Virtue ethics

I have just been to the termly meeting for Anglican Chaplains in London. This group now regularly includes our Jewish, Hindu and Muslim colleagues in HE Chaplaincy, as well as partners from other Christian denominations.

The key note speaker was Prof Arthur James from Birmingham University. He presented research from interviews with children and young people about thier views of morality and character. It is a project very much inspired by virtue ethics. This is the idea that ethical decisions are made because of virtuous habits practised over time that shape who we are and the character we develop. Viture ethics are great in drawing attention to the daily decisions that we make that help to shape the direction and nature  of our lives. However, it is not always clear that virtue alone can shape  our decisions about what we think important. Could we not work with discipline, committment, and careful attention to causes that are trivial, destructive or criminal?

I guess this is where virtues need to be practised or ‘formed’ by a community where common aims and values can be stated and challenged.

On on this point Sam Wells’s in his  ‘Improvisation-the Drama of Christian Ethics’ explores the formation of character that comes from participating in a worshipping Christian community. This formation process can only work well, I think, if there is some explicit connection made between the actions in worship and the actions in daily life. For example, ‘sharing the peace’ – the handshake of reconciliation shared in the service needs to be practised consistently in struggles of office politics as well as at those difficult times with friends, familyor neighbours.  Ritual life and daily life need each other.


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