The Seven Best Books on Virtue Ethics

Lennox Johnson Books

From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on virtue ethics, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on virtue ethics. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.

It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.

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 Virtue Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction

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?…

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The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics – Daniel C. Russell

Category: Overview | Length: 384 pages | Published: 2013 The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics

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.

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Virtue Ethics – Roger Crisp  & Michael Slote

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

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.

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Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle

Category: Classic | Length: 368 pages Nicomachean Ethics

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….

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Natural Goodness – Philippa Foot

Category: Contemporary | Length: 136 pages Natural Goodness 

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.

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After Virtue – Alasdair MacIntyre

Category: Contemporary | Length: 312 pages After Virtue

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….

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On Virtue Ethics – Rosalind Hursthouse

Category: Contemporary | Length: 504 pages On Virtue Ethics

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.

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The following sources were used to build this list:

Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.


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