Many of the decisions that pharmacists make are life and death ones, and so we require a strong code of ethics from them. Like many other important professions they are respected but they are also held to high standards.
According to Peterson (2004), virtues are core characteristics that are valued by philosophers and religious thinkers which add value to the character possessed by an individual to make them suited to perform in a task, vocation or leadership position. Peterson suggests that although the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, humanity, temperance and transcendence may be in conflict in the psyche of an individual, these virtues add to the character of a person to make them suited to a position or a vocation. Peterson goes further to state that character strengths are the psychological ingredients that are represented in virtues. For example, wisdom depends on creativity, curiosity, love of learning, open mindedness and having a big picture of life.
The nature of professional roles demands a virtue ethic, which emphasises doing good based on the nature and moral significance of such a role. A virtuous agent in a professional role must be able to act in a way that improves society (Oakley, 2003). Oakley argues that a ‘regulative ideal’ is desirable and actions in situations are right only if an agent with a virtuous character would do the same in the circumstances. Thus, according to Oakley, the virtue of benevolence is desirable in pharmacist, a doctor or a health worker because such a virtue results in a desire to save lives. Clearly, a practising pharmacist who deals with patients in need of drugs that can cure, but also kill due to dangerous side effects, needs to act in the best interest of a patient in a wise, benevolent and tempered manner. The Kantian Categorical Imperative presents standards of correct behaviour for professional agents.