Normative Ethics Revision - Duty-based, Consequentialist, Virtue Ethics

Key ideas, strengths and weaknesses from Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics 

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Normative Ethics
First-Order Ethics: duty-based,
consequentialist, virtue-based
Kantian Ethics
Moral goodness is defined as an action performed out of a
sense of moral duty, rather than simply out of emotion.
DEONTOLOGICAL ­ the mean justifies the end.
The consequences of an action are often out of our control;
therefore consequences cannot be crucial to morality.
MAXIMS ­ general principle underlying the action.
As rational beings, we have certain categorical duties.
"Act according to that maxim which you can at the same time
will to become a universal law" ­ the principle of
universalizability, only act on a maxim that you would
rationally apply to everyone.
"Act in such a way that you treat humanity... never merely as
a means to an end..." ­ we should not use people as means
to our ends; we should recognise and respect others'
We do feel as if some actions are purely wrong/right in themselves,
Kant's argument would explain this through the idea that we get our
moral knowledge from our reasoning, which is inherent in everybody.
Promotes equality and intrinsic worth of humans due to the `means to
an end' categorical imperative.
Appealing, as it uses reason as the source of morality.

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Duties can conflict, and Kant gives no advice on this.
It seems to justify absurd actions, e.g. being honest to a mad axe man.
Doesn't give any role to emotions such as compassion or sympathy, i.e.
seemingly `good' emotions in themselves (cold-hearted).
Takes no consequences into consideration, e.g. lying to protect a
Doesn't allow for societal differences, i.e. there are different concepts
of right and wrong in different places but Kant doesn't seem to allow
for this as his ethics must be universal.…read more

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Allows for consequences of an action, which we usually consider to be
equally as important as the intention.
Systematic approach to ethics.
Does not rely on religion, therefore accessible to a wide range of
- Can be made to include animals in our moral decisions, i.e. it doesn't
matter if they are not `rational beings' but that animals can suffer from pain
and therefore they need to be included in the overall amount of happiness
produced by an action.…read more

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Normative Ethics
Virtue Ethics
Focusing not on what makes an action morally good, but
what type of person he/she is that chooses that action, i.e.
the central question is `How should I live?'
Largely based on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.
To have a `morally good' life is to cultivate the virtues
throughout life. Only by doing this can we `flourish' as
human beings, which Aristotle assumes is what every
human being wants to do, i.e.…read more

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Notion of virtues is ambiguous, which traits should count as virtues?
E.g. in some societies people would class pride as a virtue, others
wouldn't, who is right in this situation? Or is it completely relative to
the society? What if there are conflicting virtues, i.e. pride and being
peaceful? Virtue ethics can be quite difficult to implement in real-life
Subjectivity of virtue theory can be dangerous, some virtue theorists
may simply redefine their preferred ways of life and prejudices as
virtues, i.e.…read more


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