Ethics is a study that deals with whether behavior is morally right or wrong in human life. Ethics further relates to human obligations in society, measurements of fairness and individual virtues. Ethical development is an important societal tool that is based on the basis of understanding and defining cultural morality. There is more than one type of ethics. In this paper, I will briefly describe the differences between three types of ethics: utilitarianism, virtue theory, and deontological ethics. By comparing the similarities and differences among the three types one can begin to develop an overall understanding of the role ethics plays on social responsibility.
Also, I will give one of my personal experiences and attempt to explain the relationship between virtue, values, and moral concepts and how they relate to the deontology theory. Utilitarianism ethics are ethics of consequences. They are based on the principle that any action is good as long as it results in providing the greatest good for a majority. This means that the consequences of an action must benefit the greatest number of people involved. “The best consequences are those in which happiness is maximized”, (Brown, C., 2001). Virtue theory is also known as an ethics of duty or obligation and is sometimes referred to as ethics based on character. By definition, virtues are “character traits that make up a moral life”, (Manias, Monroe, & Till, 2013). This theory stands on the belief that one should strive to be excellent in everything they do while cultivating desirable moral qualities.
Deontology is slightly different from virtue theory. It places an emphasis on duties that follow a set of rules. For this theory, “an action is right if it is in accordance with a moral rule or principle”, (Brown, C., 2001). Like virtue theory, deontology focuses on what is best for everyone involved. However, deontology leans more upon the reason or principles behind the course of right action taken. The deontological ethical theory was founded by philosopher Immanuel Kant. Deontology often refers to Kantian ethics. According to Immanual Kant, “an action is right if it is in accordance with a moral rule of principle”, Brown, C., 2001). There are tangible similarities among all of these three ethical theories. The first similarity would be consequence of action. Consequence is usually not the main focus of an action, yet all three theories expect the outcome of the action to result beneficially. Although the basis of the action varies by principles or virtues, the action should be condoned by the outcome.
Perhaps the best way to explain the differences between deontology, virtue ethics, and utilitarianism is to imagine the following scenario from the perspective of all three theories. Suppose you notice a female driver having car trouble and she is stranded on the side of the freeway. As you get closer you notice she is standing in front of her car with the hood open. She is in tears as she waves the smoke coming from her engine away from her eyes. The woman is obviously in need of assistance. By pulling over to assist her, you would be acting on your moral duty. In virtue theory, this act of kindness would be described as a charitable act of admirable character. In utilitarianism the act of kindness would be beneficial to both parties. The example that I provided was actually from my own experience.
I was the driver in need of assistance. Thankfully, what I would call a virtuous man happened to stop and assist me that day. The alternator in my car had gone out and my battery was nearly drained by the time the other driver pulled over to help me. I referred to him as a virtuous man because he did not plan on receiving anything in return and did not particularly benefit from helping me. In summary, virtue theory concentrates on one’s moral ethics without the expectation of a specific consequence or rule.
Utilitarianism focuses on beneficial results for all persons involved while emphasizing the greater good. Lastly, deontology focuses on moral duty in adherence to a specific set of rules or moral code. In conclusion, the quality of life in our culture and society depend greatly on ethical development. There are slight differences and similarities between virtue ethics, deontology and utilitarianism. Through life experiences, one can develop their own personal ethical style which will likely fall in line with one of these theories. For one to develop morally ethical behavior they need to have a basic understanding of right and wrong.
Brown, C. (2001). Trinity.Edu. Retrieved from http://www.trinity.edu/cbrown/intro/ethical_theories.html Manias, N., Monroe, D., & Till, J. E. (2013). Ethics Applied (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.