.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey (1997), New Directions for Organization Theory: Problems and Prospects, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Racelis, A.D. (2014). “The Role of Virtues in Business and Management,” Connoiseur Strategies for Global Business Management [international book publication], Archers Elevators, India. Forthcoming.

Racelis, A.D. (2013). Developing a Virtue Ethics Scale: Exploratory Survey of Philippine Managers. Asian Journal of Business and Accounting. 6(1).

Racelis, A.D. (2010), “Relationship between Employee Perceptions of Corporate Ethics and Organizational Culture: An Exploratory Study,” Asia Pacific Management Review. 15(2): 251-260.

Rajan, Raghuram (2005). “Has financial development made the world riskier?,” Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, 313-369.

Rego, Arménio; Miguel Pina e Cunha; and Stewart R. Clegg (2012), The Virtues of Leadership: Contemporary Challenges for Global Managers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roemer, John E. (2012). “Ideology, Social Ethos, and the Financial Crisis,” The Journal of Ethics, 16(3): 273-303.

Seligman, Martin (2002), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Sison, Alejo José (2008), Corporate Governance and Ethics: An Aristotelian Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, Cheltenham, U.K.

Vedwan, Neeraj (2009), “What’s Greed Got to Do with It?”, Anthropology Now, 1(2): 81-87.

 BSP-UP Professorial Chair Lectures_2

BSP-UP Professorial Chair Lectures_1

A commentary on BRUNI, Luigino (2012), “Las raíces franciscanas de la economía de mercado y de la «Caritas in veritate». Ambivalencias y posibilidades,” SCRIPTA THEOLOGICA. 44:145-167 from a Virtue Ethics perspective.

ABSTRACT of the original Scripta Theologica article:


This paper briefly presents the influence of the charisma of St. Francis of Assisi on modern economy. It explains how to translate the Franciscan way of living Christian charity into the characteristic trust of the market economy and its subsequent evolution and ambiguity. In this context, the author also highlights the deep meaning and scope of one of the most difficult and specific concepts of the encyclical «Caritas in veritate» gratuity, related to the logic of gift, which has to be present in economic activities.

Commentary by Aliza Racelis (from Virtue Ethics perspective):

Trust Trust of the market economy:In Chapter 1 of the book “The True Wealth of Nations”, Fr. Albino Barrera, who competently and positively deals with the market economy in his Economics studies and classes, tells us that “unlike Marxism or libertarian capitalism, Catholic Social Teaching (CST) pursues a more difficult path of balancing twofold objectives in a mixed economy. It has an appreciation for the beneficial services provided by market operations even as it calls for extra-market interventions to mitigate the market’s unintended consequences and excesses. Contrary to the claims of commentators from both ends of the political spectrum, CST neither dismisses nor fully embraces the market economy.”

Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel Prize–winning economist, has argued for the importance of trust and other moral relations for economic growth.  “Trust, when established, contributes to the smooth running of political and economic systems which require the success of collective undertakings. Trust must be based on trustworthiness of the actors involved and the reliability of the institutions that are created to provide for the public good. … In the realm of business enterprises, market-based transactions, and the world of for-profit entities, trustworthiness and reliability build confidence in those who are the potential clients or consumers” (Cook and Schilke, 2010).

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function” (Caritas in Veritate). In the Journal of Business Ethics article “The Morality of Bargaining: Insights from ‘Caritas in Veritate’ ’’, James Bernard Murphy analyzes the morality of both bargains and gifts by paying attention to the interpersonal relations created by these two kinds of exchange. The social solidarity and mutual trust praised by the Pope depend upon a morality of exchange that respects the moral equality of the parties to that exchange. Whereas, the scholastics sharply distinguished the gift relation from the bargain, Benedict rightly encourages us to think creatively about how to combine bargains and gifts: ‘‘in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity’’ (CV 36).


Charity Gratuitousness and the logic of gift:The document “The Vocation of the Business Leader” by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace says “The first act of the Christian business leader, as of all Christians, is to receive; more specifically, to receive what God has done for him or her.” “[W]ithout receptivity in their lives, business leaders can be tempted by a quasi-Nietzschean ‘superman’ complex. The temptation for some is to regard themselves as determining and creating their own principles, not as receiving them. Business leaders may only see themselves as creative, innovative, active and constructive, but if they neglect the dimension of receiving, they distort their place within the world and overestimate their own achievements and work.”

Thus, for us to understand the reason and meaning of giving, we first need to understand and learn what it is to receive. Only thus will we understand the “logic of gift”; only thus will we appreciate gifts and, in turn, learn to give.

The Abstract of the Journal of Business Ethics article “The Logic of Gift and Gratuitousness in Business Relationships” by Guglielmo Faldett reads: “The logic of gift and gratuitousness in business activity raised by the encyclical Caritas in Veritate stresses a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. The logic of gift in business includes two aspects. The first is considering the logic of gift as a new conceptual lens in order to view business relationship beyond contractual logic. In this view, it is crucial to see the circulation of goods as instrumental for the development of relationships. The second aspect is to qualify the relationships established through the gift, and to think about the motivation in gift-giving, which has an ethical content. We give because we have received, and through gift-giving we develop relationships that have a high ‘bonding value’. Analysing the logic of gift in business management may permit us to gain an understanding of the ambiguity of gift-giving in organizations. Looking at the relationships between organizations and employees, and organizations and customers, we can discover why the logic of gift is often misunderstood or abused in its application, and how it should be applied to be more consistent with the message of Caritas in Veritate.”

Franciscan way Poverty:The Franciscan way is very much that of poverty and detachment in the spirit of solidarity and fraternity as brothers and sisters in Christ. The history of the Franciscan order tells us that “St. Francis … was called to walk by the way of simplicity, and that he would always follow the folly of the Cross…” But this poverty is not gloomy nor unrealistic. Rather, “The men of this Religion with great fruit assemble every year at a determined place, that they may rejoice in the Lord and take their meals … ‘Let the Friars take care not to appear gloomy and sad like hypocrites, but let them be jovial and merry, showing that they rejoice in the Lord, and becomingly courteous.’…”

Thus, the Franciscan poverty was not ―is not― incompatible with the market economy, with acting and behaving freely in economic life: it knows how to take full advantage of its benefits but at the same time, precisely because of that same simplicity, it ensures that others immediately share in those benefits through generosity and magnanimity.


“As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first . . .” (Caritas in Veritate).

The demands of Caritas in Veritate cannot be understood much less carried out if we are not to consider ourselves brothers and sisters of one another. This spirit of fraternity was very much present in the Franciscan order, as it is in many Church institutions and movements.

“Only if we are aware of our calling, as individuals and as a community, to be part of God’s family as his sons and daughters, will we be able to generate a new vision and muster new energy in the service of a truly integral humanism… Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” (Caritas in Veritate)

Accounting Ethics

Accounting Ethics, by Michael Pakaluk and Mark Cheffers

I was so glad and excited to have received my copy of ‘Accounting Ethics’! Image above is a shot of my copy 🙂

Allen David Press book review:


In their third book on this subject of accounting ethics, Pakaluk (one of the world’s leading Aristotelian scholars) and Cheffers (formerly one of the country’s leading accounting fraud investigators) have produced what could come to be seen as the best book on the topic ever written. Combining first-hand accounts of gross accounting ethics failures with deep discussions about the philosophical foundations associated with these failures, the authors have written a book on accounting ethics that in parts reads like a detective novel and in parts like an advanced seminar on philosophy. They begin the book by connecting the dots between the long standing and gross accounting ethics failures at AIG (American International Group) and AIG becoming the instrument for the near collapse of the entire financial system of the world (Fed Chairman Bernanke’s description). Added to this are chapters discussing gross failures at Enron and Worldcom. A chapter on Lehman Brothers is also included but interestingly this analysis concludes quite differently from previous chapters. Intermixed in the book are chapters dealing with some of the most difficult topics facing accountants. How do rules, principles and ethics interact? Is accounting a profession or a business? Are accountants trusted because they are competent and tell the truth or trusted because they are independent? How has the profession changed over the past century? Can accounting ethics be taught? What must be done?


Excerpts of review from ‘Accounting News Report’:


The aim of the book can best be summed up as stopping the next great scandal the only surefire way you can: before it starts. “Only ethical behavior can prevent the next scandal.”

The book’s focus on having an ethical foundation is apparent in its treatment of what many financial experts, Fed Chairman Ben  Bernanke included, viewed as the linchpin that could have caused the collapse of the world’s financial system, the impending bankruptcy of American International Group.  The book approaches the dealings at AIG not as a failure of people or institutions but as one of accounting ethics.

In addition to AIG, the book gives a good play-by-play account of other high-profile collapses including Lehman Brothers, Enron and WorldCom.

Pakaluk and Cheffers make the case that following the rules aren’t enough. In fact, in the Lehman Brothers play-by-play, the authors ask the troubling question, “What are an accountant’s professional responsibilities if the principles themselves seem to be misguided, or if an accounting standard itself seems to promote a purely rules-based approach?”

The book covers virtues, personal responsibility, the relationship between rules and principles, several influential but misguided, alternative approaches to ethics, professionalism, the aforementioned high profile cases, and ten cases taken from everyday practice.

“Accounting ethics lies at the intersection of accounting, ethics, and professionalism.”

The authors felt the area of professionalism was so fundamental to the subject of accounting ethics, they devoted three chapters to it and the subtle yet important shift from “Trusted because Truthful” to “Truthful because Trusted.”

If you are familiar with Understanding Accounting Ethics, either the second edition or the original, also written by the Cheffers and Pakaluk, you will immediately see the same passion for ethics evident in the latest book.

But just because the “feel” is familiar don’t mistake the relationship between the old and the new as just a refreshed edition, because it is much more, and not just because 11 out of the book’s 15 chapters are completely new.

🙂  🙂  🙂

Moral Philosophy of Martin Rhonheimer

Moral Philosophy of Martin Rhonheimer, especially in the books “The Perspective of Morality: Philosophical Foundations of Thomistic Virtue Ethics” and “The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy”


“The Perspective of Morality: Philosophical Foundations of Thomistic Virtue Ethics”

Martin Rhonheimer is considered one of the most important contemporary writers in philosophical Thomistic ethics. Following his previously published volumes by Catholic University of America (CUA) Press, The Perspective of the Acting Person, Vital Conflicts in Medical Ethics, and, most recently, Ethics of Procreation and the Defense of Human Life. Rhonheimer here presents a significant new resource for moral philosophy, The Perspective of Morality. The appearance of this book represents an epoch for the reception of Rhonheimer in the English-speaking world; readers now have access to a systematic argument for his efforts to advance an Aristotelian-Thomistic virtue ethics for the twenty-first century.


“The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy”

Presentation from CUA Press:


The Perspective of the Acting Person introduces readers to one of the most important and provocative thinkers in contemporary moral philosophy. In this collection of essays Martin Rhonheimer examines the central themes of natural law, moral action, and virtue emphasized by John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor.Rhonheimer’s work follows the general direction taken by the encyclical through an almost unprecedented rigor of philosophical argumentation and level of engagement with both European and American scholarship.

Rhonheimer argues extensively, from the texts of Aquinas, against aspects of more traditional interpretations of the Angelic Doctor. He maintains that their deficiencies helped precipitate both the postconciliar crisis in moral theology and the rise of revisionist approaches. He addresses not only the central topics of natural law and moral action but also the reasonableness of Christian morality, the relation between nature and reason, and that between metaphysics and ethics. All are considered from the distinctively moral perspective of the agent. Rhonheimer also responds to critics of both Veritatis Splendor and his own work and critiques works by revisionist moral theologians.

The collection focuses on Rhonheimer’s fundamental ethical theory, establishing the theoretical bases for his more applied works in areas such as sexual ethics, political philosophy, social ethics, and medical ethics. A detailed introduction by William F. Murphy, Jr., sketches Rhonheimer’s intellectual biography and the development of his thought, and summarizes key content from the essays. Finally, a detailed bibliography of Rhonheimer’s work is included, which further enhances the volume’s value to moral philosophers and theologians.

Martin Rhonheimer is professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. His publications include a dozen books, several of which have been translated into multiple languages. His Natural Law and Practical Reason was the first of his books to be made available in English. William F. Murphy, Jr., is associate professor of moral theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum and editor of the Josephinum Journal of Theology.


“The recent rediscovery of the perspective of the acting person is one of the most decisive advances for moral theology, which allows the resolution of many aporias of modern ethics. We should be thankful to William Murphy for this collection: Rhonheimer is a master and a necessary point of reference for rereading in this fresh and comprehensive perspective the ‘Common Doctor’ of Catholic theology, St. Thomas Aquinas.”—Msgr. Livio Melina, President and Professor of Moral Theology, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome

“Murphy introduces Rhonheimer to Anglo-American ethicists by way of judicious samples of his work, astutely contextualized for ethicists of all persuasions. The key to the work lies in articulating a virtue-centered conception of morality from the first-person perspective of the acting person who perceives goods to be pursued and acts freely through reason and will. By reading Aristotle and Aquinas in critical engagement with prevailing ethical stances, underlying conundrums of ethics, classical and modern, emerge into clearer light.”—David B. Burrell, C.S.C., Hesburgh Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, University of Notre Dame

“Rhonheimer has taken his place as one of the more significant moralists writing in the post conciliar period. His reasoning, reflecting closely the rationale of the decisive paragraph 78 of Veritatis Splendor, avoids weaknesses that characterize both the neo-Thomistic manualists of the first half of the 20th century and more recent revisionists. Murphy has done a great service to students and scholars of moral philosophy and theology in the English speaking world by bringing out this collection of Rhonheimer’smost significant essays in fundamental moral theory.”—E. Christian Brugger, Senior Fellow, The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person


Introduction by William F. Murphy Jr.

1. Is Christian Morality Reasonable? Onthe Difference between Secular and Christian Humanism

2. Norm-Ethics, Moral Rationality, and the Virtues: What’s Wrong with Consequentialism?

3. “Intrinsically Evil Acts” and the Moral Viewpoint: Clarifying a Central Teaching of Veritatis Splendor

4. Intentional Actions and the Meaning of Object: A Reply to Richard McCormick

5. Practical Reason and the “Naturally Rational”: On the Doctrine of the Natural Law as a Principle of Praxis in Thomas Aquinas

6. The Moral Significance of Pre-Rational Nature in Aquinas: A Reply to Jean Porter (and Stanley Hauerwas)

7. The Cognitive Structure of the Natural Law and the Truth of Subjectivity

8. The Perspective of the Acting Person and the Nature of Practical Reason: The “Object of the Human Act” in Thomistic Anthropology of Action

9. Practical Reason and the Truth of Subjectivity: The Self-Experience of the Moral Subject at the Roots of Metaphysics and Anthropology

10. Review of Jean Porter’s Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law



Parts of the book “The Perspective of the Acting Person…” are available on GoogleBooks.


Other books by Fr Martin Rhonheimer available in English:








UNIV Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre

Background (ENGLISH)

MacIntyre’s approach to moral philosophy has a number of complex strains which inform it. Although his project is largely characterized by an attempt to revive an Aristotelian conception of moral philosophy as sustained by the virtues, he nevertheless describes his own account of this attempt as a “peculiarly modern understanding” of the task.

This “peculiarly modern understanding” largely concerns MacIntyre’s approach to moral disputes. Unlike some analytic philosophers who try to generate moral consensus on the basis of an ideal of rationality, MacIntyre presents a historical narration of the development of ethics in order to illuminate the modern problem of “incommensurable” moral notions—i.e., moral arguments that proceed from incompatible premises. Following Hegel and Collingwood, he offers a “philosophical history” (which he distinguishes from both analytical and phenomenological approaches to philosophy) in which he concedes from the beginning that “there are no neutral standards available by appeal to which any rational agent whatsoever could determine” the conclusions of moral philosophy.

Indeed, one of MacIntyre’s major points in his most famous work, After Virtue, is that the failed attempt by various Enlightenment thinkers to furnish a final universal account of moral rationality led to the rejection of moral rationality altogether by subsequent thinkers such as Charles Stevenson, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Friedrich Nietzsche. On MacIntyre’s account, it is especially Nietzsche’s utter repudiation of the possibility of moral rationality that is the outcome of the Enlightenment’s mistaken quest for a final and definitive argument that will settle moral disputes into perpetuity by power of a calculative reason alone and without use of teleology

By contrast, MacIntyre is concerned with reclaiming various forms of moral rationality and argumentation that neither claim to utter finality and certainty (the mistaken project of the Enlightenment), but nevertheless do not simply bottom out into relativistic or emotivist denials of any moral rationality whatsoever (the mistaken conclusion of Nietzsche, Sartre and Stevenson). He does this by returning to the tradition of Aristotelian ethics with its teleological account of the good and moral persons which was originally rejected by the Enlightenment and which reached a fuller articulation in medieval writings of Thomas Aquinas. This Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, he proposes, presents ‘the best theory so far’, both of how things are and how we ought to act.

More generally, according to MacIntyre it is the case that moral disputes always take place within and between rival traditions of thought that make recourse to a store of ideas, presuppositions, types of arguments and shared understandings and approaches that have been inherited from the past. Thus even though there is no definitive way for one tradition in moral philosophy to vanquish and exclude the possibility of another, nevertheless opposing views can call one another into question by various means including issues of internal coherence, imaginative reconstruction of dilemmas, epistemic crisis, and fruitfulness.


Información (ESPAÑOL)

A diferencia de otros filósofos contemporáneos, que se centran en argumentos lógicos, analíticos o científicos, MacIntyre utiliza el sistema de la narración histórica, o de la filosofía narrativa. Un ejemplo claro es su libro After Virtue, o ‘Tras la virtud’, en el que explica el desarrollo de algunos conceptos éticos a lo largo de la historia. Entre los distintos tipos de investigación filosófica (tradiciones o escuelas) propone, sea en el ámbito del ser o en el del deber ser, el modelo que le parece más adecuado: el aristotélico. También lo utiliza en la introducción al pensamiento de la filósofa Edith Stein.

Ética de la virtud

MacIntyre es una figura clave en el reciente interés en la ética de la virtud, que pone como aspecto central de la ética los hábitos, las virtudes, y el conocimiento de cómo alcanza el individuo una vida buena, en la que encuentren plenitud todos los aspectos de la vida humana, en vez de centrarse en debates éticos específicos como el aborto. MacIntyre no omite hablar sobre esos temas particulares, sino que se acerca a ellos desde un contexto más amplio y menos legalista o normativista. Es éste un enfoque de la filosofía moral que demuestra cómo el juicio de un individuo nace del desarrollo del carácter.

MacIntyre subraya la importancia del bien moral definido en relación a una comunidad de personas involucradas en una práctica -concepto central de su obra After Virtue– que llama bienes internos o bienes de excelencia, en vez de centrarse en fenómenos independientes de una práctica, como la obligación de un agente moral (ética deontológica) o en las consecuencias de un acto moral particular (utilitarismo). La ética de la virtud suele estar asociada con autores pre-modernos (p. ej. PlatónAristótelesTomás de Aquino), aunque también se encuentra en otros sistemas éticos (p. ej. deontología kantiana). MacIntyre afirma que la síntesis de Tomás de Aquino del pensamiento de San Agustín con el de Aristóteles es más profundo que otras teorías modernas, al ocuparse del telos (finalidad) de una práctica social y de la vida humana, dentro del contexto en el cual la moralidad de los actos es evaluada.


Extracto de 3 artículos en arvo.net:






Pakaluk ‘Nicomachean Ethics’

“Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction” by Michael Pakaluk


This is an engaging and accessible introduction to the ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, Aristotle’s great masterpiece of moral philosophy. Michael Pakaluk offers a thorough and lucid examination of the entire work, uncovering Aristotle’s motivations and basic views while paying careful attention to his arguments. The chapter on friendship captures Aristotle’s doctrine with clarity and insight, and Pakaluk gives original and compelling interpretations of the Function Argument, the Doctrine of the Mean, courage and other character virtues, Akrasia, and the two treatments of pleasure. There is also a useful section on how to read an Aristotelian text. This book will be invaluable for all student readers encountering one of the most important and influential works of Western philosophy.

• Full of accessible examples for students new to philosophy • Includes an invaluable section on how to read an Aristotelian text • Pakaluk brings a fresh light to old problems and difficult passages in ‘Nicomachean Ethics’


1. Reading Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’;

2. An outline of the goal of human life;

3. Character-related virtue;

4. Actions as signs of character;

5. Some particular character-related virtues;

6. Justice as a particular character-related virtue;

7. Thinking-related virtue;

8. Arkrasia, or failure of self-control;

9. Friendship;

10. Pleasure;

11. Happiness in outline.


Cambridge University Press

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction

Michael Pakaluk



Reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics


The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us, is a search or an investigation (1.6.1096a12;b35; 1102a13). It poses a question at the start, looks at various possible answers along the way, and concludes with a definite judgment. The treatise therefore has something of the shape of a detective story.

What Aristotle tells us he is looking for, and what he wants us to join with him in looking for, is what he calls the ‘‘ultimate goal’’ of human life. Informally, we might think of this as what counts as ‘‘doing well’’ in life, or what it is for someone to be in the true sense ‘‘a success.’’ To attain our ultimate goal is to achieve ‘‘happiness.’’ Practically speaking, the ultimate goal in life is something toward which we would do well to direct everything else that we do.  We reasonably prefer this to anything else. Our ultimate goal, we might think, is something we can rest satisfied in: when we attain it, we require nothing more.

Is there such a goal which is the same for all, and, if so, what is it?

This is the basic question of the Ethics.

It is useful to think of any search as involving four basic elements. Suppose, for instance, that a detective wished to establish the identity of a person who committed a murder. First, she would formulate a description of the murderer, or criteria that the murderer satisfied: she might have deduced, for instance, from examining the crime scene, that the murderer wore cowboy boots and walked with a limp. Secondly, she would draw up a list of suspects, or a field of search – those people who just possibly committed the murder. Thirdly, she would question and examine those suspects one by one. While doing so – and this is the fourth step – she would apply her criteria, seeing whether they picked out just one suspect as the murderer, the suspect who, as it turns out, wears cowboy boots and walks with a limp.

Aristotle’s search for the ultimate goal of human life follows similar lines. First, at the beginning of the Ethics, he formulates criteria which, he thinks, an ultimate goal must satisfy: he maintains that it must be most ultimate; self-sufficient; and most preferable

(1.7.1097a25–b21).  Secondly, he identifies a field of search: in the famous Function Argument of 1.7 (1097b22–1098a20) he argues that our ultimate goal is to be found among those activities that we can perform only through our having good traits of character, or the virtues. This is what he means when he says, in the oft-cited tag,

that the highest human good is ‘‘activity in accordance with virtue’’ (1098a16–17). Thirdly, he proceeds to examine one by one the virtues and their characteristic activities, such as courage, generosity, and justice. This project occupies the bulk of the treatise, books 3–6. Fourthly and finally, after looking at some supplemental topics, Aristotle applies his original criteria and argues in 10.6–8 that the intellectual activity which is an expression of the virtue of ‘‘philosophical wisdom’’ (sophia) is the ultimate goal of human life:

The activity that we carry out with our minds, a kind of perceptual activity, seems to excel over all others in goodness. It aims at no goal beyond itself. It has its distinctive pleasure (which augments the activity). And, clearly, the self-sufficiency, freedom from necessity, effortlessness of the sort that human nature can attain, and anything else that is attributed to a blessedly happy person, are achieved through this activity. This, then, would be a human being’s ultimate happiness . . . (10.7.1177b19–26) Thus, the Ethics consists of three main sections, as well as a fourth, which discusses side topics. An outline of the treatise would look something like this:


Criteria and Field of Search (1.1–12)


The Origin, Definition, and Classification of Virtue (1.13, book 2)

The Relationship between Virtue and Action (3.1–5)

The Virtues (3.6–6.13)

A. Character-Related Virtues

1. Courage (3.6–9)

2. Moderation (3.10–12)

3. Generosity (4.1)

4. Magnificence (4.2)

5. Magnanimity (4.3)

6. Minor character-related virtues (4.4–9)

7. Justice (5.1–11)

B. Thinking-Related Virtues (6.1–13)

1. Demonstrative knowledge (6.3)

2. Craftsmanship (6.4)

3. Administrative skill (6.5)

4. Good intuition (6.6)

5. Philosophical wisdom (6.7)

6. Minor thinking-related virtues (6.9–11)


Self-Control and Lack of Self-Control (7.1–10)

Bodily Pleasure (7.11–14)

Friendship (8.1–9.12)

Pleasure Generally (10.1–5)



But if the treatise is a search for our ultimate goal, then why – we might wonder – is it called a treatise on ‘‘ethics’’? Does ‘‘ethics’’ not have to do with obligations, rules, principles, and duties? Why not call it instead a treatise on ‘‘the purpose of human life,’’ or ‘‘what we should all be striving for’’?

The treatise gets its name because of the manner in which Aristotle searches for the ultimate goal. As was mentioned, Aristotle holds that our ultimate end is to be found among those of our actions that we can carry out only as a result of having good traits of character, or the virtues. And the Greek word which means “pertaining to traits of character” is ēthikē, the source of our word “ethics.” Aristotle’s treatise is about ‘‘ethics,’’ then, in the historic and original sense of that term.5 (It is called ‘‘Nicomachean’’ after Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus, but whether because it was dedicated to Nicomachus or because Nicomachus was the editor, we do not know.) But this only leads to the more important question: why does Aristotle hold that our ultimate goal is ‘‘activity in accordance with virtue’’? Since this is perhaps the most distinctive and fundamental claim of the Ethics, it is good to have an initial understanding of what Aristotle meant by it, and what his reasons were for his holding it.  I shall examine these matters more carefully in the next chapter, but a brief introduction is useful here.

Aristotle’s claim is based on a principle which he takes over from Plato and which might be called the “Interdefinability of Goodness, Virtue, and Function”. By the “function” (ergon, literally ‘‘work’’ or ‘‘task’’) of a thing, understand its characteristic activity or achievement.  According to Plato, we can identify the function of a thing by considering what that sort of thing alone can achieve, or can achieve better than anything else (Republic 352e). For instance, the ‘‘function’’ of a knife is to cut: cutting is something that a knife alone achieves, or achieves better than any other available instrument.  If you were to pick your way through a drawer in a kitchen, from the shape of a knife you might be able to see that its distinctive task is to cut; some other implement is designed to crush garlic; something else works to flip pancakes or hamburgers; and so on. You could hardly cut an apple with a flipper, or crush garlic with a paring knife, or flip pancakes with a garlic press. Each sort of implement has its own job to do, and this is its “function.” Plato and Aristotle look at the kinds of things that exist in nature in much the same way. A kind of thing would not exist, unless it had some distinctive role to play. Clearly a thing carries out its ‘‘function,’’ in this sense, either well or badly: one knife cuts well; another cuts poorly. What explains the difference? A knife that cuts well will have features or ‘‘traits’’ that make it cut well; a knife that cuts poorly will lack those same features – such things, obviously, as the blade’s taking a sharp edge; its holding a sharp edge; its having the right shape and size for the sort of cutting it is supposed to do (small and thin for paring; large and wedge-shaped for dicing; etc.); and so on. It was natural for a Greek speaker of Aristotle’s time to call these traits, which make a thing do its work well, the ‘‘virtues’’ of a thing of that sort.  The relevant Greek word is aretē, which means broadly any sort of excellence or distinctive power. In Aristotle’s time, the term would be applied freely to instruments, natural substances, and domestic animals – not simply to human beings. If you were going into battle, for instance, you would seek a horse with ‘‘virtue,’’ in order to draw a chariot that had ‘‘virtue,’’ made of materials that had the relevant ‘‘virtues.’’ The term connoted strength and success, as also did the Latin term virtus. Our English word, too, in its origin had similar connotations. Something of this original significance is still preserved in such idioms as ‘‘in virtue of’’: “The knife cuts in virtue of its sharpness.” Any knife that has all of these good traits, and any other “virtues” that it should have, will as a result be a good knife, whereas a knife that noticeably lacks one of them will be a bad knife. If this is so, then the notions of function, kind, virtue, and goodness are interdefinable, a relationship which can be expressed in the following claim:

The Interdefinability of Goodness, Function, and Virtue. A good thing of a certain kind is that which has the virtues that enable it to carry out its function well.

A second important principle that Aristotle presupposes is that there is some close relationship between goals and goods: he believes that for something to be a good simply is for it, somehow, to be a goal. (This claim, in contrast, seems not to have come from Plato. It looks to be original with Aristotle, even though in the opening of the Ethics he denies special credit for the insight.)  Suppose now that we take a goal to be something at which other things are directed. It would follow that the good of a thing would be that at which other things involving it would be directed. Consider the parts of a knife, for instance. We see that they are designed so that each contributes to the task of cutting: the knife has a blade of a certain length, which is made out of a particular material, and is mounted on a handle in a certain way, all so that it can cut. The goal of a knife, then, would seem to involve cutting. If a goal is a good, then the good of a knife would seem to involve cutting. It is odd, perhaps, to say that something like a knife has a good. But then we might say that if a knife were a living thing, then its good would be to cut. What it would aim to do, the achievement it would most basically seek, would be somehow to engage in cutting.  Of course, a rusty or broken knife will not cut very well or safely.  A knife with a dull blade might not even be able to cut at all. We could hardly tell the function of a broken knife, and it would seem misguided in any case to say that it attains the goal of a knife. We would not look to a broken or rusty knife to see what the point of a knife was. So it seems more appropriate to say that the goal or good of a knife is not simply cutting, but rather cutting well.  However, to cut is the function of a knife, and, as I have said, something carries out its function well only through its having the ‘”virtues’” of that kind of thing. Thus, it would be most appropriate to say that the ultimate goal of a knife is to engage in cutting in the way that a knife cuts when it has the “virtues” of a knife. Consider the difference between a knife in a good condition – sharpened, safely constructed, and well maintained – and a knife in a bad condition – rusty, poorly made, or damaged. Consider the difference that being in good condition makes for cutting: what the good knife can achieve that the bad knife cannot. The ultimate goal or good of a knife will be located, then, precisely in that difference of achievement. The ultimate goal or good of a knife will consist in what a knife can achieve precisely through its being sharp, safely constructed, and well maintained.  The Ethics is essentially Aristotle’s application of a similar line of thought to human beings rather than knives. Aristotle thinks that, however much we might disagree about the justice or rightness of particular actions, we find ourselves in general agreement as to what counts as a good human being. This is reflected in how we use the word “good”: we are generally agreed in applying the word “good” only to those persons who have such traits as generosity, courage, fairness, and so on, and who do not noticeably have any traits that are contrary to these. We do not disagree that the fact that someone is generous or fair-minded provides us, to that extent, with a reason for calling that person “good.”  So we are generally agreed, Aristotle thinks, on what counts as a good trait or “virtue.” But the line of thought developed above would indicate that the ultimate goal of a human being, just like that of anything else, would consist in our carrying out our function well; and our carrying out that function well, as in other cases, is found in what we can achieve precisely through our having those traits that make us good: the ‘‘virtues’’ of human beings. Thus, Aristotle thinks, the way to become clearer about the ultimate goal of human life is to examine more carefully what it is we can achieve or carry out precisely through our having the virtues. The human good will be found among activities such as these, just as the point of being a knife can be discerned in what it is that a good knife in particular can accomplish.  This is the fundamental idea of the Ethics, and this is why Aristotle devotes the bulk of the treatise to a careful – and, he thinks, exhaustive – examination of the various human virtues and their characteristic actions.


Selection or Collection?

Yet as soon as this fundamental idea is sketched, an ambiguity appears in what I have said. I said that Aristotle thinks that our ultimate goal will be found among those of our actions that we can do only as a result of our having good traits of character. But “among” could mean either of two things – either that one such action is our ultimate goal, or that all such actions are our ultimate goal. Either there is just one virtue, such that the actions that we can achieve through having that particular virtue constitute our ultimate goal; or any virtue is such that the actions that we can accomplish only through having that virtue constitute our ultimate goal. On the former, we are looking for one sort of virtuous activity as being the ultimate goal; on the latter, we are looking for every sort of virtuous activity as belonging to the ultimate goal.  On the former, we should identify the ultimate goal by “selecting out” one activity in accordance with virtue; on the latter, we do so by “collecting together” all such activities. Is Aristotle advocating that we settle the matter by Selection or by Collection?

Here is an analogy. Suppose someone were to say, ‘‘The ultimate goal of a physician is to heal patients by employing medical skill of the best sort.’’ That is a vague claim so far, because we do not know what ‘‘medical skill of the best sort’’ is. Suppose that the person who makes this claim then goes on to discuss all the various types of medical skill: skill in setting bones; skill in treating intestinal problems; skill in brain surgery; and so on. When he has finished enumerating and examining all of the specialties and sub-specialties in medicine, he could do either of two things. He could select out one such skill and say something like the following: ‘‘The best sort of medical skill is seen in the work of a brain surgeon, since brain surgery aims at health in the best and most important part of the body.’’ Or he could collect together all of these skills and maintain: “The best sort of medical skill is found in someone who combines into one all of these various abilities – a family practitioner – since that sort of physician aims at all-round healthiness.”  In the same way, it is not entirely clear whether Aristotle examines the various virtues and their activities with a view to selecting out one of them or collecting all of them together. This is a fairly well-worn controversy among scholars, and standard names have been given to the different views. An interpretation of the Ethics which takes Aristotle to be selecting out one sort of virtuous activity is typically called a ‘‘Dominant End’’ or ‘‘Intellectualist’’ interpretation (‘‘Intellectualist’’ on the grounds that that activity is distinctive of the human intellect). An interpretation which takes Aristotle to be collecting together all virtuous activities (and perhaps even including other things besides) is typically called an ‘‘Inclusivist’’ or ‘‘Comprehensivist’’ interpretation. At first glance, it looks as though the Ethics has no uniform view.  In book 10, as we saw, it looks as though Aristotle intends to select:  the ultimate goal of human life, he maintains there, is the sort of activity we can engage in through having the virtue of philosophical wisdom (sophia). But book 1, with its famous Function Argument, and also the fundamental idea which motivates the treatise would seem to commit Aristotle to collection: if the ultimate goal of human life is what a good human being can achieve through his having the virtues, and if there are many virtues, then the ultimate goal of human life, it seems, should include any sort of action that we accomplish through our having a virtue. And it is difficult to understand how virtuous actions could otherwise have the weight that they do for Aristotle: as we shall see, he thinks we should do them for their own sake, and that frequently we should be prepared even to die rather than do something contrary to a virtue. But why should this be appropriate, unless all such actions were somehow included in our ultimate goal? A complicating problem is that Aristotle himself seems aware of the ambiguity of Selection versus Collection, and he seems even deliberately to cultivate or prolong the ambiguity. Consider the following passages:

The human good turns out to be activity in accordance with virtue, and if the virtues are several, then in accordance with the best and most ultimate virtue. (1.7.1098a16–18). All these things [sc. goodness, usefulness, pleasure] belong to the best sorts of activities, and these, or the best one of them, we claim, is happiness. (1.8.1099a29–31)

And presumably it’s even necessary, if there are unimpeded activities corresponding to each condition, that, regardless of whether happiness is the activity of all of them or of some particular one of them, that, if it’s unimpeded, it’s the most preferable thing. (7.13.1153b9–14) Regardless, then, of whether the activities of a mature and blessedly happy human being are of one sort or are several in kind, the pleasures that bring these to completion would properly be said to be “human pleasures.” (10.5.1176a26–28)

It has frequently been pointed out that Selection and Collection need not be regarded as exclusive. Aristotle’s view of the human good might be that it consists of a variety of activities, but as having a certain ordering, with only one such activity being first or at the top. Happiness for us, then, would be to engage in that first-ranked activity, while having all the other virtues and putting them into practice as appropriate. So perhaps Aristotle does not regard Selection and Collection as exclusive; perhaps he prolongs the ambiguity because he thinks he never needs to dispel it.



Pakaluk, Michael (1994), “Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics”, The Classical Quarterly, Cambridge.

Caring Economics

Book “Creating a Caring Economics: The Real Wealth of Nations”


America is teetering on the precipice of economic disaster. Commentators blame deregulated markets and a few bad apples at the top. But these are symptoms of deeper problems. Eminent social scientist and bestselling author Riane Eisler points the way to a sustainable and equitable economy that gives value to caring for our greatest economic assets: people and our natural environment.

This powerful book shows that the great problems of our time – such as poverty, inequality, war, terrorism, and environmental degradation – are due largely to flawed economic systems that set th wrong priorities and misallocate resources. Conventional economic models fail to value and support the most essential human work: caring and caregiving. So basic human needs are increasingly neglected, despair and ecological destruction escalate, and the resulting social tensions fuel many of the conflicts we face today.

Eisler offers a bold reformation: a caring economics that transcends traditional categories like capitalist and socialist and offers enormous economic and social benefits. She describes business policies and practices, innovative economic indicators that incorporate caregiving activities, and new social structures. And she lays out practical steps we can take to move towards a society based on this more humane and effective economic model.

Taken from:



Para los hispanoparlantes:



Hace pocos días, Francisco de Borja Santamaría nos advertía en esta misma web, en un artículo titulado Cuidar o ser cuidado, de que la situación habitual de un ser humano es la de cuidar de otros o la de ser cuidado por los demás. Hoy nos llega otro artículo, de José Ramón Pin, titulado “Caring Economics”, publicado en El Economista (Madrid) y al que hemos incluido algunos links de interés, que nos informa de que el “cuidado” ha pasado a ser o debe pasar a ser un concepto incluido en la ciencia económica.

Montreal, agosto de 2010. Reunión anual de la Academie of ManagementRiane Eisler presenta su libro Creating a Caring Economics. The Real Wealth of Nations (Creando Economías del Cuidado. La Riqueza Real de las Naciones). Su tesis: la ciencia económica actual no abarca una descripción real de la sociedad; deja fuera de su análisis lo más importante, care.

Profundizo en esa palabra: care. Llego a la conclusión de que Riane se refiere tanto a cariño como a cuidado, incluyendo el comportamiento a que lleva el cariño. Su traducción debería ser: Cuidado con CariñoCaring Economics: Economías del Cuidado con Cariño.

La reunión en la que se presenta el libro es concurrida. La autora cuenta su experiencia vital y académica. Austriaca, su familia fue perseguida por los nazis, pasó por Cuba y recaló en EEUU. Antropóloga, socióloga y jurista de formación, llegó a la conclusión de que se necesita una teoría más amplia e interdisciplinar de la economía.

Teoría distinta al capitalismo y al socialismo porque, según Riane, no pueden ser los esquemas políticos que han producido el problema los que aporten su solución. El cambio cultural que sustente una nueva economía vendrá del reconocimiento del valor de the care.

La familia, donde the care se desarrolla de manera natural, recupera su papel central. Un Estado con una economía sana necesita políticas de protección de la familia. También son importantes las instituciones que ofrecen cuidado con cariño: escuelas, iglesias, organizaciones de asistencia social, protección del medio ambiente, ONG, etc.

En la empresa igual: si se desarrolla the care, es más humana y eficiente.

Conociendo las corrientes intelectuales norteamericanas no me extrañaría que la Caring Economy se convirtiera en una propuesta atractiva como lo fueron los movimientos postmodernos de los años 60 y 70. No se olviden de esta expresión, ni de Riane Eisler.

José Ramón Pin. Profesor del IESE. Universidad de Navarra


Watch 2 short Welcome videos from Riane Eisler:


Listen to Riane Eisler’s dialogue with Michael Stone about this new book, on his radio show Conversations on July 27, 2010.