Normative Theories

Normative Theories

Write 4–6 pages in which you address a complex ethical dilemma, applying various ethical theories to the problem.


Philosophical reasoning about human conduct aims first to discover a clear difference between right and wrong and then to apply this distinction to specific situations.

Competency 1: Explain the nature of ethical issues.By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:

Explain ethical issues in complex scenarios.
Competency 2: Critically examine the contributions of key thinkers from the history of ethics.
Apply Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory to a contemporary ethical issue.
Apply John Stuart Mill’s ethical theory to a contemporary ethical issue.
Competency 4: Develop a position on a contemporary ethical issue.
Justify an ethical position on a contemporary issue.
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.
ContextPhilosophical reasoning about human conduct aims first to discover a clear difference between right and wrong, and then to apply this distinction to specific situations. The first of these tasks is the province of normative ethics. Normative theories try to resolve any uncertainty about what is right and what is wrong by providing a rational justification upon which to establish the ethical principles according to which we ought to live. Although there are many variations, most normative theories belong to one of three major types.

One way to address our interest in right and wrong is by appealing to the traits of character embodied by individual human beings. Virtue ethics maintains that the ultimate aim of practical wisdom is to enable each person to achieve genuine self-fulfillment and happiness. What matters above all else is that our lives express virtue or excellence in every respect. We seek to be good people who habitually act in ways that contribute to our development and well-being.Alternative versions of virtue ethics will differ from each other in their concepts of virtue and happiness. Plato, for example, supposed that we find our highest character when the thinking, feeling, and willing parts of ourselves perform their proper functions in harmony with each other. Aristotle emphasized instead the achievement of self-sufficiency through the careful practice of moderation in all things. More recently, Nel Noddings has proposed that our chief virtue resides in the capacity to form and maintain caring relationships with other persons (1984).A second way to explain right and wrong is by focusing directly on the actions we have a duty to perform or a right to expect from others. Deontological ethics holds that actions are intrinsically right or wrong by reference to the moral rules by which we are all obliged. What matters in this view is that we always do our duty, every time, with no exceptions.Versions of this approach differ in the sources from which they derive their basic set of rules. Some religious thinkers, for example, might hold that our primary duty is to obey divine commands. Others suppose that we discover the principles of the natural law by thinking rationally about our place in the world. Immanuel Kant argued that we are duty-bound to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (1981, p. 30). John Rawls proposed that we should follow rules to which we would agree in advance of learning what social roles we ourselves will occupy.Finally, we can deal with right and wrong by relying upon the results or consequences that flow from our actions. Consequentialist ethics is the view that actions are right if they produce favorable outcomes and wrong if they lead to bad results. The goal of ethical conduct is to make the world a better place. What matters for the consequentialist approach is that we do what will turn out for the best.Theories of this sort differ in their identification of which outcomes are desirable, though many are hedonistic in the sense that they aim to produce pleasure, happiness, or welfare for sentient beings, generally. The most commonly held teleological approach is the utilitarianism defended by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. According to utilitarianism, actions are right when they tend to produce more pleasure and less pain in the lives of everyone who is affected by them.
Kant, I. (1981). Grounding for the metaphysics of morals (J. W. Ellington, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Assessment instructions You are called to consult in the Critical Care Unit of your local hospital. 53-year-old JoEllen was admitted after taking an overdose of prescription medications with alcohol. On admission, she said, “Not supposed to be here . . . ,” but soon became uncommunicative, and her condition is deteriorating rapidly. Her son has arrived with a notarized advance directive in which JoEllen specifically asks not to be placed on life support. What should you recommend to the attending health professionals?Write a paper addressing this topic, supporting your position with credible research. You are also expected to conduct your own independent research into the scholarly and professional resources of the field.In explaining your position, address each of the following questions:
What features of the situation are relevant for making a moral decision?
What would a deontologist like Immanuel Kant recommend?
What would a consequentialist like John Stuart Mill recommend?
How do you justify your own decision about what to do? 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.
When you make a moral decision, are you more likely to choose an action because you have a duty to perform it, or because doing it is likely to have good consequences for everyone affected? Are some actions simply right in and of themselves, or is it because they have good results? That is, do you approach ethics as a deontologist or as a consequentialist?
As you think about this abstract issue, you will find it helpful to apply the normative theories to specific cases. What if rigidly following the rules results in harmful outcomes? What if seeking happy consequences would require violation of a rule? As you weigh an ethical dilemma, which kind of consideration matters more?
Written communication: Written communication should be free of errors that detract from the overall message.
APA formatting: Include a title page and a references page, formatted according to APA (6th edition) style and formatting.
References: A typical paper will include support from a minimum of 3–5 references. You may use some of the materials recommended in the Resources, but you should also include support from your independent research of scholarly or professional materials.
Length: A typical paper will be 4–6 typed, double-spaced pages in length.
Font and font size: Times New Roman, 12-point.