There are different types of ethical theories and each one of them is different from the other in many ways - Ethical Theories introduction. I am going to compare virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology theories. I will describe each theory and show similarities and differences in the theories and then I will explain the theories.
Virtue Theory is explained as an action that is right if it is what a person with virtues would do under the same circumstances. Deontology Theory is an action that is right if it follows a moral rule or principle, and Utilitarianism is an action that is right if it promotes the best consequences (Brown, 2001). These are all similar in that they rely on virtues of the people who are making decisions.
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Although these three theories do have similarities, they are also very different from one another. Virtue theory depends on a person doing right from wrong no matter how many or if anyone will benefit from the moral choice, but it is also based on what the normal person with virtues would do. Deontology Theory relies on a person doing the right thing by following the moral rules or principles that that person believes in. It does not rely on what others would do in the same situation. Finally, Utilitarianism is the theory that still relies on virtues, but it also relies on the person making a decision based on the good that a number of people will get from the decision. It is based on what the majority of people will get from the virtuous decision that is made.
As I am in the Army, I see many of these theories working almost every day. I see virtue theory when I have a Soldier who is faced with a decision and makes that decision based on what other people would do. For instance, my Soldier was faced with a decision of should he cheat and make his physical fitness test score more than it really was. If he made the score higher, he would have a better chance of getting promoted. After he had made the correct moral decision, not changing his score, he talked to me about it. His decision not to change his score was based on the fact that the other Soldiers he was competing against would not have done this and so he wanted to be fair. That is Virtue Theory.
Another Soldier is taking college courses and he needed to print off a text book. He knew that he could print it off at work and no one would be the wiser, but he also knew that that would be the wrong thing to do. He struggled with this because he didn’t want to use his own printer and paper to have a hard copy of the text book, but he did the moral and right thing and printed the text book off himself. This is Deontology theory because no one else benefited from his decision but it was in accordance with moral unwritten rules of right and wrong.
Finally, the Army as a whole uses Utilitarianism theory. They teach us all about the effects of sexual assault in the Armed Forces and they have come down hard on those who commit sexual assault in the ranks. They are making moral and ethical decisions based on the sheer number of people that will benefit from the decisions they are making.
In our day-to-day lives, we are using ethical theories in every decision that we make. We may not understand the exact name of the theory or how the theory exactly works, but we are making decisions based on the morals and virtues that we have. Hopefully we are making ethical decisions in our everyday lives.
Brown, C. (April 2001) Ethical Theories Compared. Retrieved November 2012 from http://www.trinity.edu/cbrown/intro/ethical_theories.html