Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Virtue Ethics and the Problem of Aging

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Philosophy

First Advisor

Steven Skultety

Second Advisor

Robert B. Westmoreland

Third Advisor

Neil Manson


It seems wrong that a theory of a good life, well-being, or flourishing would be unable to accommodate those normal changes that distinguish natural aging and dying processes from external forces which truly do impede life. I argue in this paper that several versions of contemporary virtue ethics, which depend heavily on a theory of the good life, suffer from this very defect. I examine the difficulties experienced by contemporary Aristotelian-based virtue ethics in accommodating natural aging into well-being and flourishing lives, and ask whether those difficulties are intrinsic to Aristotle's theory itself. I examine Aristotle's theory in the context of its ability to accommodate natural aging and determine that Aristotle's virtue ethics accommodates natural aging. I argue that some contemporary virtue ethical theories are better at accommodating natural aging than others, but that each is defective in this regard, and that the degree of difficulty experienced by each theory lies in the degree to which the theory strays from Aristotle's conception of "activity." Finally I discuss options for virtue ethics approaches to ethical theory that can accommodate natural aging into well-being and a flourishing life, concluding the necessary level of activity may be satisfied by dialectical activity that requires only action based on a firm and stable disposition as determined with reason.

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