Three major theories can be defined in normative ethics: virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics. Each of these theories emphasizes different peculiarities so as to predict the consequence and perform one's duties in relation to others to make an ethically acceptable decision. This paper seeks to describe each of the three ethical theories in relation to morality and ethics.
Virtue ethics may be identified as a positive moral property of the human character determined by one’s will and actions, and it can be described as a permanent will to implement moral laws. Contrary to virtue theory, utilitarianism is an accepted general denotation for those groups of ethical theories, according to which moral value of a behavior or action is determined by its utility.
According to Rainbow (2002), “The deontological theory states that people should adhere to their obligations and duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma”. It means that deontology defines some human actions to be morally incorrect by themselves (e.g. lies, failure to comply with promises, punishment of the innocent, murder).
All these ethical theories are distinguished by different approaches to morality and human’s attitude to utility concept. For example, deontological ethics stresses on assessment of the correctness or incorrectness of a certain behavior, depending on the pattern of behavior rather than on its results as utilitarianism does. Deontology also differs from virtue by peculiar approach focusing more on the subject’s nature than on the fact of the consequences of human’s action (or inaction) directly. Another aspect of deontological approach, which is also common for both virtue ethics and utilitarianism, is the problem of justification. This problem defines the way people substantiate their own ethical beliefs and is the basis of the spiritual and moral paradigm of comprehension of the surrounding world by individuals.
As it may be seen from the above-mentioned, utilitarian doctrine is applying to morality much less than all other ethical theories do, because utilitarianism is based primarily on the estimation of behavior over its consequences or, sometimes, over the supposed consequences, but not over the accordance to the rules, rights or obligations as deontology states. This approach is usually opposed to moral arguments of deontology, which dominated in the field of moral judgements during greater part of human history. Generally, one of the main differences between the utilitarianism and other ethical theories is a peculiar paradox which determines that utilitarian belief may not give as good results as the other theories. This can be illustrated by the example of religious communities where there is more tranquility and contentment than in social communities. Virtue ethics, at the same time, operates with concepts which are the most loyal to morality and recognize individual’s acts only if they do not infringe the rights of other humans.
In accordance with utilitarianism, the choice that brings the biggest and ultimate utility to the most people is seen as ethically correct choice. This approach resembles the deontological one where individuals are eager to act and live in harmony with ethical canons in order to achieve the gratification of their behavior as well. In this case we should understand deontological ethics as the set of moral rules which lead us to the main task of utilitarianism: to identify what has to be done in order to reach the biggest happiness for the most people. Under this theory, there is a great emphasis on proving that personal interests and responsibilities to society coincide, and desire to reach high level of personal happiness in conjunction with the mind can serve the public happiness.
Thus, all discussed ethical theories imply that moral correctness or incorrectness of an act depends rather on its inner qualities than the nature of its consequences. The basic difference between these theories is determined by various approaches to morality which is, as a rule, in the area of moral canons or moral conclusions. Moreover, ethical theories, such as virtue, utilitarianism, and deontology do not identify any criterions of morality. The main object of analytical ethical approaches is more of moral language and moral discourse.