Consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics are moral theories that evaluate morality on the basis of different factors. This Buzzle post explains the consequentialism vs. deontology vs. virtue ethics comparison.
According to American philosopher John Rawls, under deontology, an action is right if it is good and vice versa. Under consequentialism, however, an action is right if the consequence is completely good.
Morality is a rather controversial topic and invites several philosophical debates. A person’s morality may be judged on a number of factors. Since childhood, we are conditioned to believe certain things, conditioned to judge what actions can be called right and wrong.
Consequentialism and deontology are two such theories that are classified under ethics of conduct, i.e., our behavior and the way we conduct ourselves. Virtue ethics, on the other hand, is considered more of a normative ethical theory. The paragraphs below explain the differences between these three theories with examples.
The term was originally coined in the essay titled “Moral Modern Philosophy”, by G.E.M. Anscombe, the renowned British analytical philosopher. The theory takes root from utilitarianism, and stresses on the fact that the morality of an action depends on its consequences.
Deontology takes root from the Greek words deon (duty) and logos (study). Immanuel Kant, a famous deontologist, is considered to have formulated modern deontological ethics, which stresses on the fact that the morality of a person is dependent on how well he fulfills his duties and obligations.
Virtue ethics seems to have taken root in ancient Greek philosophy as well. It stresses on the fact that morality of a person or action depend on how ideal the character traits are.
The Underlying Concept
As the word suggests, it concentrates on the consequences, irrespective of the intention. It focuses on identifying the moral conduct through which the right actions can be carried out and happiness can be maximized.
According to the definition of deontology in ethics, it focuses more on obligation, duty, or ideal expectations. Like its previously-mentioned counterpart, it focuses on conduct, but there is a minor difference between deontology and consequentialism in this case. It focuses on identifying the moral conduct through which the right actions can be performed but based on what is laid down as a duty. To follow the set rules and regulations can be one of the weaknesses and strengths of deontology.
It is different from both the above concepts as it concentrates completely on virtues and ideals. It does not consider following the set laws when performing an action, nor does it consider the action results. What it considers is the ideals and values you have followed that have resulted in the best possible action. There have been many criticisms of virtue ethics due to the absence of a rational experience.
It states that the morally right action is the one with the best consequence.
It states that the action with the best consequence is objectively and morally right.
It states that an action is morally right if and only if it has the best consequence.
It states that an action is morally right if and only if it does not violate the set rules.
It states that the best action is the one that has the most pleasurable consequence.
- Contractarian Ethics
It states that moral acts and rules hold true for a person depending on how much he follows them.
- Natural Rights Theory
It states that every individual has universal natural rights, irrespective of any actions or ethics.
- Divine Rights Theory
It states that an action is right if and only if the Divine Force has commanded it to be right.
- Pluralistic Deontology
It states a list of prime duties to be considered prior to deciding which duty should be performed when.
- The Ethics of Care
The theory states the differential views in the perception of virtue ethics from the masculine and feminine point of view.
It states that every action states some good; no action is pointless.
- Agent-Based Version
It states that actions are evaluated based on the agent’s inner life.
The Central Question
Consequentialism and Deontology
The central question in both these cases is, ‘What you ought to do?’ That is to say, the question focuses what you should do, rather than what you want to do, or whether you should do what you feel like. The essence is to do the task, according to how right it is presumed to be.
The central question is, ‘What kind of a person should I be?’ Thus, virtue ethics do not concentrate on the correctness of the act, but the moral conduct of the agent who is performing the act.
What is Good and What is Right?
Consequentialists state that maximum happiness achieved is what is good; the actions that maximize this good are right. The focus is on getting what is good, and getting what you want. It does not hold true if the two requirements are in conflict.
Deontologists state that the right action performed or the state of affairs that led to the right action are good, while the fact that the action was done in accordance with the set rules is right. The practical focus is to determine what is rational―as per the rules and as per the correct action.
Those who revere virtue ethics state that whatever results in the betterment of humanity is good; the fact that the virtuous person followed his ideals to achieve the same is right.
The consequentialist philosophy might require that the interest of someone is sacrificed for something better. One of the most stated examples of this concept is in nursing. Assume that a nurse is tending to a cancer patient, and is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to tell him the truth that he has only a few months to live. What should she do in this case? If she tells him, he might be brave enough to face it and spend his last days with his family, which is a good consequence. Then again, if she does not tell him, it may be mentally traumatic for him to know whether he is going to live or die. Who is to decide what consequence is right in this case? These opinions can differ from person to person. From a neutral perspective, however, it would be better to tell him the truth, despite the fact that it might be considered cruel for many, because he would at least get a chance to say goodbye, to do the things he hadn’t done so far.
It concentrates on the correctness and wrongness of actions based on how well the rules of duty and responsibility were followed. For instance, consider that a man has saved enough money to buy a house for his family, but has to deal with an unfortunate situation when his son meets with an accident. It is his duty to provide a better shelter for his family, and it is also his duty to save his son’s life. In such a case, the best and right action would be to save his son, for if his son is safe and sound, he will be mentally happy and relieved to earn more money and plan a better future for his family.
As mentioned earlier, this theory solely focuses on ideals. For instance, consider an individual who is the bank manager, and his own son has been caught in the act of robbing the bank. Virtue ethics state that the man must be ideal and righteous and moral, and have the criminal punished despite the fact that he is his son. In this scenario, he failed in his duty as a father, and the consequences of his act would affect his entire family. Yet, the ones in favor of virtue ethics would state his act to be correct and honorable.
While the above concepts exhibit certain criteria for morality, the truth is, moral conduct widely depends on circumstances, which is probably why the cliché ‘it was all in the moment’ is actually true. While going through a trying situation, an individual tends to do what is right at that time, for it does not make sense to think about the likes of deontology or consequentialism.
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Consequentialist theories, unlike virtue and deontological theories, hold that only the consequences, or outcomes, of actions matter morally. According to this view, acts are deemed to be morally right solely on the basis of their consequences. The most common form of consequentialism is utilitarianism.
Instead of asking what is the right action here and now, virtue ethics asks what kind of person should one be in order to get it right all the time. Whereas deontology and consequentialism are based on rules that try to give us the right action, virtue ethics makes central use of the concept of character.
With virtue ethics, the agent's development is key, while in deontology, the act is still in many ways just as important as the agent; it is simply framed in a way that merely references the agent in terms of duty rather than character.
Consequentialism and Deontological theories are two of the main theories in ethics. However, consequentialism focuses on judging the moral worth of the results of the actions and deontological ethics focuses on judging the actions themselves. Consequentialism focuses on the consequences or results of an action.
Both ethical approaches have also been used to support individual liberty, but again for different reasons. Consequentialists focus on the wealth and happiness that free markets and societies create, while deontologists emphasize the greater respect for the rights and dignity of individuals that liberty promotes.
Virtue ethics allows people to maintain personal and interpersonal connections important for the good life. Virtue ethics does not fall victim to moral schizophrenia, which is one advantage it has over most other moral theories.
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that determines right from wrong by focusing on outcomes. It is a form of consequentialism. Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.
Virtue ethics differs from both deontology and consequentialism as it focuses on being over doing. A virtue ethicist identifies virtues, desirable characteristics, that the moral or virtuous person embodies.
How is the approach taken by virtue ethics different from that taken by deontology and utilitarianism? ›
How is the approach taken by virtue ethics different from that taken by deontology and utilitarianism? Virtue Ethics is concerned with how we ought to be, while deontology and utilitarianism are concerned with what we ought to do.
These three theories of ethics (utilitarian ethics, deontological ethics, virtue ethics) form the foundation of normative ethics conversations. It is important, however, that public relations professionals also understand how to apply these concepts to the actual practice of the profession.
Virtue ethics can perhaps provide a set of guidelines as to what to do and what not to do. For example, if by not lying you show that you are trustworthy, by virtue you are seen as morally right and thus praiseworthy. Similarly a deontologist would say that you did the right thing since you obeyed moral norms.
Situation ethics seems to be little more than a form of act consequentialism, in that a person can only choose the right thing to do if they consider all the consequences of their possible action, and all the people who may be affected.
They enable us to pursue the ideals we have adopted. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues.
First, deontological and consequentialist modes of thinking are not mutually exclusive. Second, PVs are strongly associated with deontological orientations but they may be combined with consequentialist orientations.
Unlike consequentialism, which judges actions by their results, deontology doesn't require weighing the costs and benefits of a situation. This avoids subjectivity and uncertainty because you only have to follow set rules.
A third problem with consequentialism is dealing with actual and expected consequences. It is problematic to evaluate the morality of decision based on actual consequences as well as probable consequences. If an observer scales the weight of consequences based only on probability, some poor decisions can be made.
For deontologists, a killing is a wrong under most circumstances, and its wrongness does not depend on its consequences or its effects on overall welfare. Many deontologists (of course not all) believe that capital punishment counts as a moral wrong.
There are two main objections to virtue ethics as an ethical system: its vagueness and its relativism. First, virtue ethics is too vague and subjective, and does not produce explicit rules for moral conduct that can tell us how to act in specific circumstances.
The Weaknesses of Virtue Ethics
Virtue ethics may seem to avoid some of the apparent flaws of duty-based ethics and of utilitarianism. A person guided by virtue ethics would not be bound by strict rules or the duty to abide by a state's legal code.
Virtue ethics focuses on the importance of developing the habits of mind and character to engage and resolve ethical dilemmas while embracing, not forsaking, ethical principles.
Deontology is defined as an ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action. An example of deontology is the belief that killing someone is wrong, even if it was in self-defense.
Any system involving a clear set of rules is a form of deontology, which is why some people call it a “rule-based ethic”. The Ten Commandments is an example, as is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most deontologists say there are two different kinds of ethical duties, perfect duties and imperfect duties.
The most well-known version of this theory is Classical Utilitarianism, which holds that the right action promotes pleasure (Mill). Kantian Deontology.
Consequentialism is an attractive ethical approach because it provides clear and practical guidance – at least in situations where outcomes are easy to predict. The theory is also impartial.
Consequentialism is an ethical theory that judges whether or not something is right by what its consequences are. For instance, most people would agree that lying is wrong. But if telling a lie would help save a person's life, consequentialism says it's the right thing to do.
Virtue Ethics is included under Non-Consequentialism simply because the focus of virtue ethics is on the creation or expression of character traits and not on production of the greatest net aggregate of consequences. The other types of Non-Consequentialist theories share the feature of being clearly rule oriented.
Consequentialism = whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences (as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act).
What is the difference between non consequentialist or deontological and consequentialist normative moral theories? ›
According to consequentialism, the right act is that act which has the best consequences. According to non-consequentialism, the rightness of an action is not solely determined by its consequences. (Though, most versions of non-consequentialism allow some ethical relevance of consequences).
Indeed, utilitarianism and consequentialism share many of the same tenets. One difference, however, is consequentialism does not specify a desired outcome, while utilitarianism specifies good as the desired outcome.