Normative Ethical Theory

Everyone seems to have their own moral compass, right? It certainly seems like it. We observe people around us making decisions  based on how right or wrong they think those actions are all the time.You probably try to do the same. But how do we know what actions are right and what actions are wrong? Obviously, stealing your mom’s credit card number to buy the new Fortnite battle pass seems pretty wrong, at least your mom would probably think so. But what about Robin Hood stealing from the ultra-rich💰 in order to help the poor? Is that wrong too? They’re both instances of stealing, but the circumstances seem pretty different, don’t they? So, the question is whether we consider the potential outcomes of an action to know whether it is  right or wrong or whether we should just think about the action itself. Or maybe neither of these are the right way? These questions are at the root of normative ethical theory and have been a hot topic of debate among philosophers for centuries. So how should you make decisions about your own actions, and how do you want the people around you to make decisions about their actions? Exploring normative ethical theories just might give you some valuable insight.


  • Deontology vs. Consequentialism

    Philosophize This!

  • Virtue Ethics

    Philosophy Bites

  • Consequentialism

    Philosophy Bites

  • Utilitarianism

    Philosophy The Classics

  • Heart of Stone and Deontology

    Philosophers in Space


Want to Know More?

Questions to Think About

  • If an action is deemed morally wrong in one scenario, is it morally wrong in all scenarios?

  • At what point do positive outcomes justify otherwise morally wrong actions? Who makes this decision?

  • Is it possible to act virtuously all the time? Can we develop this skill or do you have to be born with it?

  • How do you want others to make moral decisions?

  • How should we measure how good the consequences of our actions are?

  • Should a moral theory apply equally to everyone?

Key Thinkers

  • Immanuel Kant

  • Aristotle

  • Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • John Stuart Mill

  • Jeremy Bentham

  • John Rawls

  • John Locke

  • Robert Nozick

  • Henry Sidgwick

  • Carol Gilligan

  • Philippa Foot

  • John Dewey

  • Virginia Held

Key Texts

Key Terms

  • Normative theory
    theories of how we should act
  • Consequentialism
    an ethical theory that holds that the result of an action determines how right or wrong it is
  • Deontology
    an ethical theory that holds that an action is right or wrong depending on whether it accords with a certain rule or rules
  • Virtue ethics
    an ethical theory that holds that cultivating virtues and a good character is the most important part of living a good life
  • Care ethics
    a type of virtue ethics theory that places importance on care in addition to justice
  • Utilitarianism
    an ethical theory that holds that something is right if it brings about the greatest good for the greatest number of people

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