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Normative Ethics and Moral Action

Write about the Moral Theory for Philosophy.

The word theory is a Greek verb which means to contemplate. Scholars have not agreed on some fine details about its definition but they seem to be having an understanding on its basic definition. They suggest that it is an explanationof phenomena considering how it relates with various factors in context to describe or foretell happenings. Demystifying the term further,(Hegel, Houlgate 2008)explains this complex principle as a cluster of interconnected simplifications illustrating new findings which can be simplified to give a description or foretell a phenomenon.

There are various theories that attempt to explain the existence of various phenomena. This piece of work will focus onnormative theories. These theories are studied under the branch of ethics called normative ethics. This is the branch that studies ethical action. It deals with a group of questions that come up when determining how an individual should behave in a moral way. The most classical theories in this category would be the utilitarianism, Ethical Egoism, Kantian, Social Contract and Virtue theories. TheUtilitarianism and Kantian theories will form the basis of this piece of work.

The society is composed of people of varying characters. There are those who are out- going, others conservative, attention seekers, those who want to just be heard and never seen. This is to mean that a system to bring stability should be improvised. Certain standards to govern the sanity of the society need to be put in place. This calls for endorsement of correct moralsaiming at ensuring that all God's creatures live together in harmony.To ensure sanity of the society, (Hinman 2014) emphasizes on the results and not just the nice intents.

To begin with, utilitarianism is a philosophy in which upholds the pleasure of the largest population of a community is taken as the best way out.  This principle an act as correct if the end results brings pleasure. It further suggests that human beings ought to act on that which brings the highest inner value to all human beings. Additionally, a connection ofa behavior with a joyful and unjoyful consequence is determined by circumstance.Mill emphasizes that there is no moral principle or absolute standard necessary under this ethical principle.  

This theory was first propounded by two scholars,John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and another English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Bentham, who was the second proponent of this theory, supposed that people ought to intensify the total amount of pleasure in the universe, (Durant 1926). Pleasure in this context refers to that awesome feeling that is felt when a state of deficiency is replaced by satisfaction.

Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number

They suggested that the moral worth of an actis examined by the input to general use in attaining the highest level of pleasure among human beings. This is to mean that Miller’s Principle begins with the internal pleasure that is considered valuable.

The aim of this particular theory is to offer a commanding revelation of moral life, one that has a possibility of reducingor eliminating disagreement. This theory is the morally demanding principle which requires that an individual puts aside his own selfish interest for the sake of the majority. It also demands that one does the most to maximize the utility.

In regard to this theory, G.E Moore, emphasized the need to uphold values such as knowledge, justice, freedom and beauty. He proposed that the world would definitely be an enhanced place if these values were upheld. For him, this would ensure the greater good of the society at large. 

Utilitarianism can either be ACT or RULE. When making a decision based on this theory, Act Utilitarianism would factor in the consequences of every act and take into consideration utility every time it performed. Rule utility on the other hand would look at results of individuals following a specific rule and decided the repercussions of adopting it or leaving it out.

Kantian theory was propounded by a German scholar Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He was among the strong opponent of Utilitarianism. The theory suggests all people should follow a given standard .He adds that this is an ethical set typically and is not different depending on the specific conditions. He further adds that an action is morally acceptable it is of benefit to the whole universe.

Immanuel does not focus on the majority of the population concerned; he takes into consideration the entire population unlike Miller who says that an action is right when it benefits the majority of the people in the population. Kant insists on a given set standard of behavior. Miller on the other side has no defined set standard of behavior. The correct standard of behavior is determined by the situation.

Kant’s morality postulates thepresence of sensible persons. He believes ina society of independent, balancedindividuals have self-worth and internal worth, and is taken to be absolutely in charge of the decisions in the making the general law.

For Kant, there are certain types of actions that by principle are absolutely uncalled for and by standards are condemned for being wrong. These kinds of actions include murder, theft, lying, corruption which has become rampant in most institutions. Kant is categorical that whether or not these actions or activities bring happiness to the greater populations, the principle governing Kantian theory categorically puts them as wrong and prohibited.

Kantianism: The Categorical Imperative

The guiding questions to making an ethical decision under Kant’s normative theory is: Would I purposefully want everyone to behave as I wish to behave? If the answer is NO, then that particular action should not be undertaken. The second question to consider when dealing with the Kantian theory would be  whether or not one’s behavior respects the objectives of the people other than an individual’s own selfish needs. If the answer is NO, then that action would not be appropriate for that given situation. 

Utilitarianism and Kantian theories have over the years been used to explain behavior. They have on numerous occasions been used to determine how to behave in a given situation. They help to determine the ethics. (David Resnik 2015) ethics are the norms of conduct that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

These two theories have different ways of determining whether an action done is correct or wrong. They give a basis on how to determine what is ethical in a given situation. At any one given time, a situation may occur and the determinants of the correct decision have to take into consideration which of the Normative theories to use to benefit to the larger population. This however does not mean that these theories exist in isolation. Though they have huge variations and weakness, they complement each other. The benefits of one given theory may be the demerits of the other, but if the two are used in unison then the outcome is for the greater good of the society.

The scenario below will be applied to practically give an understanding of the two normative theories.

It is during the December festivities and the entire country is in a celebratory mood. This includes a lot of eating and making merry. At this moment, a widower who has a kid looks at the kid and is guilty that he cannot offer him food let alone the many gifts to be opened on Boxing Day. He has been ill and has therefore nothing. This man hails from a background of abject. He is feeling sickly, but has to make an effort to give to his child on this big day.

He had been very observant and tactic. He spotted a hen that roams around and decided today was the day to go ‘harvest’ it. Apparently the hen belongs to a family that is filthy rich and might not take note that one of their chicken are missing. So this day, he comes back and makes that special meal that he shares with his son. 

Comparison and Complementarity of Utilitarianism and Kantianism

In the above case scenario, we would find instances where either of the two theories would be used to fill in the portion of the other so as to make the most appropriate moral or ethical judgment. 

In this case, Kantian theory whose fundamental rational principle is the categorical imperative, suggests that one ought to behave in spite of their goals but considering what everyone else would consider right. Kant is categorical in his argument, in the above instance; he would judge the situation as wrong and unacceptable code of conduct because first and foremost, the man stole. 

Even taking into consideration that this man stole the chicken from a filthy rich family, bottom-line is that taking what does not belong to you, is stealing and judging by Kant’s categorical imperative, this man’s actions are unacceptable and therefore punishable by the relevant authorities. 

If Miller’s theory is applied in this case, it would consider that the man who stole the chicken stole from a filthy rich family to as to feed his child who perhaps had not been eaten for the past few days. In this situation, there are three parties: the owner of the chicken, the dad(thief) and the hungry child. 

Utilitarian theory in this case would not find the actions of the ‘Thief’ in question as unacceptable. This is because the theory looks out for the joy and delight of the largest number.  Utilitarianism theory would look at the consequences of stealing the chicken. It would take into consideration that these children have not had a meal for the past couple of days and the father stole just a single chicken which might go unnoticed.

Considering the rule Utilitarianism, and having Kantian theory at the back of the mind, it is wrong to steal. However, Utilitarianism would take into consideration that this chicken might have been hit and died in other circumstances. It would therefore commend the dad for rescuing it and utilizing it to the advantage of his child. His action would be justifies even if the Act Utilitarianism was to be considered. 

From the above scenario, it is clear that the two theories can be used to fill up the missing part of each other. This is because the society needs to be stable to prosper, The rich require the poor and vice versa. If this does not happen then the society is unbalanced and so many problems face such a society and chances of development diminish. 

Combining the use of these two theories would mean that the society is called out to share. Those with surplus ought to be generous; they should not throw away food. Those not financially privileged should also make effort to see that at least they are able to provide something. Then this kind of cooperation would ensure continued development of a society. 

It would mean stability not because there are no moral issues but because people understand the essence of each and every one and that for growth, all people are required to do a collective job. There is progress in unity; there are also better moral standards in making judgment through considering more than one theory to make the right judgment for a given situation. 


Brody, Baruch A. 1988. Moral Theory and Moral Judgments in Medical EthicsDordrecht:SpringerNetherlands.

Buckingham, Will. 2011. The philosophy book. London: DK Pub.

Byrne, Peter. 1999. "Aretaic Moral Theory".

Donagan, Alan. 1979. The theory of morality. Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Fulford, K. W. M. 1989. Moral theory and medical practiceCambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hegel,Houlgate. 2008. Outlines Of The Philosophy Of Right. Oxford [UK]: Oxford University Press.

Hinman, Lawrence M. 2013. Ethics: a pluralistic approach to moral theory. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Pub Co. 

Jacobs, Jonathan A. 2002. Dimensions of moral theory: an introduction to metaethics and moral psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Jones, Gerald, Daniel Cardinal, and Hayward. 2006. Moral philosophy: a guide to ethical theory. London: Hodder Murray. 

Resnik, David B. "What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important?" In ideas. 2015.

Paley, William. 2002. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund.

Sullivan, Roger J. 1989. Immanuel Kant's moral theory.Cambridge[England]: Cambridge University Press.

Timmons, Mark. 2013. Moral theory: an introduction.

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