Normative ethical theories breakoff into three categories: virtue ethics, consequential ethics, and deontological ethics. The Christian worldview states that life is the perspective in which we reality is defined. Reality today is different than the reality that was present when the above normative ethical theories were created. The Christian worldview affects how people see those ethics, and how they act in regard to them. This paper will define normative ethics, go into detail about its three categories and their subcategories, and explain their relationships to the Christian worldview.
Keywords: Ethics, Virtue, Theory, Deontological, Consequential, Christian worldview
Normative Ethics determines how people ought to act, live, and be (Kagan, 2018). It was created to describe an ethical dilemma, in which there is a justifiable reason for one’s actions and consequences (Kagan, 2018). Normative ethical theories breakoff into three categories: virtue ethics, consequential ethics, and deontological ethics. Virtue ethics came about in the 1950’s from Anglo-American moral philosophies prevalent during that age (Sandford, 2015). The contexts of those philosophies working together to shape the moral compass (Sanford, 2015).
Then we have Christian virtue ethics, created by Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert Meilander, and Jean Porter (Sanford, 2015). The Christian worldview states that life is the perspective in which we define what reality is to us (Keller, 2012, p. 157). The German word worldview originally is a, “comprehensive perspective from which we interpret all of reality” (Keller, 2012, p. 157). The comprehensive perspective evolves from a story about the following three components of life (Keller, 2012, p. 157):
- One’s image or expectation of what life is supposed to be like
- What went wrong with that image
- Drafting and Implementing a solution for what went wrong
In direct relation to the worldview perspective, the Christian story line consists of the creation of man, the fall of man, and the restoration of man (Keller, 2012, p. 162).
Virtue Ethics originated from the time frame in which the lessons of Aristotle were priceless, and still are as far as relevance (Simpson, 1992). Aristotle was prevalent during 384 BC to 322 BC (Dimmock & Fisher, 2017). As a teleologist he believed that there was an end, goal, or final purpose (Dimmock & Fisher, 2017). He worked to prove that all people and things have a mission to fulfill for their/its own good (Simpson, 1992)
Virtue ethics came about in the 1950’s from Anglo-American moral philosophies prevalent during that age (Sandford, 2015). During the movement, contemporary virtue ethics arose to stardom, in the desire to prevail over modern moral philosophies (Sandford, 2015). After the rise of contemporary virtue ethics Christian virtue ethics came to the light (Sanford, 2015). Christian virtue ethics suggest that the end goal or perfect final outcome is something that can only be accomplished when we absorb in God’s grace and accept him as our redeeming savior (Sandford, 2015).
Theory 1: Eudaimonist Virtue Ethics
Eudaimonist ethics comes from the Greek word eudaimonia, which stands for natural or real happiness or flourishment-in relation to the human’s well-being (Snow, 2008). Eudaemonist virtue ethics says that actions should be based on definite reasoning, therefore people can live a life worth living (Snow, 2008). No actions are performed for no reason, as everything we do is performed for a purpose (Snow 2008). All of humanity does things to bring good to society for the community to prevails with joyfulness and completeness (Snow, 2008).
From the beginning to the end of life happiness is all people live for (Snow 2008). The desire for a good life is the end goal (Snow, 2008). Eudaimonist virtue ethics aligns with a Christian perspective in the idea we flourish in the state of acting in accordance to our true function and God’s calling over his people (Dimmock & Fisher, 2017, p.4). We must act in accordance with his plan to reach his purpose for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11, New International Version).
Theory 2: Agent Based and Exemplarist Virtue Ethics
Agent based virtue ethics originated from Michael Slote (Stohr, 2006). This is a motivational approach that suggests actions depend on ethical conclusions about the personal attributes of individuals (Stohr, 2006). Agent centered theories are centered around an individual’s characteristics and personality traits rather than one’s actions and how it affects the consequences (Dimmock & Fisher, 2017). These theories are highly related to one’s psychological disposition in response to personal feelings (Dimmock and Fisher, 2017).
The appropriate response to emotions is known as the golden mean consequences (Dimmock and Fisher, 2017). The golden mean is a response that is neither excessive or insufficient in its own right and therefore acts an appropriate suggestion for living within the means of reasonable consequences (Dimmock and Fisher, 2017). The exemplarist virtue theory aligns with the Christian perspective in the fact that the Bible lays out guidelines for how his children are to behave. James chapter 1 verses 19-20 tells us to be slow to anger and Matthew chapter 22 verse 39 tells us to love our neighbors (New International Version, 2011).
Theory 3: Ethics of Care
The ethics of care arose by the movement of feminine activism (Brady, 2015). It encourages that ethics should be based on feminine characteristics; i.e. caring and nurturing (Brady, 2015). Empathy should be the focus of ethics; one being able to feel another person’s pain and put himself/herself in his/her shoes (Brady, 2015). The contrary would be having sympathy for that individual, i.e. feeling sorry for him/her (Brady, 2015). Care ethics should be prioritized over the masculine traits such as justice (Brady, 2015). This sub theory grew from the empathy altruism hypothesis, which states care ethics treats actions as right or wrong depending on the motivation or lack thereof from the agent (Hamington, 2009). One is to act from a caring perspective instead of the latter (Hamington, 2009). This form of ethics is on the fence with the Christian perspective:
It does align with the Christian worldview as the Bible states multiple times and ways that we should be loving and care about our neighbor; they are listed below (New International Version):
- 1 John 3:11-For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another (New International Version)
- John 13:34- Love one another as I have loved you (New International Version)
- Leviticus 19:18-Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone…but love your neighbor as yourself (New International Version)
- Ephesians 4:2-Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (New International Version)
- 1 Peter 3:8-9-Finally all of you, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. Repay evil with blessings (New International Version)
Deontological ethics are also known as duty ethics (Tännsjö, 2003). This theory was established by Immanuel Kant, the father of the moral code (Tännsjö, 2003). Duty ethics claims that some actions are right and that some actions are wrong and that there are perfect duties and imperfect duties (Tännsjö, 2003). Individuals can’t stop a perfect duty to fulfill an imperfect one (Tännsjö, 2003). In other words, people stop doing making good choices to start making bad ones (Tännsjö, 2003).
Theory 1: Agent-Centered Deontological Theories
Agent-centered theories explores why people do what they do by providing an ethical reason or obligation for the action; ether people go towards something or stay away from it (Tännsjö, 2013). Adam and Eve in the Bible were specifically told not to eat the fruit from the tree, but they ignored God’s direct orders:
“And the Lord God commanded the man, “you are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17, New International Version).
It is relatively based on the idea God gave his children free will to choose (Keller, 2012). The agent-centered deontological theory is in accordance with the biblical worldview being that God know what we do before we do and why we do what we do (Keller, 2012). Jeremiah 1:5 says that God knew us in the womb of our mothers, set us apart from each other, and appointed a destiny for us (New International Version).
Theory 2: Patient-Centered Deontological Theories
This theory is based on rights rather than actions unlike agent centered theories (Tännsjö, 2013). It focuses on the equal rights and equal opportunity for all people (Tännsjö, 2013). Activism is a great example of patient centered deontological ethics because it consists of people promoting, directing reform to establish change in the community and in society as a whole. People come together to create positive social and political advancement. The patient centered theory aligns well with Proverbs 31:8-9, which states (New International Version):
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
For the right of all who are destitute,
Speak up and judge fairly,
Defend the rights of the poor and needy (New International Version)
Theory 3: Contractarian Deontological Theories (Social Contract)
Contractarianism started as a political theory to determine the following (LaFollette, 2013):
- How governments would operate (LaFollette, 2013).
- The allegiance of the community to the government (LaFollette, 2013)
- Justifying limiting government power obligation due to consent with government (LaFollette, 2013).
This was the concern in the 17th and 18th centuries, and still holds true in today’s time (LaFollette, 2013). The author of this theory, Thomas Hobbes, sought to demonstrate why people would want their rights confiscated to obtain social and political peace, during a period lacking social order (Malcolm, 2017). The outcome of procedure is justified, and its consequences are too (Malcolm, 2017).
Contractarianism says self-interest comes first and acts as the ideal that leads individuals to act morally right. This theory does not align with the Christian worldview, as God should be priority in our lives and we should go to him for peace and guidance (Philippians 4:7, New International Version). Philippians 2:3-4 is the perfect confirmation of the Christian worldview as it states that we should not look only to our own interests but should look into the interest of others (New International Version).
Consequentialism says an act is morally right if the consequences are positive (Finnis, 1983, p. 83). Consequentialism has become less about maximizing and more about optimizing the end goal (Finnis, 1983, p. 83). The concern arose as to whether it’s more significant to maximize goods based on happiness and pleasure or whether it is more important to diffuse the evils of today (Finnis, 1983, p. 82).
Consequentialism determines what’s right or wrong based on outcomes (Finnish, 1983, p.82). Consequentialism’s direct correlation with the Christian worldview consists of people making decisions they believe will regulate their success or satisfaction in life, but later having to face the consequences of those decisions (Finnis, 1983, p. 82). To make things right again we have to tap into our relationship with God (Proverbs 3:6, New International Version). The Bible says, “He will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:6, New International Version).
Theory 1: Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is oftentimes considered a form of consequentialism, utilitarianism being the broader ethical perspective (Finnis, 1983, p. 80). The goal of utilitarianism is to maximize the consequences of a person’s choices (Finnis, 1983, p. 80). This theory suggest that the correct act should be the chosen act (Finnish, 1983). People should choose the act that will maximize the highest use, utility, happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction (Finnis, 1983, p. 80). This theory does not align with the Christian perspective because it prioritizes the end goal before the morals of the action (Kotva, 1996). There is more than one way to achieve a common goal, but there is also a right way as well (Kotva, 1996). According to Romans 12:2, God instructs his people not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (New International Version).
Theory 2: Act Consequentialism
Act consequentialism is otherwise known as act utilitarianism, which holds fast to the idea that the end result of one’s actions are just a justified and the other possible results (LaFollette, 2013). It is based on the idea of whether the act produced good or bad consequences (LaFollette, 2013). This is a system built to promote good and evaluates actions according to its consequences (Miller, 2009). Act consequentialism suggests individuals choose the right action, which most likely will birth the greatest results (Miller, 2009). Act consequentialism coincides well with Galatians 6:9 which states, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (New International Version).
Theory 3: Rule Utilitarianism
Rule utilitarianism judges actions based off of its consistency with normative ethics that are ideal to implement into society for constrictive guidelines (Miller, 2009). It is questioned if this rule has enough constraints to overthrow act utilitarianism and consequentialism (Miller, 2009). It challenges the concern that the established guidelines of social and political standards will live up to the necessary precedent for the American people (Miller, 2009). Does our country have a system in which society can actually thrive and benefit form (Miller, 2009)? Mandated rules are essential factors for maintaining and advancing social order (Miller, 2009).
Rule utilitarianism evaluates actions according to results, hence the reason we are to follow the Bible-a set of guidelines for living our life here on earth (Miller 2009). If it was not for our faith and believe in Jesus Christ, we as a people wouldn’t be able to survive, for God breathes life into our being (Genesis 2:7, New International Version). God is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6, New International Version).
Many of the theories mentioned above were in alignment with the Christian perspective, according to God’s teachings in the Bible as guidelines for his children (Keller, 2012). Even though many individuals live their life in a way that reflects Jesus Christ, many do rely on the ethical theories as a guiding force (Wallace, 2007, pp.120-122). For that percentage of people, normative ethics is their codebook for ethical dilemmas and the distinction between right and wrong.
Virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequential ethics all contribute to whether people should prioritize the actions that lead to consequences or the end results of the chosen actions. In our current political, economic, and social time, there is a strong yearning for God’s children to cling to him. The Lord is our rock, fortress, deliver, shield, salvation, and strong hold (Psalm 18:2, New International Version).