The Three Classical Ethical Theories Essay example

The Three Classical Ethical Theories Essay example

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Every day we are confronted with questions of right and wrong. These questions can appear to be very simple (Is it always wrong to lie?), as well as very complicated (Is it ever right to go to war?). Ethics is the study of those questions and suggests various ways we might solve them. Here we will look at three traditional theories that have a long history and that provide a great deal of guidance in struggling with moral problems; we will also see that each theory has its own difficulties. Ethics can offer a great deal of insight into the issues of right and wrong; however, we will also discover that ethics generally won’t provide a simple solution on which everyone can agree (Mosser, 2013).

Let’s explore Three Classical Ethical Theories – Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics!

Let’s Begin with Utilitarianism!
A natural way to see whether an act is the right thing to do (or the wrong thing to do) is to look at its results, or consequences. Utilitarianism argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice.

Definition of Utilitarianism

After helping their mother clean the attic, John and Mary are told they can each have a cookie. When they open the cookie jar, only one is left. What do you think would be the fairest solution for John and Mary?

Those who follow utilitarianism suggest that there is an obvious solution that is fair, and it may be one that appeals to common sense as well: John and Mary should share the cookie. Since each has an equal right to it, they should split it in half. They may not get what they want—each wants the entire cookie—but both are better off with half a cookie than with no cookie. Dividing t...


... middle of paper ...


...aying, “Let’s agree to disagree.” Think of a moral issue that is so important that it cannot be resolved in this way.

2. A 7-year-old child asks you to explain why stealing is wrong. (We will assume here that it is wrong.) How would you go about explaining it?


Here are some Critical Thinking Questions to help you familiarize yourself with Chapter 2! (This is not an assignment, just an exercise to help you become more comfortable with the chapter).

1. In a society that decides things on the basis of majority rule, is there a danger that the majority might ignore the legitimate concerns of minorities? What steps can be taken to protect minority rights?

2. Granting women the right to vote was, no doubt, long overdue. What other rights, in looking back at U.S. history, took too long to grant? Can you suggest a reason why it was so difficult to achieve those rights?

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