The three: virtue, morality and ethics are not new philosophical terms. To Aristotle the good for human beings must essentially involve the entire proper function of human life as a whole. And this must be an activity of the soul so that expresses genuine virtue or excellence.
Virtue, in short, is a desire for honourable things. Aristotle defined the virtue as habits of acting or dispositions to act in certain ways. In China the term Dé is probably the closest modern English equivalent that means ‘virtue’ in the sense of ‘personal character,’ ‘inner strength,’ ‘virtuosity,’ or ‘integrity.’ Chinese character Dé, written as 德, is composed of the radical彳followed by the number ‘fourteen’ or shí sì (十四) over ‘one’ or yī (一) ‘heart / mind’ or xīn (心). The simple meaning is that one has to have a big heart for fourteen people.
Ethics addresses questions on morality —concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc. Also Aristotle gave careful consideration to the aspects of human nature involved in acting and accepting moral responsibility. So, ethics is a system of moral principles hence practical rather than a theoretical approach. Ethics are the body of moral principles governing or distinctive of a particular culture or group.
And finally, moral is founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom. In other words, values describe what is important in a person’s life, while ethics and morals prescribe what is or not considered appropriate behaviour in living one’s life (Paul Chippendale). In short, one could say: “Virtue motivates, morals and ethics constrain.”
If so, why do we talk about morals and ethics in modern management approaches? And, why about virtue and values in leadership?