Concept of Ethics and Culture Article Review

Perrett, R. W., & Patterson, J. (1991). Virtue ethics and Maori ethics. Philosophy East and West, 41(2), 185-202.


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First Steps

• The argument of the author is that the Maori Ethics is a representation of the virtue ethics as it is a representation of what one should be and not how one should act. The author alludes to Aristotle’s perceptions of ethics and differentiates the concept of virtue ethics from the deontological and consequentialist theories. The concept of the self as the prime moral agent of nature is one of the main argument brought forward by the authors.


• Verbatim: The main thesis of this essay is that traditional New Zealand Maori ethics is a virtue ethics.


• The research question is: what type of ethics is the Maori ethics and how does it relate to the other forms of ethics described today? This question is answered using various arguments that relate to the concept of ethics known today and the way various theorists describe it.


• The article adds to the knowledge on ethics by arguing that both consequentialism and Kantianism have the wrong perception of the fundamentals of ethics. In the views of the author, Maori ethics is a description of a virtue ethics that describes what a person should be based on nature. The Maori people are supposed to emulate their ancestors and it is for this reason that the use the term “tika” to mean the natural.


Second Steps

Critical Positioning


The author quotes some parts of Aristotle’s work to show the relationship it has with the Maori form of ethics. They question the stand taken by the consequentialism and Kantianism approaches to ethics by arguing that they got the fundamentals of ethics all wrong. The author looks at the work of other researchers in explaining the concept of the Maori Ethics. The development of the essay draws some conclusions from the work done earlier by other scholars such as Best, Johansen, Schwimmer and Lewis. All these researchers have done an analysis of the Maori Ethics before.


Section 1 185-186


The essay addresses the meaning of virtue ethics. The authors explain the meaning from the perspective of various approaches such as the Aristotelian approach to ethics. One thing that emerges is that the Maori ethics can be best understood using the Maori virtues. This means that the virtues are the basic concept in the Maori ethics.


• “A more moderate position is that what theories like Aristotle’s show us is that any adequate ethical theory must do justice to the essential part the virtues play (perhaps by including both a theory of right conduct and a theory of virtue.” The argument shows that virtues are an integral part of the Maori Ethics as they attempt to connect the self with the arguments of nature.


Section 2: 186-189


The author in this section looks at the reasons that are there to explain the Maori ethics as virtue ethics. The concept of “tika” is well elaborated in relation to nature. The connection of the Maori ethics and the Aristotelian ethics and the connection they have in relation to the inner drive to have a certain character are well outlined.


• “Both Maori ethics and Aristotelian ethics, then, associate the good with the cultivation of a certain excellence of character. Moreover, both identify human excellence or virtue with being “natural,” fulfilling one’s function.” This means that ethics among the Maori is measured in terms of the character that one has. This character is drawn from the inspiration of nature and the ancestors.


• “By saying that the Maoris did not build the opposition “good and evil” into their world order, I do not mean that they knew no morality. There is no reason to believe that. It is rather that they had not codified morality. It was a more informal, less ordered concept. There were no Ten Commandments, yet in one way or another people were restrained from doing the things forbidden in the Ten Commandments.” The argument is used to discredit the argument that is brought forward by critics that the Maori do not have a distinction between good and evil. Despite them lacking in some aspects of the Ten Commandments or rules that govern character, they are restrained by their natural approach to things from doing the things that violate the Ten Commandments.


Section 3 189-193


In this section, the authors look at the relationship or the differences and similarities that are there between Aristotle’s argument of the great-souled and the Maori view of rangatira. These two concepts are conjoined in the view of virtue ethics to argue that not all humans are the same as there are those who have better natural qualities than others do. According to the Maori, these qualities are usually instilled in a person before one is born and are used in the selection of leaders (Furness, Nikora, Hodgetts, & Robertson, 2016).


Section 4: 193-199


In this section, the focus of the authors is on the self as an agent of morality in the society. The authors argue that the Maori view the concept of the self in a way that is non-individualistic and one that is narrative based. The use of the pronoun ‘I’ shows the unity among the Maori (Furness, Nikora, Hodgetts, & Robertson, 2016). Even in things that are considered evil in other societies, the Maori view remains that of unity. The Maori are entrenched into the concept of the tribe to the extent that he or she is always employing the personal pronoun I to describe the tribe. The historical and the social identity that is provided by that tribal tradition is what give unity to the people (Smith, 2014).


All these traditions are usually narrative based. Among the Maori, the valued character traits are usually taught through stories (Durie, 2013). The concept of virtue ethics among the Maori also extends to the sociopolitical order of the society. This can be understood by looking at the concept of ritual authority and political power that is found among the Maori people. Political authority was based on personal achievement. Those of high rank only became political leaders if they demonstrated some traits.


• “Moreover, persons of high rank could lose effective leadership (in nonritual matters) as the result of personal in- competence, and persons of low rank could rise to positions of political power solely on the basis of personal ability.” This is an indication that the society was more concerned with the self as an agent of morality and in which one had to conform to what the society believed to be an integral part of leadership. This can be used to explain why hierarchy among the Maori did not mean political power but only the ritual authority.


• “Thus hierarchy in Maori society did not entail political power, only graduated ritual authority. In this sense, if we construe the closed/open contrast as one between ascribed status and acquired status we can see that Maori society is not entirely either, for it is closed with respect to ritual authority but open with respect to political power.” This shows that wealth or ritual authority did not mean that one automatically became a leader.




Durie, E. T. (2013). Ethics and Values in Maori Research. He Pukenga Korero, 4(1).


Furness, J., Nikora, L. W., Hodgetts, D., & Robertson, N. (2016). Beyond Ethics to Morality: Choices and Relationships in Bicultural Research Settings. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 26(1), 75-88.


Perrett, R. W., & Patterson, J. (1991). Virtue Ethics and Maori Ethics. Philosophy East and West, 41(2), 185-202.


Smith, B. (2014). Maori-Centered Codes of Ethics: Championing Inclusiveness in Creating Professional Codes of Ethics across the New Zealand Health Sector. N Z. Med J. 4; 127(1397): 9-12.

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