The Seven Best Books on Virtue Ethics

Lennox Johnson Books

This page contains a list of the seven best books on virtue ethics. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on virtue ethics” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on virtue ethics. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on virtue ethics. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on virtue ethics in no particular order:

Virtue Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction – Liezl van Zyl

Category: General Introduction | Length: 248 pages | Published: 2018

Publisher description: This volume provides a clear and accessible overview of central concepts, positions, and arguments in virtue ethics today. While it focuses primarily on Aristotelian virtue ethics, it also includes discussion of alternative forms of virtue ethics (sentimentalism and pluralism) and competing normative theories (consequentialism and deontology).

The first six chapters are organized around central questions in normative ethics that are of particular concern to virtue ethicists and their critics:

  • What is virtue ethics?
  • What makes a trait a virtue?
  • Is there a link between virtue and happiness?
  • What is involved in being well-motivated?
  • What is practical wisdom?
  • What makes an action right?

The last four chapters focus on important challenges or objections to virtue ethics:

  • Can virtue ethics be applied to particular moral problems?
  • Does virtue ethics ultimately rely on moral principles?
  • Can it withstand the situationist critique?
  • What are the prospects for an environmental virtue ethics?

The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics – Daniel C. Russell

Category: Overview | Length: 384 pages | Published: 2013

Publisher description: Virtue ethics has emerged from a rich history, in which both Aristotle and Aquinas have played an important role, to become one of the fastest-growing fields in contemporary ethics. In this volume of newly commissioned essays, leading moral philosophers offer a comprehensive overview of virtue ethics. They examine the theoretical structure of virtue ethics and its place in contemporary moral theory and other topics discussed include the history of virtue-based approaches to ethics, what makes these approaches distinctive, what they can say about specific practical issues and where we can expect them to go in the future. This Companion will be useful to students of virtue ethics and the history of ethics and to others who want to understand how virtue ethics is changing the face of contemporary moral philosophy.

Virtue Ethics – Roger Crisp  & Michael Slote

Category: Anthology | Length: 296 pages | Published: 1997

Publisher description: This volume brings together much of the most influential work undertaken in the field of virtue ethics over the last four decades. The ethics of virtue predominated in the ancient world, and recent moral philosophy has seen a revival of interest in virtue ethics as a rival to Kantian and utilitarian approaches to morality. Divided into four sections, the collection includes articles critical of other traditions; early attempts to offer a positive vision of virtue ethics; some later criticisms of the revival of virtue ethics; and, finally, some recent, more theoretically ambitious essays in virtue ethics.

Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle

Category: Classic | Length: 368 pages

Publisher description: The Nicomachean Ethics is one of Aristotle’s most widely read and influential works. Ideas central to ethics—that happiness is the end of human endeavor, that moral virtue is formed through action and habituation, and that good action requires prudence—found their most powerful proponent in the person medieval scholars simply called “the Philosopher.” Drawing on their intimate knowledge of Aristotle’s thought, Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins have produced here an English-language translation of the Ethics that is as remarkably faithful to the original as it is graceful in its rendering.

Aristotle is well known for the precision with which he chooses his words, and in this elegant translation his work has found its ideal match. Bartlett and Collins provide copious notes and a glossary providing context and further explanation for students, as well as an introduction and a substantial interpretive essay that sketch central arguments of the work and the seminal place of Aristotle’s Ethics in his political philosophy as a whole.

The Nicomachean Ethics has engaged the serious interest of readers across centuries and civilizations—of peoples ancient, medieval, and modern; pagan, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish—and this new edition will take its place as the standard English-language translation.

Natural Goodness – Philippa Foot

Category: Contemporary | Length: 136 pages

Publisher description: Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such; she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion covers topics such as practical rationality, erring conscience, and the relation between virtue and happiness, ending with a critique of Nietzsche’s immoralism. This long-awaited book exposes a highly original approach to moral philosophy and represents a fundamental break from the assumptions of recent debates. Foot challenges many prominent philosophical arguments and attitudes; but hers is a work full of life and feeling, written for anyone intrigued by the deepest questions about goodness and human.

After Virtue – Alasdair MacIntyre

Category: Contemporary | Length: 312 pages

Publisher description: When After Virtue first appeared in 1981, it was recognized as a significant and potentially controversial critique of contemporary moral philosophy. Newsweek called it “a stunning new study of ethics by one of the foremost moral philosophers in the English-speaking world.” Since that time, the book has been translated into more than fifteen foreign languages and has sold over one hundred thousand copies. Now, twenty-five years later, the University of Notre Dame Press is pleased to release the third edition of After Virtue, which includes a new prologue “After Virtue after a Quarter of a Century.”

In this classic work, Alasdair MacIntyre examines the historical and conceptual roots of the idea of virtue, diagnoses the reasons for its absence in personal and public life, and offers a tentative proposal for its recovery. While the individual chapters are wide-ranging, once pieced together they comprise a penetrating and focused argument about the price of modernity. In the Third Edition prologue, MacIntyre revisits the central theses of the book and concludes that although he has learned a great deal and has supplemented and refined his theses and arguments in other works, he has “as yet found no reason for abandoning the major contentions” of this book. While he recognizes that his conception of human beings as virtuous or vicious needed not only a metaphysical but also a biological grounding, ultimately he remains “committed to the thesis that it is only from the standpoint of a very different tradition, one whose beliefs and presuppositions were articulated in their classical form by Aristotle, that we can understand both the genesis and the predicament of moral modernity.”

On Virtue Ethics – Rosalind Hursthouse

Category: Contemporary | Length: 504 pages

Publisher description: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, here presents a full exposition and defense of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:


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