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Essay on Moral Theories: Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics

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Philosophers attempt to use moral theories to ideally determine whether an individual is a moral and ethical person. This essay will include the theories; Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics, and how each significant theory can make an individual a moral member of society, but with contrasting views of other philosophers' ideas. For example, different philosophers believe in different moral theories regarding how people make decisions in life, therefore, everyone has a diverse perspective on how they would approach situations in life based on their morals and ethics. However, my argument is that the three normative theories make you a moral person, but who you want yourself to be. For example, you have the choice to follow rules and look at the consequences of a situation, but the virtues that you develop through practice are also very significant in making improvements to your moral character so you can be an ethical member of society.

Deontology

Deontology is a key theory that uses rules and standards to differentiate between what`s the right and wrong thing to do. Immanuel Kant is a known theorist from his theory as he believed ethical actions follow universal moral laws (Deontology - Ethics Unwrapped, 2022), for example, not cheating, lying, or stealing are common principles that individuals tend to be familiar with and aware of. Therefore, deontology focuses on the professional code of ethics to make decisions and actions in life. For example, executing an act that will defend the rights of those who would be harmed as a result of the action, to ensure that effective morals are represented.

Deontological theories can be seen as a morally right theories to follow and be influenced by as it is the morality of principles and self-enforcement to have maintained the duty to obey the common rules is paramount (White, 2009). For example, individuals should have their own duty to make choices based on the rules on what`s right and wrong within society. Therefore, teaching deontology within educational institutions would be beneficial in ensuring the students are becoming more ethical people, as they discover the legal things on what to do and what not to do, in terms of their actions decisions, and situations. This will help them to make choices when they are older and must deal with things independently. Moreover, if individuals all follow the same rules and standards to take the right course of action, surely this would mean everyone is doing the right thing and their viewpoints on situations would be similar. Furthermore, learning Kant`s approach regarding Deontological ideas, the duty is to follow rules that individuals should accept as universal laws. For example, the rules that individuals should follow in all circumstances.

On the other hand, Timmermann (2015) believes ‘deontology should be banished from the classroom’ and isn`t a morally correct or significant theory that should be taught to individuals to make them ethical people. Ross (1930) thinks that doing ‘the right thing’ is not enough and the legality is extraneous, as individuals should focus on the good thing to do in terms of that situation, rather than referring to what the law and rules are. Moreover, instead of doing the good thing and taking the duty to think independently about what an individual wants to do, they are acting ‘from respect for or for the sake of the law’ (Timmermann, 2015). Although Immanuel Kant refers to following the rules to be an ethical and more moral person, Timmermann (2015) believes he is not interested in the right action, because the book is an exercise in the analysis of good willingness (good maxims, good character', therefore if Kant was following the book, Deontology should be abolished with teaching in schools as it does not bring the full good out of a student when making a decision. In addition to this argument, Deontology does not focus on the actual outcome and result of an action when following rules which is a serious fault in the theory, as the consequences of our actions are a paramount subject to consider. For example, the common rule not to lie can be disobeyed as an individual may need to like a stranger when they are in danger to get away, whereby the Deontology theory does not consider these outcomes if we do something for the good rather than for the law rule. Therefore, I believe Deontology should not be taught as a way of becoming an ethical person as outcomes should always be considered before completing an action, which all students should be taught instead. Moreover, some argue that deontological theories conclude that they are universal rules, but every culture or society has different rules so this would not be applied to all.

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a moral theory that focuses on the outcome of situations and determines right from wrong by looking at what could happen if an individual undertook that decision. This ethical theory is known to create the greatest good for the greatest number, however, it is not certain whether we know if the outcome will be good or bad until we make that choice. Moreover, although Utilitarianism is the theory that holds the most reasoned approach, it holds a variety of constraints. Utilitarianism is known to be another form of Consequentialism where it concentrates on the consequences of actions, and the happiness of the individual. For example, whatever brings the most happiness should be pursued.

The main beneficial point about teaching Utilitarianism is that it focuses on happiness, which is an obvious feeling that individuals would want to have in their life, holistically and when making decisions and choices. I believe teaching individuals to make choices that cause the least harm and make others and themselves happy, would mean following the greatest good of the situation by undertaking the right course of action for this. For example, a government's decision to develop programs that benefit the majority of people in society, such as free healthcare, implies that the main focus of the situation was to bring happiness and health to the public. This theory also considers different cultures as a theory of utility that can be adapted to any culture by adjusting what is considered a ‘good’ result or what happiness is, implying that any individual can become a moral person by learning that the consequence of a situation is a paramount thought before acting. Moreover, if individuals are taught to outweigh the good and bad within a specific circumstance, this becomes an easier process in which they are seeing the positive and negative effects that come with taking different actions in that scenario. Utilitarianism in my opinion seems to be an understandable and simpler ethical theory to follow to be a moral person, as we consider the happiness of ourselves and others. In addition, I agree with Mitra (2019) who illuminates that general principles can be ignored if the greater good is served by doing so and that individuals must be willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good of society.

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However, some may argue that Utilitarianism holds limitations such as although happiness is a key feeling to acquire in life, it is not the only thing we should focus on when taking action. For example, having freedom, love, and overall human life is beneficial to contribute to our intrinsic worth. Furthermore, Utilitarianism ideas do not always consider the happiness of others. For example, if an individual had murdered one healthy person and donated their organs to rescue five others, we and they know it is not right, yet the balance of happiness over harm supports it. Therefore, we cannot justify using happiness as a reason to make our choices in life, as these choices require deep thought and consideration before taking courses of action. In addition to this, if individuals are being taught to follow the greatest of good instead of rules, it will allow people to take their own beliefs and ideas of the greatest of good and potentially act egotistical, to benefit themselves within a situation. However, also the term Utilitarianism is subjective as although it focuses on happiness, everyone has their individual perspective and definition of ‘happiness’, therefore, not all actions will be beneficial. To link to this disadvantage, if each individual has contrasting interpretations of happiness, their choices in life will only be viewed from their perspective, influencing them to be seen as egocentric. Therefore, in my opinion, I argue that this should not be taught within educational institutions to make an individual a better person, as it does not. For example, teaching an individual to be egocentric is wrong, as they should look at situations and consequences from different viewpoints to make the right decisions In life, to benefit themselves and others around them.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is another moral idea that philosophers deem to say helps an individual become an ethical person. It is a philosophy developed by Aristotle and other ancient Greeks, that states we develop and acquire our virtues through practice and experience. Virtue ethics is mainly about practicing traits such as being honest, kind, respectful, etc, to be a moral character to society. Aristotle is the main philosopher linked to Virtue ethics as he took a highly practical approach to ethics, and much of what he said about it was based on what people did and how their virtues influenced their behaviors. He claims that being a good human being entails both teleological and virtue theories. It is teleological in the sense that it is goal-oriented, with the goal of human life being to prosper or be happy.

Virtue ethics is beneficial to understand and demonstrate as it motivates individuals to work on their morality and look up to what mistakes they made with their last decision make or choice. For example, when an individual spot another person getting harassed, a virtue ethic approach would mean they would have an instant reaction to report and stop this from happening as they believe it is the best and right thing to do in this situation. This reaction would be based on what their morals were at that time. Another reason why virtue ethics should be taught within educational institutions is that it is wholly based on self-improvement which is very effective when developing a good moral character. For example, it focuses on the individual and building themselves into better people. Therefore, when developing a good moral character, individuals can look at their own beliefs and morals and become morally right people. Moreover, virtue ethics is argued that it makes you a more ethical person as it allows you to develop your virtues such as honesty, loyalty, courage, etc, which are traits that are useful to acquire in everyday life. Moreover, (Swanton, 2001) states clearly highlights an important part of virtue ethics which is that an act is right if and only if it is what a righteous agent would do in the circumstances, indicating that actions are only morally right if an ethical person would respond and act in the same way. Therefore, if it is taught and learned effectively and thoroughly it enables an individual to behave and act in a reputable way.

On the other hand, not every individual responds to a situation in the right way, so applying virtue ethics would be a struggle to ensure what every individual is doing is the right way to act. For example, relating to the harassment example, one individual may get involved and try to stop it as it is deemed to be the right thing, but another individual may want to remove themselves from the situation and not get involved as it has nothing to do with them. Therefore, virtue ethics does not thoroughly consider different characters and focuses on only good moral character. In addition to this, although virtue ethics concentrates on practice resulting in an ethical person, it does not give a clear and definite answer as to why individuals make the decisions they do and the actions they take. For example, there is no conclusive reason for reactions and actions in moral dilemmas. A virtue ethics approach is a good way of building moral character over time but what if individual decisions and actions are immoral or flawed and they don`t learn from their mistakes? For example, it could help overcome ethical conflicts but what if their decision wasn`t the right thing to do? Furthermore, the idea does not specify whether the virtues are universal or differ from one individual to the next or from one culture to the next, which can be difficult to see if a person is morally right when making a decision or in an ethical conflict.

From gaining research on why and why not the three normative theories make you an ethical and moral person if you demonstrate their ideas, I believe learning them and thoroughly understanding them will make you a principled individual. For example, a deontological approach such as, if you follow a set of rules and standards within society, as by means of the law, the law was implemented to create good in the world so if each individual follows them, everyone can create a moral right identity. In addition to this, Beyer (1997) supports my argument that ‘teachers should support diverse students’ decisions and respect their integrity as moral beings and their aptitudes as social agents, indicating that virtue ethics plays an important role in becoming a moral human being, with the correct ideas and rules towards society. For example, you have to make your own decisions and learn from experience and practice to know what is right and wrong. Although I argue each individual has a different aspect of becoming a moral person, ‘people ought to do what they can to make the world as good a place as possible’ (Freeman, 1994), indicating all three theories contribute towards making an ethical and more moral individual. However, I dispute that within educational institutions, it is important that the duty of explaining these different theories to students is effective, as it influences how they use them to make decisions in later life, and what they believe is morally correct. For instance, how teachers educate their students based on ethical considerations, and how they would react and respond, is then replicated and viewed from the perspective of a student, who will immediately believe their actions were the ethical thing to do. However, I strongly argue that you cannot only hold one perspective on the theories as different situations require a different philosophical approach. For example, learning that a situation may need a deontological approach but another may require a consequentialist approach, implies that learning all three will you make you an ethically aware individual.

Conclusion

To conclude, the moral theories hold reason why and why not they can contribute to creating a moral person, however, there is enough research to state that it is important students are educated thoroughly on how to use the contrasting approaches within different scenarios, For example, it is paramount that individuals understand the rules within society that we should not steal, lie or cheat, but they should also create their moral character in which they understand why they take specific courses of action. It is important to also look at the outcomes of the situation so they know who is affected and what can be done to ensure there Is no harm to themselves and others. Therefore, all theories together create a moral individual.

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Essay on Moral Theories: Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-moral-theories-deontology-utilitarianism-and-virtue-ethics/
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Essay on Moral Theories: Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-moral-theories-deontology-utilitarianism-and-virtue-ethics/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Essay on Moral Theories: Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-moral-theories-deontology-utilitarianism-and-virtue-ethics/
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