Kantian & Virtue Ethics in a Modern World

Various ethical theories provide different philosophies on ethics and how human beings are supposed to behave. This paper will discuss the Kantian and Virtue ethics philosophies. To start with the Kantian ethics, Emmanuel Kant opens up his argument by stating, “The only thing that is unconditionally good is a goodwill (Class Reading, 2022).” He meant that acting morally is when an individual acts out of goodwill. It is when individuals act from a sense of moral obligation because they understand it is their duty to act morally. His sentiments are against utilitarianism in that he says consequences do not determine what is wrong or right. In his view, an action can be right even if its consequences are not favorable. For example, one can offer someone some food to eat because it is the right thing. Even if that person asks for food to get energy for fighting and killing someone, giving out food is morally right, regardless of the consequences.

Kantian ethics asserts that it could be challenging to determine one’s duty, hence, using categorical imperative as a morality fundamental principle is helpful. The principle is the rule of morality and from which all other rules are deduced. One of the elements of this principle is that individuals should act only at a maxim of universal law. This means that before acting in a certain way, individuals should ask themselves how it would be if everyone acted that way and if they would wish everyone to act that way. If their answer is positive, then the action is right, and if it is negative, the action is morally wrong. The second element is that individuals should treat people as ends and not as means to their ends. The statement treats people as rational beings capable of making rational decisions, and thus, they should be respected. Therefore, when acting, one should explain the situation to others and let them decide because they are rational.

One of the positives of Kantian ethics is that it is against exploitation and inequality through the categorical imperative element of treating humans as ends and not means. Through this, every human is given a chance to make decisions, avoiding exploitation and unequal decisions upon others. Another positive is that it reinforces respect for humans, which is moral. Treating people as ends and not means reinforces respect, which can then enhance peace among humans. On the contrary, one of the negatives is that the theory is more abstract than practical. In other words, it is not easily applicable as it tells good actions but not the right things to do. Secondly, it assumes that the categorical imperative principle must be used universally without considering the situation at hand. For example, the principle does not give individuals a choice as the principle is considered moral.

Virtue Ethics

The philosophy is about the moral virtues that individuals are supposed to hold. It holds that particular virtues are suitable for individuals and enable them to live a good life. Aristotle posits that moral virtues are habitual and are excised through actions. For example, for one to be considered generous, they must be routinely generous through their actions. One crucial element of this philosophy is that moral virtue is a mean between two extremes (Class Reading, 2022). For example, too little courage is cowardice, while too much courage is recklessness. A moral virtue lies in between these two. However, the word ‘mean’ in this case does not imply a halfway mathematical point. It means what is appropriate under a particular circumstance.

Since virtue is right under particular situations, one of the crucial elements of this philosophy is practical wisdom. It means the wisdom individuals should have to understand what is required in each circumstance. For example, different circumstances call for different actions. Some situations require one to break the rule, while others require one to follow it. This calls for knowledge application, reasoning, emotional sensitivity, perceptiveness, and experience to assess what is required. For instance, in a situation where a person is surrounded by killers and is asked to transfer some money or else, they kill him, and the person lies to protect themselves from danger, in that case, the action is not immoral. They have lied to protect themselves from being killed, and in that case, they have used practical wisdom to assess what they should do.

One of the positives of virtues ethics is that it offers a general concept of ethics, providing individuals with choices. It does not rule out actions as right or wrong, rather depends on the circumstances under which they are done. Secondly, it is not rule-oriented, which means that it does not conclude how individuals are supposed to act but ask them to uphold moral virtues in all their actions. Like Kantian ethics, virtues ethics is not action-guiding regarding the negatives. It outlines that moral virtues are vital for individuals but does not show how people should act or behave. Secondly, it is selfish in that it does not recognize other people’s feelings. For instance, when one is mad and wants to hurt someone else, the other party is mindful of their safety and not the feelings of the mad person.

Application to Modern Life

While the two theories apply to modern life, virtue ethics is more applicable for several reasons. Firstly, it recognizes the rationality of human beings, and thus, people use it more than others. It recognizes humans as rational beings that have the ability to think. This is applicable in many situations as humans are expected to be rational in everything they do. That is what makes them make the right choices and act morally right. For example, individuals are expected to make choices through thinking critically. This is seen in many situations, like in a leadership role. Leaders must think rationally before making any decision so that they act right (Gosling & Mintzberg, 2017).

Secondly, through the principle of mean, people apply the philosophy by basing their actions on moderation. In many cases, individuals avoid going to the extremes of either too high or too low. For example, in the case of giving, it is recommended that one is a moderate giver where they do not give too much or does not give at all. In a business situation, leaders are supposed to act moderately in that they should not be too strict, and they should also not be too soft to the employees. For example, they are expected to be decisive and, at the same time, servants.

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Lastly, unlike Kantian ethics, virtues ethics do not rule out what is good or bad but ask individuals to determine by assessing a situation. A more significant number of individuals determine what is right or wrong depending on the situation. For example, judges first hear both sides in courts and ask each party to describe why they did an action to determine their motives. Depending on the situations the parties describe, they determine if the action was wrong or not. This means that they use the virtues of ethics. On the contrary, Kantian ethics theory is only used when talking about respecting other humans or treating them as ends rather than as means. However, virtues ethics theory applies to many life situations as discussed, and hence, I feel that it is the most applicable to modern life.


Gosling, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2017). The five minds of a manager. Leadership Perspectives, 41-49. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315250601-5

Class Reading. (2022). Three Theories of Ethics [PDF].