Virtue ethics, blameworthiness, and role failure

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When doctors in nineteenth-century America instilled hope in dying patients, these doctors were acting in accordance with the prevailing advice of the American Medical Association (AMA) code of ethics. The AMA no longer advises doctors to administer hope to dying patients, and contemporary doctors commonly regard the provision of false hope as unjustifiably paternalistic and judge practitioners as blameworthy for such behaviour. Virtue ethics approaches to medical practice typically evaluate such conduct as wrong because it is contrary to the role virtue of medical beneficence, and to the proper goals of medicine that this virtue aims to serve. Nevertheless, a nineteenth-century American doctor instilling false hope in their dying patient might seem to be less blameworthy than a contemporary doctor acting in such ways, given that this sort of conduct was being prescribed to nineteenth-century American doctors by their professional association. This raises a more general question about virtue ethics, which Oakley will address: Can virtue ethics accommodate judgements of diminished blameworthiness being made of role occupants who fail to act in accordance with the relevant role virtues, in circumstances where the professional, institutional, and regulatory environments they act in are not conducive to acting virtuously on those occasions?.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVirtue, Narrative, and the Self
Subtitle of host publicationExplorations of Character in the Philosophy of Mind and Action
EditorsJoseph Ulatowski, Liezl van Zyl
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781000222562
ISBN (Print)9780367418205
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory


  • Virtue ethics
  • Moral responsibility
  • blameworthiness
  • professional roles and responsibilities

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