Abstract The teaching of ethics is discussed within the context of insights gleaned from ancient Greek ethics, particularly Aristotle and Plato and their conceptions of virtue (arete, meaning excellence). The virtues of excellence of character (moral virtue) and excellence of intelligence (intellectual virtue), particularly practical wisdom and theoretical wisdom, are considered. In Aristotelian ethics, a distinction is drawn between these intellectual virtues: experience and maturity is needed for practical wisdom, but not for theoretical wisdom. In addition to this, excellence of character is acquired through habitual practice, not instruction. This suggests that there is a need to teach more than theoretical ethics and that the ethics teacher must also facilitate the acquisition of practical wisdom and excellence of character. This distinction highlights a need for various educational approaches in cultivating these excellences which are required for a moral life. It also raises the question: is it possible to teach practical wisdom and excellence of character? It is suggested that virtue, conceived of as a type of knowledge, or skill, can be taught, and people can, with appropriate experience, habitual practice, and good role models, develop excellence of character and become moral experts. These students are the next generation of exemplars and they will educate others by example and sustain the practice of nursing. They need an education which includes theoretical ethics and the nurturing of practical wisdom and excellence of character. For this purpose, a humanities approach is suggested.