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The moral virtues are produced in us neither by nature nor against nature. Nature, indeed, prepares in us the ground for their reception, but their complete formation is the product of habit. — Aristotle

The philosophies of Kant and of Mill examined in Workshops 2 and 3 provide two different frameworks for ethically sound decisions. Virtue ethics, the focus of this workshop, provides a third framework. Frequently traced back to Aristotle's influential work, Nicomachean Ethics, this approach to morality holds that cultivating and practicing virtues leads to virtuous character and ethical living. Our own virtuous behavior can, in turn, inform our community and shape the world around us. Virtue ethics holds that the individual cultivation of virtue is the foundation for societal transformation.

Virtue ethics, while often associated closely with Greek philosophy, is the approach taken by other important spiritual and ethical leaders. Jesus of Nazareth cultivated a virtuous life and exhorted his followers to live an examined life characterized by virtue. Mahatma Gandhi made this ethical framework the centerpiece of his world view. In modern times, the Dalai Lama is an example of a spiritual leader who strives to live a life of virtue. Unitarian Universalists need look no further than our own seven Principles to discover a call to virtuous living and the cultivation of character.

This workshop examines virtue ethics as a framework for our moral choices and actions. What does it mean to make cultivation of character the primary focus of our morality? In what ways is this approach sensible? In what ways might it present challenges? Participants explore what it means to live a life of virtue? What are important virtues to cultivate in our daily living? By what authority do we determine which virtues ought to be cultivated? How should we respond when we personally fall short of virtues we hold dear?

Activity 1, Opening Scenario, has two options. Read and consider them both and decide in advance which one you will use. Before leading this workshop, review Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction.


This workshop will:

  • Introduce virtue ethics
  • Offer opportunities for participants to consider how adoption of this ethical framework would impact their actions and choices
  • Strengthen connections among participants.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn about virtue ethics and discover its strengths and challenges as an ethical framework
  • Identify situations in which they already use this framework for ethical decision making
  • Examine the lives of people considered virtuous
  • Learn how virtue ethics has historically provided an ethical framework for civil disobedience/social protest, and explore whether this framework is needed to support social protest today.

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