Several philosphers have given different theories of ethics.
A moral theory is a mechanism for assessing whether a
particular action or rule is ethically justified. More
precisely, a moral theory can help us to sharpen our moral
vision, it helps us determine whether an action or a rule is
ethically right , wrong, or permissible. These theories help
us in getting better understanding of ethics and guide us in
making ethical decision making. All ethical theories can be
classified into two different categories
-Consequential ethical theories
-Non-consequential ethical theories
Consequentialism or teleological ethics is based on
the premise that the morality of an action is
contingent with the outcome of that action.
This implies that morally right action produces good
outcome and morally wrong produces bad outcome.
The consequences are the effects caused by an action
and the quality of these consequences depend on how
much good they contain. Motives are the cause.
Some of the consequential theories are Utilitarinism,
Teleological moral theories locate moral goodness in
the consequences of our behavior and not the behavior
According to teleological (or consequentialist) moral
theory, all rational human actions are teleological in
the sense that we reason about the means of achieving
Moral behavior, therefore, is goal-directed
Non-Consequential Ethical theories
The non-consequentialist approach or deontological
approach or the duty ethics focuses on the rightness
and wrongness of the actions themselves and not the
consequences of those actions.
There are several variants of non-consequentialist
approach such as Divine Command Theory; Natural
Rights Theory etc.
Deontological theories are by definition duty-based. That
is to say, that morality, according to deontologists, consists
in the fulfillment of moral obligations, or duties.
Duties, in the deontological tradition, are most often
associated with obeying absolute moral rules. Hence,
human beings are morally required to do (or not to do)
certain acts in order to uphold a rule or law.
The rightness or wrongness of a moral rule is determined
independent of its consequences or how happiness or
pleasure is distributed as a result of abiding by that rule, or
not abiding by it
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that advocates actions
that promote overall happiness or pleasure and rejects
actions that cause unhappiness or harm.
A utilitarian philosophy, when directed to making
social, economic, or political decisions, aims for the
betterment of society.
"The greatest amount of good for the greatest number
of people" is a maxim of utilitarianism.
The philosophy is associated with Jeremy Bentham
and John Stuart Mill, two towering British
philosophers, and political thinkers.
Utilitarianism appears to be a simple theory because it
consists of only one evaluative principle: Do what produces
the best consequences.
In fact, however, the theory is complex because we cannot
understand that single principle unless we know (at least)
three things: a) what things are good and bad; b) whose
good (i.e. which individuals or groups) we should aim to
maximize; and c) whether actions, policies, etc. are made
right or wrong by their actual consequences (the results
that our actions actually produce) or by their foreseeable
consequences (the results that we predict will occur based
on the evidence that we have).
What is Good?
Jeremy Bentham answered this question by adopting the
view called hedonism. According to hedonism, the only
thing that is good in itself is pleasure (or happiness).
Hedonists do not deny that many different kinds of things
can be good, including food, friends, freedom, and many
other things, but hedonists see these as “instrumental”
goods that are valuable only because they play a causal role
in producing pleasure or happiness.
Pleasure and happiness, however, are “intrinsic” goods,
meaning that they are good in themselves and not because
they produce some further valuable thing.
Likewise, on the negative side, a lack of food, friends, or
freedom is instrumentally bad because it produces pain,
suffering, and unhappiness; but pain, suffering and
unhappiness are intrinsically bad, i.e. bad in themselves and
not because they produce some further bad thing.
Strengths of this theory
It is believed that actions are right if they are useful to
a majority of people. It is most commonly applied
In this theory, the worth of each action is judged
primarily on its own merits
Criticism of Utilititarianism
The notion of utility is very vague. It is very difficult to determine
what the maximal utility would be for all affected by a situation.
There is doubt regarding what is the “majority”. Sometimes its
action may benefit the majority at the cost of exploitation of the
It may sometimes result in unethical and immoral choices as it
judges morality by the results only, and not by the means
It is very much difficult to forsee the consequences with
The ethical dilemma for managers is to measure the benefits and
harms that will be done to each stakeholder group.
Developed by Immanuel kant, a german
Universalism is considered as deontological approach
This philosophy is centered in human autonomy
Human autonomy for formulating our own law on
basis of our understanding and framework of our
Being self conscious and thus aware of the reasons
behind our actions is therefore one of the highest
principles of Kant’s theoretical philosphy
In kant’s opinion there should be one universal moral
law which we should independently impose onto
ourselves. He named it the categorical imperative.
The categorical imperative hold that every act we
commit should be based on our personal principles or
Kant refers to these principles or rules as maxims.
Maxims are basically the ‘why’ behind our actions
In order to ensure our maxims are morally sound, we
should always ask ourselves if we would want them to
be universal laws.
Would our maxim pass the test of universability?
Strengths of Universalism
Consistency-What is right for one should be right for
Brings clarity in decisions
Focuses on intentions of decision maker-making him
his own moral agent
Evokes a deep consideration for the well being of all
parties involved in our actions
Criticism of Universalism
Universalizability is questionable. How can we claim,
all people, all nations. All beliefs, and all cultures in
every single act we implement
Equality based approach is too idealist
Ethics Case Study
Raj knew he was smart. His classmates always turned to him for
help on assignments and he always knew the answers to the
questions his teachers asked in class. Raj just didn't study for tests
so his grades were often mediocre. He knew he could do better in
school, it was just that school was so... well, boring.
School was coming to an end for the year and Raj needed to get a
good job this summer, after all this was the end of his junior year.
He desperately wanted to work at the famous Research Institute.
Raj felt that if he got a job there as a summer intern, it would really
boost his chances of getting admitted to the graduate engineering
program of his choice. He knew the institute hired very few
summer interns and generally these were students from private
schools who had excellent academic records and high standardized
test scores. So, Raj decided to "tweak" his resume. He rounded his
GPA up from 3.0 to a more respectable 3.5 and listed his SAT scores
as 700 verbal and 820 math (in reality they were 600 verbal and 720
math). Raj reasoned that these changes really didn't matter because
he would show them who he really was through the quality of the
work he did for the Institute once he was hired...
Consider each of the following questions and evaluate
the case study:
1. What is the action or inaction that is the cause for
2. Who or what may be affected?
3. How will they be affected? (i.e., what are the possible
4. What would have been course of action taken by you
if you were Raj?