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Rosalind Hursthouse
Mary Rosalind Hursthouse

(1943-11-10) 10 November 1943 (age 79)
Bristol, England
NationalityNew Zealand
EducationOxford University, BPhil, DPhil
Notable workOn Virtue Ethics
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Main interests
Virtue ethics, Ethical philosophy, Ancient philosophy, Action theory,
Notable ideas
Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics, V-Rules, Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism
RelativesRichmond Hursthouse (great-grandfather)

Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (born 10 November 1943) is a British-born New Zealand moral philosopher noted for her work on virtue ethics. Hursthouse is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of Auckland.


Born in Bristol, England, in 1943,[3] Hursthouse spent her childhood in New Zealand. Her aunt Mary studied philosophy and when her father asked her what that was all about, he could not understand her answer. Rosalind, 17 at the time, knew immediately that she wanted to study philosophy, too, and enrolled the next year.[4]


She 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:

  1. "Arational Actions", which made a break with the view that the explanation of action by reference to reasons (an "intention") is also a species of event-causal explanation in the sense familiar from the work of Donald Davidson. By showing that some bona fide intentional actions are explained arationally, Hursthouse argues, by counterexample, that Davidson's account of reasons as causes of action is mistaken. Hursthouse turns her philosophical attention, and ours, to the kinds of reasons asked for and given by human beings in the explanation of human behaviour: the behaviour of emotional, rational, social, political, linguistic, lawful animals.
  2. "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. She 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.[5] The paper, which combines theory and application, was an early exemplar of Hursthouse's distinctive approach to philosophical ethics. Hursthouse demonstrates the emphasis in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics on the lives of situated human agents (including the consequences of their actions), and the salient capabilities, character traits, and reasons involved in truly acting well, or as well as possible, within whatever situation an agent may find herself.
  3. "After Hume's Justice", which offered a neo-Aristotelian account of social justice that was deeply influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hursthouse argues that a modern political philosophy that prioritises the good —- virtue and human flourishing —- over the right, and takes ethics to be prior to, and continuous with, politics, can nevertheless accommodate individual human rights.[6]

Hursthouse, who was mentored by Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot, is best known as a virtue ethicist.[7] Hursthouse's work is deeply grounded in the history of philosophy, and especially in Aristotle's ethics, about which she has written extensively. She has also emphasised the practical nature of virtue ethics in her books Beginning Lives and Ethics, Humans, and Other Animals. Her 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 Hursthouse's formulation of right action in terms of what a virtuous person would characteristically do in a situation.[5]

In 2016, Hursthouse was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.[8]



  1. ^ Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics, Oxford University Press, 1999.
  2. ^ Chappell, Timothy (ed.), Values and Virtues: Aristotelianism in Contemporary Ethics, Oxford University Press, 2006.
  3. ^ "England & Wales, birth index, 1916–2005". Operations. 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  4. ^ Cheng, Derek (5 January 2006). "The X-pert Files: Rosalind Hursthouse". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "List of all Fellows with surnames G–I". Royal Society of New Zealand. 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2017.