Introduction to Virtue Ethics

Insights of the Ancient Greeks

Raymond J. Devettere

"Clearly shows a mastery of both the classical philosophers and of contemporary controversies in ethics."
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This fascinating examination of the development of virtue ethics in the early stages of western civilization deals with a wide range of philosophers and schools of philosophy—from Socrates and the Stoics to Plato, Aristotle, and the Epicureans, among others. This introduction examines those human attributes that we have come to know as the "stuff" of virtue: desire, happiness, the "good," character, the role of pride, prudence, and wisdom, and links them to more current or modern conceptions and controversies.

The tension between viewing ethics and morality as fundamentally religious or as fundamentally rational still runs deep in our culture. A second tension centers on whether we view morality primarily in terms of our obligations or primarily in terms of our desires for what is good. The Greek term arete, which we generally translate as "virtue," can also be translated as "excellence." Arete embraced both intellectual and moral excellence as well as human creations and achievements. Useful, certainly, for classrooms, Virtue Ethics is also for anyone interested in the fundamental question Socrates posed, "What kind of life is worth living?"

Table of Contents

Part One: Desire, Happiness, and Virtue
1. The Origin of Ethics
2. Happiness
3. Character Virtue
Part Two: Prudence and Character Virtue
4. The Prudence in Socrates and Plato
5. Prudence in Aristotle
6. Prudence in Stoicism


"Devettere gives a clear and useful account of some of the distinctive features of virtue-based ethics, explaining the relationship between the virtues and personal happiness, and the importance of prudential reasoning in exercising the virtues ."— , Ageing and Society

"Unlike some more analytically detailed accounts of the moral philosophy of the ancients, Devettere's book is intended as an introduction that might encourage the reader to go to read some of the authors discussed. Deveterre covers Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Epicureans in an introductive but authoritative fashion. This book is especially useful for its analyses of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, some of whose writings have come down to us either only indirectly or in a very fragmentary manner. A welcome addition to the history of philosophy of virtue ethics, this book contains almost 50 pages dedicated to a glossary, an index, and valuable bibliographical essays. Especially useful for general readers and lower- and upper-division undergraduate students. Recommended."—Choice

"Clearly shows a mastery of both the classical philosophers and of contemporary controversies in ethics."—John J. Conley, SJ, associate professor and former chair of philosophy at Fordham



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About the Author

Raymond J. Devettere teaches health care ethics at Emmanuel College and Boston College. He is a long-time member of the ethics committee at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in the Greater Boston area, and author of Practical Decision Making in Health Care Ethics.

208 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Sep 2002

208 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-0-87840-372-1
Sep 2002

208 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-817-4
Sep 2002

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