Virtue-based Approaches to Professional Ethics: a Plea for More Rigorous Use of Empirical Science

Georg Spielthenner


Until recently, the method of professional ethics has been largely principle-based. But the failure of this approach to take into sufficient account the character of professionals has led to a revival of virtue ethics. The kind of professional virtue ethics that I am concerned with in this paper is teleological in that it relates the virtues of a profession to the ends of this profession. My aim is to show how empirical research can (in addition to philosophical inquiry) be used to develop virtue-based accounts of professional ethics, and that such empirically well-informed approaches are more convincing than traditional kinds of professional virtue ethics. The paper is divided into four sections. In the first, I outline the structure of a teleological approach to virtue ethics. In Section 2, I show that empirical research can play an essential role in professional ethics by emphasizing the difference between conceptual and empirical matters. Section 3 demonstrates the relevance of virtues in professional life; and the last section is concerned with some meta-ethical issues that are raised by a teleological account of professional virtues.


Empirical Ethics; Professional Ethics; Professional Virtues; Science-based Ethics; Teleological Virtue Theory; Virtue Ethics

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