Ethical Theories and Major Moral Principles

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Some people claim that everyone has his or her own ethics, in other words, ethics is individual. The amazing thing about ethical theory, however, is not that there are so many theories, but that there are really very few. Most of contemporary ethical theory is governed by two basic theories, with an additional five or six theories taking up the vast majority of the rest of the discussion. Over the course of the next few pages I will explain to you the basics of eight different ethical theories: utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, contractarianism, feminist or care-based ethics, natural law theory, Confucian ethics, intuitionism and ideal observer theory, and virtue ethics. I will tell you about some of the major proponents of the theory, some of its variations, and give you some examples of how it might be applied in real life situations. To begin with, you need to understand the idea of an ethical theory. An ethical theory is a theory about what makes an action or set of actions morally right or wrong. In ethical theory we generally look for a key principle(s) of right action, which can then be applied in concrete situations. For example, in Plato's book, The Republic, Cephalus, an elderly business man, makes the claim that "right action consists in nothing more nor less than telling the truth and paying back anything we may have received." (I.331 a). This is a moral principle which never really gets developed into an ethical theory, because Plato quickly shows that it has to be abandoned. He does this by applying the moral theory to a concrete situation, which demonstrates that these actions (telling the truth and paying back what you owe) are sometimes right and sometimes wrong: Suppose, for example, a friend who had lent us a ... ... middle of paper ... ...The opposite of integrity might be hypocrisy, where one's actions do not match ones words and convictions. Conclusion Here you have some of the rudiments of basic ethical theories today. They are, of course, not the only ethical theories, but I wanted to give you a general picture of some of the most popular or common theories, what they believed and who believed them. You will probably find that you use some of each of these principles in your decision making, or that you sometimes use one and sometimes the other, depending on the situation. Works Cited Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated and analyzed by H. J. Patton [New York: Harper & Row, 1964]. Plato, The Republic, translated by Francis MacDonald Cornford [New York: Oxford University Press]. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971].

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