Rosalind Hursthouse – Virtue Theory and Abortion

These are my notes from the reading, rather than a summary.

Part I

Deontology: link between

  • right action
  • moral rule
  • rationality


  • consequences
  • happiness

Virtue Ethics

  • right action
  • virtuous agent

Criticism of Virtue Ethics (VE)

  1. The concept of eudaimonia is too obscure
  2. the theory is circular
  3. VE is concerned w/ character and not action
  4. VE supplies no rules or principles of action. All we can do is ask WWXD?
  5. VE dumbs down our moral vocabulary in order to talk about morality only as it comes from the virtuous agent.
  6. VE is guilty of cultural relativism
    1. RH says Deontology and Utilitarianism are also guilty of this. Theories are created to get the right answers at the end. The solution is not to change the theory, but to say culture X is wrong and the theory is right.
  7. VE has “unresolvable” built into it, and therefore has nothing helpful to say.
  8. MAIN CRITICISM: VE is all assertions and no supporting arguments. It assumes the agent is already knowledgeable concerning what is right and what is good.
  9. MAIN CRITICISM: VE presupposes what is “worthwhile” in order to know what is right.

RH says she is not trying to solve the problem of abortion, but in a way she solves it by dissolving it by saying that there is no single answer. Is that adequate?

Part II

  • The current debate is
    1. The status of the fetus and whether or not it is the sort of thing that can be “innocuously or justifiably killed.” Do you agree with this?
    2. Women’s rights
  • Love and Friendship do not survive their parties’’ constantly insisting on their rights, nor do people live well…. they harm others, and they harm others, and they harm themselves. (227)
  • Rosalind Hursthouse says attaching relevance to the status of the fetus is going beyond the familiar biological facts. Do you agree, or are the facts enough? (228)
  • Abortion for shallow reasons is much more shocking in the later term than in the earlier, like miscarriages. (231)
  • To shrug off an early abortion is understandable because it is hard to even experience the fetus as alive. What about the people who can’t shrug it off? Is it merely guilt placed on them by their religious community, etc…? (231)
  • Are communities that practice infanticide inferior to our own? If it is done due to tough conditions what does this mean about their morality (or morality is general)? How does this relate to the current economic crisis? (232)
  • Is Rosalind Hursthouse saying a woman can humbly say “I am not ready for motherhood yet” and consequently have an abortion with “an appropriate modesty or humility”? (234)
  • This conversation should cause us to consider is “chaste” a virtue? (235)
  • What does it mean to say that even when making the choice to have an abortion is the right one, it is still a consequence of a moral failing? (235)

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