Toward a virtue-based normative ethics for the health professions

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1995 Sep;5(3):253-77. doi: 10.1353/ken.0.0044.


Virtue is the most perdurable concept in the history of ethics, which is understandable given the ineradicability of the moral agent in the events of the moral life. Historically, virtue enjoyed normative force as long as the philosophical anthropology and the metaphysics of the good that grounded virtue were viable. That grounding has eroded in both general and medical ethics. If virtue is to be restored to a normative status, its philosophical underpinnings must be reconstructed. Such reconstruction seems unlikely in general ethics, where the possibility of agreement on the good for humans is remote. However, it is a realistic possibility in the professional ethics fo the health professions where agreement on the telos of the healing relationship is more likely to arise. Nevertheless, virtue-based ethics must be related conceptually and normatively to other ethical theories in a comprehensive moral philosophy of the health professions. If he really does think there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, sir, when he leaves our house, let us count our spoons. Samuel Johnson

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethical Theory*
  • Ethics, Medical / history*
  • Health Occupations / standards*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Morals*
  • Social Values
  • United States
  • Virtues*