Basic Ethics

According to Michael Boylan’s book Basic Ethics the study of ethics concerns itself with “right” and “wrong, judgments that assign praise or blame. In the case of ethics, these judgments are usually assigned to people or to actions (Boylan, 2009). This essay will discuss three major ethical theories, virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics. It will also provide a personal experience to help explain the relationship between virtue, values, and moral concepts as it relates to utilitarianism. The three ethics theories discussed herein are the virtue ethics theory that examines a person’s character over a long period of time and is forgiving of an occasional mistake that is not consistent with a person’s past character. Deontological ethics or duty-based morality is a theory based on a “nonconsequentialist” view of people and moral decision-making. Deontological ethics supports that actions are not justified by their consequences. Rather, factors other than good outcomes determine the “rightness” of actions (Deontological Ethics, 2014).

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Utilitarianism in the most basic term is based on measuring “good” in terms of usefulness. Utilitarianism is often defined as an effort to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Also this principle advocates that the ends justify the means in other words if a negative action must be used to reach a greater good then its justified (What Is Utilitarianism?, 2014). There are marked differences between the three ethics theories. Unlike deontic or action based theories of morality that focus on the actions a person performs, the virtue theory, aka character ethics focuses on helping people develop good character traits, like kindness and generosity, “The deontological ethics is grounded in the “Categorical Imperative,” The Categorical Imperative simply declares, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.” The Categorical Imperative is very similar to the “Golden Rule” of Christianity, and other religions (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”)” (Deontological Ethics, 2014). On the other hand utilitarianism revolves around the concept that the end justifies the means. A personal example I have of utilitarianism being practiced was when my Father was in hospice with terminal throat cancer. He ordered a DNR, do not resuscitate.

My family and I did not like his wish but it is what he chose for himself and we all accepted his final wish. Although many feel this is not right to just let someone die without trying to help the person dying the attitude on these decisions is purely determined by the person dying. The utilitarian approach can be selfish in nature because the judgments is strictly that of the person thinking of his own truth in my Fathers case his last dying wish. So depending on what kind of person you are, how you were raised, the environment you live in, your faith, the influences you may have from the social circle you belong to you all these factors could influence your ethics and depending on the situation on hand you may find yourself moving towards one or the other of these ethic theories. Morally or ethically, I would never let my Dad die without making some attempt to resuscitate him but on the other hand I set aside my moral belief and my ethics to allow my Dad his last and final wish.

Boylan, M. (2009). Basic Ethics (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Deontological Ethics. (2014, February 17). Retrieved from allaboutphilosophy .org: What Is Utilitarianism? (2014, February 17). Retrieved from

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