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Identity Politics and Virtue Ethics

Ethics in a Crowded World: Globalisation, Human Movement and Professional Ethics

ISBN: 978-1-83867-009-2, eISBN: 978-1-83867-008-5

ISSN: 1529-2096

Publication date: 24 October 2019


The idea of ‘identity politics’ has become quite prominent in news commentary. It has been referred to in explaining the 2016 US Presidential election result, the 2016 Brexit vote and a variety of other events in contemporary social life. The idea emerged under that title in the late twentieth century, and refers to political conflicts where groups unite and act on the basis of some shared identity. While the term initially referred to action by groups seeking to remedy past oppression, ‘identity politics’ may now refer to a wider range of cases where there is contestation based on recognition of some shared identity. Individuals’ identity is central to resurgent modern virtue ethics, but it has been suggested that virtue ethics is less relevant to political conflict than utilitarian views or theories of justice. However, an important distinction can be made between narrative identity, on the one hand, and social identity that emerges from individuals’ self-perceived group membership, on the other hand. It is narrative identity that figures in major accounts of virtue ethics. In many situations, narrative identity is importantly affected by group identity, but it is still only narrative identity that has intrinsic ethical weight. This suggests that virtue ethics has relevance to identity politics just because it urges attention to individuals’ narrative identity rather than to group identity.




The author is grateful to Garrett Cullity, to Bligh Grant and to Howard Harris for discussions about issues addressed in this chapter, to Rob Neurath for detailed comments on a draft version and to comments made by reviewers for this journal.


Provis, C. (2019), "Identity Politics and Virtue Ethics", Harris, V. (Ed.) Ethics in a Crowded World: Globalisation, Human Movement and Professional Ethics (Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, Vol. 22), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 87-103.



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