Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals
Abstract: Applying virtue ethics to moral issues should be straightforward. After all, it basically just amounts to thinking about what to do using the virtue and vice terms. “I mustn’t pull the cat’s tail because it’s cruel,” I might say to myself, and surely that is simple enough. But somehow, when one turns, as a virtue ethicist, to engaging in current moral debates, applying virtue ethics becomes very difficult. Of course, applying the virtue and vice terms correctly may be difficult; one may need much practical wisdom to determine whether, in a particular case, telling a hurtful truth is cruel or not, for example, but that does not seem to be the main problem. In my experience, the main problem is just getting started. Why is this? Well, the thing I found most difficult when I was first trying to work out the virtue ethics approach to abortion was shedding the structure of thought about the issue imposed by the other two approaches, and I had the same difficulty trying to think about applying virtue ethics to our treatment of the other animals. We can’t get started until we have cleared enough space to think in our own way and have found the right questions to ask.
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