Normative Ethics: Virtue, Duty, and Consequential
Encyclopedia Britannica defines Normative ethics as “part of moral philosophy, or ethics, concerned with criteria of what is morally right and wrong. It includes the formulation of moral rules that have direct implications for what human actions, institutions, and ways of life should be like” (2018). The three types of normative ethical theories are virtue, duty, and consequential.
Virtue theories focus on the importance of developing good habits of character, like benevolence. This is one of the oldest normative theory in Western philosophy, going back from its roots in ancient Greek civilization (Fieser, 2018.). Plato introduced the four cardinal virtues, which are wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. In addition, there are more essential virtues such as are fortitude, generosity, self-respect, good temper, and sincerity (Fieser, 2018). Considering these good habits of character, Fieser expresses that “we should avoid acquiring bad character traits, or vices, such as cowardice, insensibility, injustice, and vanity” (2018).
The three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love or charity are practiced by Christians. These theological virtues were adopted from Paul, “who not only distinguished these three as the specifically Christian virtues but singled out love as the chief of the three” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul says, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Duty or Deontological
Duty theories are based on specific morality and foundational principles of obligation (Fieser, 2018). Duty theory is also called deontological which came from a Greek word deon, in view of the foundational nature of our duty or obligation (Fieser, 2018). And there are four central duty theories.
The first central duty theories are duties to God, duties to oneself, and duties to others. These duties are championed by the 17th century German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf. He argued that there are two duties toward God. First, a theoretical duty to know the existence and nature of God, and second, a practical duty to both inwardly and outwardly worship God (Fieser, 2018). And there are two duties toward oneself. First, duties of the soul, which involve developing one’s skills and talents. And second, the duties of the body, which involve not harming our bodies, as we might through gluttony or drunkenness, and not killing oneself (Fieser, 2018). And there are three duties towards others. The first duties are to avoid wronging others. The second duties are to treat people as equals. And the third duties are to promote the good of others (Fieser, 2018).
The second central duty theory is the rights theory, which is a right that is a “justified claim against another person’s behavior. And that rights and duties are related in such a way that the rights of one person implies the duties of another person” (Fieser, 2018). Also, he mentions about John Locke, 17th century British philosopher, who made an argument that “the laws of nature mandate that we should not harm anyone’s life, health, liberty or possessions. And these are our natural rights, given to us by God” (Fieser, 2018).
Consequential or Teleological
Consequential theories are also called teleological theories, which came from the Greek word telos, which means end. And that the result of the action is the sole determining factor of its morality (Fieser, 2018). The principles of Consequential theories “require that we first tally both the good and bad consequences of an action” (Fieser. 2018). And if the total good consequences are greater than the total bad consequences, the action is morally proper. However, if the bad consequences are greater than the total good consequences, then the action is morally improper (Fieser, 2018).
And Fieser mentions the three consequential theories that focus on the consequences of actions for different groups of people (2018). The first theory is the Ethical Egoism, which is an action that is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable only to the agent performing the action (Fieser, 2018). And the second theory is the Ethical Altruism, which is an action that is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent (Fieser, 2018). And the third theory is Utilitarianism, which is an action that is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone (Fieser, 2018). Fieser explains that these theories are rivals of each other and that they yield different conclusions (2018).
Normative ethics is the study of moral action. It is the norm of moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct (Fieser, 2018). It is the attempt to provide a general theory that tells us how we ought to live (Holt, 2009). Fieser mentions the golden as the classic example of normative theory. In the gospel of Matthew 7:12, Jesus taught us the golden rule, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Fieser explains that the Golden rule “establishes a single principle against which we judge all actions. Other normative theories focus on a set of foundational principles, or a set of good character traits” (2018).
In Philippians 4:8. Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I believe this passage is a perfect guide in discerning of what is right and wrong that will lead to good moral decisions in every aspect of our life.