Ethics - Normative Theories - Normative Theories of...

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Normative Theories of Ethics (Mostly from various philosophers) – A Very Brief Summary by Lloyd Eby (Revised August 2015) One important distinction: consequentialist vs. nonconsequentialist (also known as deontological ) ethical theories. Consequentialist theories are based on examining the consequences of actions, beliefs, or theories, and judge the rightness or wrongness on the basis of those consequences or results. Nonconsequentialist (deontological) theories are based not on consequences, but on whether the actions or beliefs or theories conform to some rule or principle. 1. Utilitarianism (the best-known and most important consequentialist theory). Holds that what is good is what produces the greatest happiness (or pleasure or benefit) for the greatest number of people. British legal reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a founder and great proponent of this view. The classic text is Utilitarianism (1863) by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Two versions of utilitarianism exist: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. A cost-benefit analysis or procedure is usually some form of utilitarianism in that it involves a calculation of costs and benefits. Two authors are the most important founders Needs too look at consequences Act Utilitarianism looks at act Rule Utilitarianism looks at rule Jeremy Bentham (Greatest Pleasure) John Stuart Mill (Greatest Happiness) 2. Kantian Ethics and other forms of Deontological Ethics (nonconsequentialist theories). Ethics is based on or primarily concerned with ethical rules or principles (e.g. “It’s never right to tell a lie, even for a good reason.”). Instead of being based on consequences, these rules or principles are derived from logic, from reasoning, or from the nature of human being as such. An important example or proponent was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who introduced the notion of the categorical imperative : 1 st version: Always act so that you can consistently will that the maxim of your action become a universal law. 2 nd version (1 st reformulation): An action is right only if the agent would be willing to be so treated if the position of the parties were reversed. 3 rd version (2 nd reformulation): One must always act so as to treat other people as ends in themselves, and not just means. 3. Virtue Ethics . Most important ancient source: the Nichomachean Ethics of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Virtue ethics focuses not on ethical rules or consequences, but on the moral status of the person or agent (the actor). The purpose of ethics is to develop the individual’s moral/ethical character, or virtues. The underlying assumption is that a person of ethical virtue is more likely to know what to do, and to actually do it, in ethically difficult circumstances. There are numerous present-day proponents of this. Important 20 th Century text: After Virtue , by Alasdair MacIntyre. (1 st Ed, 1981, 3 rd Ed, 2007).
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