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The virtues (and vices) of the four principles

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Campbell, A. V.

Despite tendencies to compete for a prime place in moral theory, neither virtue ethics nor the four principles approach should claim to be superior to, or logically prior to, the other. Together they provide a more adequate account of the moral life than either can offer on its own. The virtues of principlism are clarity, simplicity and (to some extent) universality. These are well illustrated by Ranaan Gillon’s masterly analysis of the cases he has provided. But the vices of this approach are the converse of its virtues: neglect of emotional and personal factors, oversimplification of the issues, and excessive claims to universality. Virtue ethics offers a complementary approach, providing insights into moral character, offering a blend of reason and emotion, and paying attention to the context of decisions. The cases provided can be more adequately understood if we combine the approaches. Both should foster the virtues of humility and magnanimity.

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