Write 4-6 pages in which you invent a practical circumstance that illuminates differences between the three approaches to normative theory.

There may be times in life where doing your duty might cause lasting harm or where caring about people requires breaking the rules.

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By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:

  • Competency 1: Explain the nature of ethical issues.
    • Describe a concrete situation that calls for making an ethical decision.
  • Competency 2: Critically examine the contributions of key thinkers from the history of ethics.
    • Apply traditional theories of normative ethics to a concrete situation.
  • Competency 3: Engage in ethical debate.
    • Describe the advantages and disadvantages of each approach to ethical theory.
  • Competency 4: Develop a position on a contemporary ethical issue.
    • Defend a coherent personal conviction about the best foundation for ethical conduct.
  • Competency 5: Communicate effectively in the context of personal and professional moral discourse.
    • Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional, and consistent with expectations for professional communities.

Competency Map

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Context

The three approaches to normative theory—virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and teleological ethics—have unique advantages and disadvantages.

Virtue ethics has some obvious benefits. By emphasizing character traits instead of particular actions, this approach encourages us to see ourselves as making progress toward the goal of becoming better, even if we occasionally make mistakes. In this view, it is easy to see how moral education contributes to the development of virtue, by promoting the formation of good habits of thinking and acting. Above all, virtue ethics makes it plain that respect for ourselves and for each other is at the very heart of ethical thought.

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But there are some difficulties, too. It is not always clear how the commitment to virtue guides conduct in particular circumstances. How, exactly, does who you are entail what you should do? More seriously, if you aim at your own happiness, it might be easy to let that devolve into an egoistic pursuit of your selfish interests, which is bound to clash with other people’s virtuous goals for themselves. The success of this approach to ethical theory depends upon our ability to resolve problems of this sort.

Deontological ethics claims to provide perfect certainty about what we should do in every circumstance—there is nothing to calculate or predict; we just do what the rules prescribe. It relieves us of any responsibility for the results of our actions, since those outcomes are not relevant to the moral worth of what we do. Deontologists usually hold that we have a right to demand that other people live up to their duties with respect to us.

The nice thing about consequentialism is that it keeps us focused on the fact that what we do really does have consequences for the world as a whole. Since those outcomes can be recognized by everyone, this kind of theory promises to provide a public basis upon which to assess ethical action objectively. In addition, this theory offers some flexibility in making decisions with an eye toward how our actions will turn out in the long run.

There are problems, too, of course. Because we cannot simply fall back on formal rules here, the consequentialist approach demands that we calculate the likely effects of our actions with great care. This is not an easy task, since we sometimes cannot predict with any confidence exactly what outcomes will be produced by our actions. In fact, since we do not know for sure what is going to happen, this theory seems to imply that we will not know whether or not we did the right thing until later on, when all of the relevant information has come in.

But these features give rise to corresponding difficulties with the deontological approach. Such theories have trouble explaining what we should do about conflicting duties, cases in which our rules do not agree with each other. Nor does this view make it easy to allow for the possibility that some actions are more wrong than others. Most crucially, by ignoring the results of our actions, deontology implies that our actions in obedience to the rules may sometimes have disastrous consequences.

In sum:

  • Virtue ethics gives full voice to our intuition that personal growth toward greater moral perfection is a vital aim in life. The choices we make and the actions we perform contribute to who we are.
  • Deontological ethics seems rather rigid in its adherence to strict moral rules, but it nicely captures our sense that what is simply right is right for everyone.
  • Although the practical value of a teleological approach can generate questions, we often rely upon utilitarian considerations as we debate matters of public policy.
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Questions to Consider

To deepen your understanding, you are encouraged to consider the questions below and discuss them with a fellow learner, a work associate, an interested friend, or a member of the business community.

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  • How do you understand the questions of relativism, a neutral moral understanding, or the imposition of basic and universal human rights for all people? Why do many philosophers believe that there should be some basic rights for all people? And what right would you impose by force, if necessary, to the rest of the world?
  • People who advocate virtue ethics often draw a distinction between what it means to be a virtuous human being and what it means to be virtuous within one of the many roles that we play in our lives (such as parents, employees, employers, soldiers, or politicians). What kinds of virtues and character traits do you believe that all humans should have? What character traits should a politician or a businessperson have, in order to be a virtuous politician or businessperson?
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Resources

Suggested Resources

The following optional resources are provided to support you in completing the assessment or to provide a helpful context. For additional resources, refer to the Research Resources and Supplemental Resources in the left navigation menu of your courseroom.

Capella Multimedia

Click the links provided below to view the following multimedia pieces:

  • Relativism and Virtue.

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Library Resources

The following e-books or articles from the Capella University Library are linked directly in this course:

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