Cooper and James write:
It has been rightly observed that 'the point of entry for ethical reflection' (Annas 1993: Ch.1) among these ancient thinkers [Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics] was the individual person's concern for his or her life as a whole...One of my intuitions about Buddhism not being a virtue ethics is the sense that Buddhism isn't really so concerned with 'life as a whole.' Buddhism is far more concentrated on just one aspect of life: suffering and its end.
For 'virtue ethicists' this must be an overly focused view and leaves out all of the 'substantive' work of cultivating this and that virtue. For in virtue ethics the goal is to cultivate a good life, the good life is defined by 'concern for ... life as a whole'.
On the other hand the goal of Buddhism is the alleviation of suffering, defined as the removal of greed/lust, aversion/hatred, and ignorance/non-seeing.
Is that fairly clear?
Virtue ethics is like finding a great painting (a virtuous person) and trying to recreate it in oneself. It takes time, education, and trial and error until one has finally made him/herself into a fellow virtuous person. It requires good judgment about what qualities are virtuous, and how to cultivate them.
Buddhist ethics is like finding a painting, any painting (oneself) and trying to pick all the paint off to expose the perfect surface underneath. Its about letting go of conceptions of 'great' - judgments that get between oneself and reality, conceits that cut off spontaneity. In the process one becomes freer, and this freedom manifests itself in wisdom and compassion.
But the logic goes thus: free oneself from greed/aversion/ignorance and you will grow in wisdom and compassion on the path to awakening. It is not: cultivate wisdom and compassion as character traits that will make you awakened. Thoughts?