Virtue ethics, blameworthiness, and role failure
Justin Oakley (Monash University)

December 3, 2019, 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne campus

Level 4, 250 Victoria Parade

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


Australian Catholic University


Abstract: When doctors in nineteenth-century America instilled hope – false or otherwise – in dying patients, these doctors were acting in accordance with the advice of the American Medical Association code of ethics that prevailed at the time. The AMA no longer advises doctors to administer hope to dying patients, and contemporary doctors commonly regard the provision of false hope as unjustifiably paternalistic and judge practitioners as blameworthy for such behaviour. Virtue ethics approaches to medical practice typically evaluate such conduct as wrong because it is contrary to the role virtue of medical beneficence, and to the proper goals of medicine that this virtue aims to serve. Nevertheless, a nineteenth-century American doctor instilling false hope in their dying patient might seem to be less blameworthy than a contemporary doctor acting in such ways, given that this sort of conduct was being prescribed to nineteenth-century American doctors by their professional association at the time. This raises a more general question about virtue ethics, which I will address in this talk. Is virtue ethics capable of accommodating judgments of diminished blameworthiness being made of role occupants who fail to act in accordance with the relevant role virtues, in circumstances where the professional, institutional, and regulatory environments they act in are not conducive to acting virtuously on those occasions?

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