The Ethics of Character:
Virtues and Vices

For a detailed discussion of virtue ethics, see Chapter Nine, "The Ethics of Character: Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach, 5th ed.Aristotle and Our Contepmoraries"  in my Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory.  This chapter includes a discussion of several specific virtues and vices, including proper self-love, compassion, and courage as well as a consideration of Aristotle's notion of human flourishing, the relationship between virtue and gender.Amazon Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory



Martha Nussbaum

The Fragility of Goodness:
Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy

A rich, eloquent book, introducing one of the fundamental themes of Martha Nussbaum's work: the role of emotions in uncovering for us the signfiicance of the moral world, revealing for us an otherwise unarticulated moral reality.  Central to Aristotle's investigatons of human flourishing, and Nussbaum's analysis here, is the question of moral luck: to what extent does the flourishing of the morally good person depend on luck, on factors beyond that individual's control?  This question continues to haunt us today.


Philip Hallie

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed:
The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There

Philip Hallie directs his attention in this book to the nature of goodness--not by developing an abstract theory carefully articulated in relation to other abstract theories, but rather by looking at a concrete instance of goodness in the lives of the villagers of the French Huegenot village of Le Chambon during World War II.  The villagers were responsible for saving the living of hundreds of Jews flleeing the Nazis, but they did so without violating their own pacificist principles.  A rare story, told with philosophical acumen and careful attention to the finely textured character of the moral reality created by those in the village.

Alasdair MacIntyre

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed.

Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most influential voices in twentieth century ethics, and in many ways responsible for the resurgence of interest in virtue ethics both among philosophers and within the wider public. 



Nichomachean Ethics

Well, what can I say?  It's simply the greatest work in the ethics of character, one that has set the stage for all subsequent discussions of virtues and vices.  Read it, set it aside, pick it up again and read it once more.  Think about it. Follow Aristotle in the questions that he asks and measure for yourself the answers he crafts in this seminal work.



In dealng with works by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, it is important to note the translation, beginning with the date of the translation.  Often English translations of works by Aristotle and others that are freely available on the web are a hundred years old (well beyond the point at which one is obligated to pay royalties to the translator!).  Translation has improved vastly in recent years, and gradually the quality of ancient texts has improved as well.  That said, there are still some excellent translations that are decades-old--for example, for W. D. Ross, one of the greatest Aristotle scholars of the first half of the twentieth century. 

Although the Nichomachean Ethics is the principal text for Aristotle's ethics, it is helpful to supplement it with the Eudemian Ethics (written earlier), the Politics, and the Rhetoric.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics

Aristotle, Politics

Aristotle, Rhetoric


On-line texts of Aristotle's works in moral philosophy:

Bjorn's Aristotle Page

Stephen Darwall's lectures on Aristotle's ethics:

Contemporary Theorists

  • Iris Murdoch
  • Elizabeth Anscombe
  • Philippa Foot
  • Alasdair MacIntyre
  • Bernard Williams
  • Julia Annas
  • Rosiland Hursthouse
  • Martha Nussbaum


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A Bibliographical Survey of Aristotle and Virtue Ethics Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory

Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 3rd Edition [Wadsworth, 2002] © 2002


The classic source for discussions of the virtues is Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (abbreviated EN). It is available in a number of translations. For a list of Aristotle's works available on the web, see the Reference Room of Ethics Updates (; this includes links to the Perseus Project at Tufts University, a superb site which includes both Greek text and English translations of Aristotle’s works as well as extensive critical apparatus. Helpful commentaries/introductions to EN include Christopher Biffle’s A Guided Tour of Selections from Aristotle’s "Nicomachean Ethics" (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991) and Roger Sullivan’s Morality and the Good Life (Memphis: Memphis State University, 1977). The account of the virtues in EN is supplemented, and occasionally contradicted, in Aristotle’s other major work in ethics, the Eudemian Ethics (EE). For a translation and commentary on Books I, II, and VIII of EE, see Woods, Aristotle’s "Eudemian Ethics" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982). In addition to EN and EE, Aristotle’s Politics and his Rhetoric contain important sections relating to the virtues.

General works on Aristotle

General works on Aristotle include Sir David Ross’s Aristotle, W. K. C. Guthrie’s section on Aristotle in his A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Works specifically on his ethics include Nancy Sherman’s The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); John Cooper’s Reason and Human Good in Aristotle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975); W. F. R. Hardie’s Aristotle’s Ethical Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980); Richard Kraut's Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Aristotle’s Theory of Moral Insight; Sarah Broadie’s Ethics with Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Two excellent anthologies of articles on Aristotle’s ethics are Amélie Rorty’s Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) and Barnes, Schofield, and Sorabji’s Articles on Aristotle: 2; Ethics and Politics (New York: St. Martin’s, 1977); the latter contains an excellent bibliography. One of the most fascinating treatments of Aristotle’s ethics is to be found in Part Three of Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986); also see her The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). For a perceptive discussion and evaluation of Aristotle’s ethics in light of current work in feminist ethics, see Marcia Homiak, "Feminism and Aristotle’s Rational Ideal," in A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1993), pp. 1-18.

Contemporary Virtue Theory

The contemporary resurgence of interest in the virtues begins with Philippa Foot’s "Virtues and Vices" in her Virtues and Vices and Other Essays In Moral Philosophy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 1-18 and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, 2nd edition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). Several reviews of the recent literature are noteworthy: Arthur Fleming’s "Reviewing the Virtues," Ethics, Vol. 90 (1980), pp. 587-95; Gregory Pence’s "Recent Work on the Virtues," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4 (October, 1984), pp. 281-97 and his "Virtue Theory," A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp. 249-58; Marcia Baron’s "Varieties of Ethics of Virtue," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 22 (January, 1985), 47-53; Gregory Trianosky’s "What Is Virtue Ethics All About?" American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4 (October, 1990), pp. 335-44; and Phillip Montague, "Virtue Ethics: A Qualified Success Story," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January, 1992), pp. 53-61. For an insightful analysis into historical views of virtue, see Richard White, "Historical Perspectives on the Morality of Virtue," The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 25 (1991), pp. 217-31. Also see the excellent bibliography in The Virtues, edited by Robert B. Kruschwitz and Robert C. Roberts (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1987). Other collections of contemporary articles on virtues and vices include Sommers and Sommers, Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, 3rd Edition (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1992); Vol. XIII of Midwest Studies in Philosophy (1988) on virtue theory; the special double issue on the virtues in Philosophia, Vol. 20 (1990); Flanagan and Rorty’s Identity, Character, and Morality (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990); Halberstam’s Virtues and Values (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1988); Virtue, edited by John W. Chapman and William A. Galston (New York: New York University Press, 1992) and John Deigh’s Ethics and Personality: Essays in Moral Psychology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). On the more popular front, see William Bennett, The Book of Virtues (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993). Joel Kupperman’s Character (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) presents a character-based ethical theory that places the discussion of particular virtues and vices within the context of the individual’s character. For a utilitarian approach to virtue, see John Kilcullen, "Utilitarianism and Virtue," Ethics, Vol. 93, No. 3 (April, 1983), pp. 451-66.


Aristotle’s discussion of courage appears primarily in his Nichomachean Ethics, Book III, Chapters 6-9. David Pears’ "Courage as a Mean" in Rorty’s Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) is an insightful, detailed consideration of Aristotle’s views on this virtue; for a critique of Pears' position, see Michael Stocker's "Courage, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Possibility of Evaluative and Emotional Coherence" in his Plural and Conflicting Values (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 129-64. Douglas Walton’s Courage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) provides a standard account of courage that focuses on courageous actions rather than character, while Lee Yearley’s Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) offers an interesting cross-cultural comparison between the thought of an early Confucian and a medieval Christian. For a provocative picture of courage which also recognizes its negative side, see Amélie Rorty’s "Two Faces of Courage" in her Mind in Action (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988). Also see Chapter Two, "Courage," in John Casey’s Pagan Virtue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). On ordinary courage in adolescent girls, see Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) and Annie Rogers’ paper, "The Development of Courage in Girls and Women," Harvard Educational Review (1993). For an account of Rhonda Cornum’s experiences as a prisoner of war, see, She Went to War by Rhonda Cornum as told to Peter Copeland (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1992). For an insightful discussion of gender and virtue in Aristotle, see "Gendered Virtue: Plato and Aristotle on the Politics of Virility," Chapter Four of Stephen G. Salkever's Finding the Mean (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 165-204.


The explicitly philosophical literature on compassion is relatively limited. The best pieces are Lawrence Blum’s "Compassion," Explaining Emotions, edited by A. O. Rorty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 507-18; Nancy Snow’s "Compassion," American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3 (July, 1991), pp. 195-205; and Adrian M. S. Piper, "Impartiality, Compassion, and Modal Imagination," Ethics, Vol. 101, No. 4 (July, 1991), pp. 726-57; also see the section on compassion in Richard Taylor’s Good and Evil (New York: Macmillan, 1970). For a perceptive and intriguing discussion of the place of compassion in contemporary American life, see Robert Wuthnow’s Acts of Compassion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). The story of the village of Le Chambon is recounted in Philip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (New York: Harper Colophon, 1979) and his articles, "Skepticism, Narrative, and Holocaust Ethics," Philosophical Forum and his "From Cruelty to Goodness," Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, edited by Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers, 3rd edition (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1992).

Self-Love and Self-Respect

There is an extensive literature on the issue of self-love and self-respect. For an insightful discussion of Aristotle's position on this issue, see Marcia Homiak's "Virtue and Self-Love in Aristotle's Ethics," The Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 11, No. 4 (December, 1981), pp. 633-51. On the relationship between self-love and friendship in Aristotle, see especially Richard Kraut's Aristotle on Human Good (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). One of the most influential contemporary philosophical articles on self-respect is Thomas Hill's "Servility and Self-Respect," reprinted in his Autonomy and Self-Respect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). Interesting responses to Hill's article include Larry Blum, Marcia Homiak, Judy Housman, and Naomi Scheman, "Altruism and Women's Oppression;" Philosophical Forum, Vol. 5 (1975), pp. 222-47; George Sher, "Our Preferences, Ourselves;" and Marilyn Friedman's "Moral Integrity and the Deferential Wife," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (1985), pp. 141-50. On the relationship between self-respect and race, see Michelle M. Moody-Adams, "Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-Respect," Philosophical Forum, Vol. XXIV, Nos. 1-3 (Fall-Spring, 1992-93), pp. 251-66. For a superb discussion of self-interest and related concepts that challenges the traditional dichotomy between self and other, see Kelly Rogers, "Beyond Self and Other," Social Philosophy & Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 1-20.


For a brief but excellent overview of issues about pride, see Lawrence Becker’s "Pride," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. II, pp. 1013-15. Also see Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame and Guilt: Emotions of Self-Assessment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) and Norvin Richards, Humility (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992).