Three Ethical Approaches Based On Virtue, Duty And Consequence

2724 words - 11 pages


Three ethical approaches have evolved as the focus of those who study moral philosophy: virtue ethics, duty ethics and consequential ethics. Virtue ethics, associating ethics with personal habits, is associated with Aristotle. Duty ethics is associated with religious beliefs, although Kant tried to create a system of duties independent of belief in God. Consequential ethics is associated with the quest for rationalism during the Enlightenment, and especially with the Utilitarians.

Virtue Ethics

Plato and especially later Aristotle described moral behavior as “what the moral or virtuous person does.” The virtuous person ...view middle of the document...

The child does what the parent wants because the parent says so. Thus “deontological” (from the Greek word δεοντος, deontos, “duty”, which derives from the Greek word for “bind”) ethics starts from the idea that some things are just wrong and mustn’t be done. The key idea here is that the intent to obey the rule is more important than the outcome. Goodness is the ability to understand and act on moral obligations. Fundamental binding principles should govern an individual or firm’s behavior under any circumstance. The two main sources of such principles are religions and Kantian ethics.

Religions have rules attributed to revelation from God or advice handed down from religious leaders. Religions have different rules about what believers should eat or do on certain holy days, but many base their general guides to action

Many Religious Principles Make Good Consequential Social Sense

Love thy neighbor as thyself - has good consequences for neighborliness!

Native American
Walk in the other person’s moccasins - helps see other people's point of view.

What goes around comes around (karma) - so don't be evil.

Reciprocity (to be a better person) - what you aspire to be is a socially integrated person.

on principles of reciprocity and symmetry. Religions have the advantage that their rules are accompanied by maxims and parables to guide behavior. A common belief provides support and motivation from fellow believers to follow through on the desired behavior.

A major motivating tool of religion are our lack of knowledge of what happens, if anything, after death. Religions offer the carrot of great rewards in the next world or the stick of hell. Ethical behavior historically was governed by religious or tribal practices. Even the famously rational Greeks took their temples very seriously. Adam Smith, despite his high reputation among those who seek non-religious ethical principles, considered himself a believer and his research goals as Professor of Moral Philosophy were altruistic. His “instigating event” for writing The Wealth of Nations was puzzlement about why business as a whole does such a good job of providing for society’s needs despite his observation that many people in business were motivated by selfish considerations.

Early laws were linked to religion, from the Ten Commandments to canon law to the Koran. Kings took on a religious mantle by claiming a divine right to rule. Gradually the rule of the king in the West became the rule of law (“rex” became “lex”). Modern law is a set of rules, with a subset of rules dealing with how we recognize what rules are authoritative. The rule for recognizing what is authoritative is to look at what in practice people take to be such rules.

Kantian ethics was developed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) based on categorical (absolute) imperatives that are derived from rational analysis instead of revelation or the teachings of priests and...

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