Rosalind Hursthouse

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Rosalind Hursthouse
Born (1943-11-10) November 10, 1943 (age 78)
Nationality New Zealand
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic Philosophy
Main interests
Virtue ethics
Philosophy of mind
Notable ideas
Practical value of virtue ethics

Rosalind Hursthouse (born 10 November 1943) is a moral philosopher noted for her work on virtue ethics.


Hursthouse spent her childhood in New Zealand and taught for many years at the Open University in England. She was head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Auckland from 2002 to 2005. Though she had written a substantial amount previously, Hursthouse entered the international philosophical scene for the first time in 1990–91, with three articles:

First, "Arational Actions", which made an important break with models of voluntary human actions familiar from the work of Donald Davidson, with more general implications for those models of human agency popular within positivist schools in the social sciences. Hursthouse turns her philosophical attention, and ours, to the kinds of reasons actually sought for and given by human beings in the explanation of human behaviour: what it is we really do as human beings, being, particularly, an emotional as well as a rational, social, political, linguistic, lawful animal.

Second, "Virtue Theory and Abortion", in which Hursthouse outlined the structure of a new version of Aristotelian virtue ethics, defended it against possible objections, and applied it to the issue of abortion. Hursthouse collapses the theoretical/applied distinction in ethics, as well as the fact/value distinction in general. As a pioneering work in neo-Aristotelian practical philosophy, Hursthouse demonstrates the emphasis within virtue ethics, as a revitalised tradition in Western Philosophy, upon the realities of situated agents and their lives as wholes (including the consequences of their actions), and the salient capacities and considerations involved in truly acting well, or as well as is objectively possible, within whatever situation an agent may actually find herself in.

Third, "After Hume's Justice", which offered an account of social justice in mainly Aristotelian and Wittgensteinian terms, and which, though Hursthouse did not seek to justify prevailing liberal democratic institutions, demonstrated that a modern practical philosophy conceptually centred upon virtue in its distinct sense when applied to human beings and our communities, can accommodate certain human or individual rights. Our practice as (specifically human) agents would naturally have to change through collective action if our institutions and their agents (and of course, given the primacy of ethics in Aristotle: we, ourselves) were to be truly virtuous in the complex sense connected to the flourishing of human beings and our communities. This is implied by importing the conceptual structure of Neo-Aristotelian ethics from the analysis of the virtue of agents to the virtue of our social structures, given the practical nature of such a philosophical investigation.[1]

Hursthouse is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of Auckland.

Hursthouse, who was mentored by Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot, is best known as a virtue ethicist.[2] Her work is deeply grounded in the history of philosophy, and especially in Aristotle's ethics, about which she has written extensively. Hursthouse's article "Virtue Theory and Abortion" argues that whereas most discussions of abortion focus on the issue of who has rights to make decisions regarding the foetus, a decision made within one's rights could still be callous or cowardly, meaning that it would be ethically problematic and potentially devastating for the person making it, whatever the status of the foetus and the reproductive rights of women.[3]

Hursthouse has also emphasised the practical nature of virtue ethics in her books Beginning Lives and Ethics, Humans, and Other Animals. Hursthouse's most substantial contribution to modern virtue ethics is her book On Virtue Ethics, which explores its structure as a distinctive action-guiding theory, the relationship between virtue, the emotions and moral motivation, and the place of the virtues within an overall account of human flourishing. It also expands her formulation of right action in terms of what a virtuous person would characteristically do.[3]

Select publications

  • 'The Central Doctrine of the Mean' in The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Richard Kraut, Blackwell, 2006, pp. 96–115.
  • 'Are Virtues the Proper Starting Point for Ethical Theory?' in Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory, ed. James Dreier, Blackwell, 2006, pp. 99–112.
  • ‘Virtue Ethics’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, 2003
  • 'Virtue Ethics vs Rule-Consequentialism: A Reply to Brad Hooker', Utilitas Vol 14, March 2002 pp 41–53.
  • Ethics, Humans and Other Animals, Routledge, 2000 (written as a part of an Open University course).
  • On Virtue Ethics, Oxford University Press, 1999. For the author's account of how this book came to be written, go to OUP site
  • 'Virtue and Human Nature' in Hume Studies double issue, Nov.1999/Feb.2000.
  • 'Intention' in Logic, Cause and Action, ed. Roger Teichmann, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • 'Virtue Ethics and the Emotions' in Virtue Ethics, ed. Daniel Statman, Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
  • 'Hume's Moral and Political Philosophy' in History of Philosophy, Vol. 5, British Philosophy and the Enlightenment, ed. Stuart Brown, Routledge, 1996.
  • 'The Virtuous Agent's Reasons: a reply to Bernard Williams' in the Proceedings of the Keeling Colloquium on Aristotle on Moral Realism, ed. Robert Heinaman, UCL Press, 1995.
  • 'Normative Virtue Ethics' in How Should One Live? ed. Roger Crisp, OUP, 1995.
  • 'Applying Virtue Ethics' in Virtues and Reasons, Festschrift for Philippa Foot, eds. Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence, Warren Quinn, OUP, 1995.
  • 'Arational Actions' in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXXXVIII 1991.
  • 'Virtue Theory and Abortion' in Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 20, 1990–91.
  • 'After Hume's Justice' in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. XCL, 1990/91.


  1. Michael Slote (2010). Oppy, Graham & Trakakis, N. N. (eds.). A Companion to Philosophy in Australia & New Zealand. Clayton, Australia: Monash University Publishing. pp. 213–214. ISBN 978-0-9806512-0-1.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Slote, Michael (2010). "Chapter 8: H". In Graham, Oppy; Trakakis, N.N. (eds.). A Companion to Philosophy in Australia & New Zealand (Web ed.). Monash University Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9806512-1-8. Retrieved 18 September 2011. Hursthouse is best known as a virtue ethicist, and most of her work, both theoretical and applied, has exemplified that approach.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Daniel Russell (2010). Oppy, Graham & Trakakis, N. N. (eds.). A Companion to Philosophy in Australia & New Zealand. Clayton, Australia: Monash University Publishing. p. 575. ISBN 978-0-9806512-0-1.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links