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Normative ethics is the study of
ethical Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong action (philosophy), behavior".''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy'"Ethics"/ref> The field of ethics, al ...

ethical
behaviour, and is the branch of
philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real o ...

philosophical
ethics that investigates the questions that arise regarding how one ought to act, in a
moral A moral (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in rel ...

moral
sense. Normative ethics is distinct from
meta-ethics In and , meta-ethics is the study of the nature, scope, and meaning of . It is one of the three branches of ethics generally studied by s, the others being (questions of how one ought to be and act) and (practical questions of right behavior i ...
in that the former examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, whereas the latter studies the meaning of moral language and the
metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between ...

metaphysics
of moral facts. Likewise, normative ethics is distinct from
applied ethics Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about M ...
in that the former is more concerned with 'who ought one be' rather than the ethics of a specific issue (e.g. if, or when,
abortion Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy Pregnancy, also known as gestation, is the time during which one or more offspring In biology, offspring are the young born of living organism, organisms, produced either by a single organism ...

abortion
is acceptable). Normative ethics is also distinct from
descriptive ethicsDescriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people's beliefs about morality Morality (from ) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and Social actions, actions between those that are distinguished as proper (ri ...
, as the latter is an
empirical Empirical evidence for a proposition is evidence, i.e. what supports or counters this proposition, that is constituted by or accessible to sense experience or experimental procedure. Empirical evidence is of central importance to the sciences and ...
investigation of people's moral beliefs. In this context normative ethics is sometimes called ''prescriptive'', as opposed to ''descriptive'' ethics. However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view of
moral realism Moral realism (also ethical realism) is the position that ethical Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, exi ...
, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time. An adequate justification for a group of principles needs an explanation of those principles. It must be an explanation of why precisely these goals, prohibitions, and so on, should be given weight, and not others. Unless a coherent explanation of the principles (or demonstrate that they require no additional justification) can be given, they cannot be considered justified, and there may be reason to reject them. Therefore, there is a requirement for explanation in moral theory. Most traditional moral theories rest on principles that determine whether an action is right or wrong. Classical theories in this vein include
utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a family of normative Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as ba ...
,
Kantianism Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a Germans, German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The term ''Kantianism'' or ''Kantian'' is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy o ...
, and some forms of contractarianism. These theories mainly offered the use of overarching moral principles to resolve difficult moral decisions.


Normative ethical theories

There are disagreements about what precisely gives an action, rule, or disposition its ethical force. There are three competing views on how moral questions should be answered, along with hybrid positions that combine some elements of each:
virtue ethics Virtue ethics (also aretaic ethics, from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. ...
,
deontological ethics In moral philosophy Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, ...
; and
consequentialism Consequentialism is a class of normative Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad ...
. The former focuses on the character of those who are acting. In contrast, both deontological ethics and consequentialism focus on the status of the action, rule, or disposition itself, and come in various forms.


Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics, advocated by
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...

Aristotle
with some aspects being supported by
Saint Thomas Aquinas Thomas Aquinas (; it, Tommaso d'Aquino, lit=Thomas of Aquino; 1225 – 7 March 1274) was an Italian Dominican Dominican may refer to: * Someone or something from or related to the Dominican Republic The Dominican Republic ( ; es, ...

Saint Thomas Aquinas
, focuses on the inherent character of a person rather than on specific actions. There has been a significant revival of virtue ethics in the past half-century, through the work of such philosophers as G. E. M. Anscombe,
Philippa Foot Philippa Ruth Foot (; née Bosanquet; 3 October 1920 – 3 October 2010) was an English philosopher and one of the founders of contemporary virtue ethics, who was inspired by the ethics of Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτ ...
,
Alasdair Macintyre Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (; born 12 January 1929) is a Scottish-American philosopher who has contributed to moral and political philosophy Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government, addressing questions about the natu ...

Alasdair Macintyre
, Mortimer J. Adler,
Jacques Maritain Jacques Maritain (; 18 November 1882 – 28 April 1973) was a French Catholic philosopher. Raised Protestant, he was agnostic before converting to Catholicism in 1906. An author of more than 60 books, he helped to revive Thomas Aquinas for ...

Jacques Maritain
,
Yves Simon Yves René Marie Simon (March 14, 1903 – May 11, 1961) was a French Roman Catholic, Catholic political philosopher. Life Simon studied under Jacques Maritain at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He taught at the Institut Catholique de Lille fro ...

Yves Simon
, and
Rosalind Hursthouse Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (born 10 November 1943) is a British-born New Zealand moral philosopher noted for her work on virtue ethics#REDIRECT Virtue ethics {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from miscapitalisation {{R unprintworthy .... Hursth ...
.


Deontological ethics

Deontology argues that decisions should be made considering the factors of one's duties and one's rights. Some deontological theories include: *
Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant (, , ; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about r ...

Immanuel Kant
's categorical imperative, which roots morality in humanity's rational capacity and asserts certain inviolable moral laws. * The
contractualism Contractualism is a term in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Phil ...
of
John Rawls John Bordley Rawls (; February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American moral A moral (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was ori ...
, which holds that the moral acts are those that we would all agree to if we were unbiased, behind a "
veil of ignorance The original position (OP), often referred to as the veil of ignorance, is a thought experiment used for reasoning about the principles that should structure a society based on solidarity. The phrases ''original position'' and ''veil of ignorance ...
." *
Natural rights Natural rights and legal rights are two types of rights. * Natural rights are those that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and so are ''universal'', ''fundamental Fundamental may refer to: * Found ...
theories, such that of
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
or
Robert Nozick Robert Nozick (; November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lov ...
, which hold that human beings have absolute, natural rights.


Consequentialism

Consequentialism argues that the morality of an action is contingent on the action's outcome or result. Consequentialist theories, varying in what they consider to be valuable (i.e.,
axiology Axiology (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''axia'': "value, worth"; and , ''wiktionary:-logia, -logia'': "study of") is the Philosophy, philosophical study of value (ethics), value. It includes questions about the nature and classification of values a ...
), include: *
Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a family of normative Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as ba ...
holds that an action is right if it leads to the most ''
happiness The term ''happiness'' is used in the context of Mental health, mental or emotional states, including positive or Pleasure, pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subj ...

happiness
'' for the greatest number of people. Prior to the coining of the term "consequentialism" by
G. E. M. Anscombe Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (; 18 March 1919 – 5 January 2001), usually cited as G. E. M. Anscombe or Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. She wrote on the philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind i ...
in 1958 and the adoption of that term in the literature that followed, ''utilitarianism'' was the generic term for ''consequentialism'', referring to all theories that promoted maximizing ''any'' form of utility, not just those that promoted maximizing happiness. * State consequentialism, or
Mohist Mohism or Moism () was an ancient Chinese philosophy Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period () and Warring States period (), during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characteri ...
consequentialism, holds that an action is right if it leads to ''state welfare'', through ''
order Order, ORDER or Orders may refer to: * Orderliness Orderliness is a quality that is characterized by a person’s interest in keeping their surroundings and themselves well organized, and is associated with other qualities such as cleanliness a ...
'', '' material wealth'', and ''
population growth Population growth is the increase in the number of people in a population Population typically refers the number of people in a single area whether it be a city or town, region, country, or the world. Governments typically quantify the size ...
''. *
Egoism Egoism is the philosophy concerned with the role of the self The self is an individual person as the object of its own reflective consciousness. Since the ''self'' is a reference by a subject to the same subject, this reference is necessar ...
, the belief that the moral person is the self-interested person, holds that an action is right if it maximizes ''good for the self''. *
Situational ethics Situational ethics or situation ethics takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards. With the intent to have a fair basis for judgments or action, ...
emphasizes the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically. Specifically, Christian forms of situational ethics hold that the correct action is the one that creates the most loving result, and that ''love'' should always be people's goal. *
IntellectualismImage:Socrates Louvre.jpg, 165px, The Life of the Mind: the philosophic pioneer, Socrates (ca.469–399 B.C.) Intellectualism is the mental perspective that emphasizes the use, the development, and the exercise of the intellect; and also identifies ...
dictates that the best action is the one that best fosters and promotes ''
knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to e ...
''. *
Welfarism In its most general sense, welfarism is a theory about what has value or what matters. It can be defined as the view that well-being is the only thing that has Axiology#Intrinsic value, intrinsic value. ''Pure welfarists'' hold that this value is d ...
, which argues that the best action is the one that most increases ''economic well-being or welfare''. *
Preference utilitarianism Preference utilitarianism (also known as preferentialism) is a form of utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a family of normative ethical theories that prescribe actions that maximize happiness and well-being Well-being, also known as ''wel ...
, which holds that the best action is the one that leads to the most overall ''preference satisfaction''.


Other theories

*
Ethics of care The ethics of care (alternatively care ethics or EoC) is a normative ethics, normative ethics, ethical theory that holds that moral action centers on interpersonal relationships and care or benevolence as a virtue. EoC is one of a cluster of normat ...
, or relational ethics, founded by feminist theorists, notably
Carol Gilligan Carol Gilligan (; born November 28, 1936) is an American feminism, feminist, ethicist, and psychologist best known for her work on ethical community and ethical relationships and certain Pirsig's metaphysics of Quality, subject-object problems in ...
, argues that morality arises out of the experiences of
empathy Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional s ...

empathy
and compassion. It emphasizes the importance of
interdependence Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems, i.e. cohesive groups of interrelated, interdependent parts that can be natural or man-made, human-made. Every system is bounded by space and time, influenced by its environment, defined by i ...
and relationships in achieving ethical goals. *
Pragmatic ethics Pragmatic ethics is a theory of normative philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, existence, knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understand ...
is difficult to classify fully within any of the four preceding conceptions. This view argues that moral correctness evolves similarly to other kinds of knowledge—socially over the course of many lifetimes—and that norms, principles, and moral criteria are likely to be improved as a result of inquiry.
Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce ( ; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American philosopher, ian, mathematician and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of ". He was known as a somewhat unusual character. Educated as a chemist an ...

Charles Sanders Peirce
,
William James William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States ** Americans, citi ...
, and
John Dewey John Dewey (; October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Meta ...
are known as the founders of pragmatism; a more recent proponent of pragmatic ethics was
James D. Wallace James Donald Wallace (May 21, 1937 – July 7, 2019) was an American philosopher. He was a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for 49 years. Biography Wallace was born in Troy, New York on May 21, 1937. He wrote several book ...
. *
Role ethics Role ethics is an ethical theory based on family In human society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social ...
is based on the concept of family roles.


Morality as a binding force

It can be unclear what it means to say that a person "ought to do X because it is moral, whether they like it or not."
Morality Morality (from ) is the differentiation of intention Intentions are mental states in which the agent commits themselves to a course of action. Having the plan to visit the zoo tomorrow is an example of an intention. The action plan is the '' ...

Morality
is sometimes presumed to have some kind of special binding force on behaviour, though some philosophers believe that, used this way, the word "ought" seems to wrongly attribute magic powers to morality. For instance,
G. E. M. Anscombe Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (; 18 March 1919 – 5 January 2001), usually cited as G. E. M. Anscombe or Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. She wrote on the philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind i ...
worries that "ought" has become "a word of mere mesmeric force." Anscombe, Elizabeth. 1958. "Modern Moral Philosophy." ''Philosophy'' 33(24). The British
ethicistAn ethicist is one whose judgment on ethics and ethical codes has come to be trusted by a specific community, and (importantly) is expressed in some way that makes it possible for others to mimic or approximate that judgment. Following the advice of ...
Philippa Foot Philippa Ruth Foot (; née Bosanquet; 3 October 1920 – 3 October 2010) was an English philosopher and one of the founders of contemporary virtue ethics, who was inspired by the ethics of Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτ ...
elaborates that morality does not seem to have any special binding force, and she clarifies that people only behave morally when motivated by other factors. Foot says "People talk, for instance, about the 'binding force' of morality, but it is not clear what this means if not that we feel ourselves unable to escape." The idea is that, faced with an opportunity to steal a book because we can get away with it, moral obligation itself has no power to stop us unless we ''feel'' an obligation. Morality may therefore have no binding force beyond regular human motivations, and people must be motivated to behave morally. The question then arises: what role does reason play in motivating moral behaviour?


Motivating morality

The categorical imperative perspective suggests that proper reason always leads to particular moral behaviour. As mentioned above, Foot instead believes that humans are actually motivated by desires. Proper reason, on this view, allows humans to discover actions that get them what they want (i.e.,
hypothetical imperative A hypothetical imperative (German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * Ge ...
s)—not necessarily actions that are moral.
Social structure In the social sciences Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of pla ...
and motivation can make morality binding in a sense, but only because it makes moral norms feel inescapable, according to Foot.
John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 7 May 1873), also cited as J. S. Mill, was an English philosopher, Political economy, political economist, Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament (MP) and civil servant. One of the most i ...
adds that external pressures, to please others for instance, also influence this felt binding force, which he calls human "
conscience Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual's ethics, moral philosophy or value system. Conscience stands in contrast to elicited emotion or thought due to associations based on immedi ...

conscience
". Mill says that humans must first reason about what is moral, then try to bring the feelings of our conscience in line with our reason. At the same time, Mill says that a good moral system (in his case,
utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a family of normative Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as ba ...
) ultimately appeals to aspects of human nature—which, must themselves be nurtured during upbringing. Mill explains:
This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of advancing civilisation.
Mill thus believes that it is important to appreciate that it is feelings that drive moral behavior, but also that they may not be present in some people (e.g.
psychopaths Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is traditionally a personality disorder Personality disorders (PD) are a class of mental disorder A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, ...
). Mill goes on to describe factors that help ensure people develop a conscience and behave morally. Popular texts such as Joseph Daleiden's ''The Science of Morality: The Individual, Community, and Future Generations'' (1998) describe how societies can use science to figure out how to make people more likely to be good.


See also

* Axiological ethics *
Free will Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action ACTION is a bus operator in , Australia owned by the . History On 19 July 1926, the commenced operating public bus services between Eastlake ( ...

Free will
*
Norm (philosophy) Norms are concepts (sentence Sentence(s) or The Sentence may refer to: Common uses * Sentence (law), the punishment a judge gives to a defendant found guilty of a crime * Sentence (linguistics), a grammatical unit of language * Sentence (mathemat ...
*
Normative Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible. A Norm (p ...
*
Secular ethics Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, Reasoning, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from belief in supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethi ...


References


External links

* *Consequentialism and utilitarianism: **
Introduction to Utilitarianism
an introductory online textbook on utilitarianism coauthored by
William MacAskill William MacAskill (né Crouch; born 24 March 1987) is a Scottish philosopher, ethicist, and one of the originators of the effective altruism movement. He is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Oxford, a researcher at the G ...
. *Deontology: ** *Virtue ethics: ** {{Authority control Ethical theories Ethics Philosophy of life