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Virtue Ethics, Public Administration, and Telos

GVER, Vol. 5 No. 4, (2004)

Aristotle developed virtue ethics as normative ethical theory and it remained influential
for centuries but lost favor in the modernist and post-modernist era of today. One reason for that
falling out of favor was the philosophic argument that disagreed with Aristotle’s telos (meaning
end purpose) that is a critical foundation concept in his theory. The modern counter argument
challenges that critical assumption of virtue ethics by saying that there is no proof of an end
purpose of humans.

Agreeing with George Frederickson, this article argues a profession, such as public
administration, does have a telos and thus disagrees with contemporary arguments that virtue
ethics is logical foolishness at least when used in the context of a profession. This article builds
on the contemporary work of Alastyre MacIntyre and his concept that every “practice” has an
aim or end purpose. Thus, for public administration, virtue ethics is relevant because its
professional purpose is the benevolent pursuit of the public interest. Those in public
administration can and should use and develop virtues such as justice, courage, and truthfulness
to help them counter the common institutional temptations that drive lesser ethical people to seek
wealth, fame, and power instead of advancing the public interest.

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