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Seven Ethical Theories

by Robert Wellert

†††† Robert Wellert neatly summarizes existential, pragmatic, virtue, contract, deontological, consequentialist and natural law ethics. Wellert's method of catagorizing theories excels. We should, Wellert writes, consider ultimate goals, short-term, and long-term consequences, not to mention relevant rules, moral stature, and the categorical imperative when making moral decisions. We must act with courage and decisiveness.


†††† In virtue ethics, habits and actions reinforce, though Wellert fails to mention when habits or actions go bad. Virtues often operate as forgone conclusions: "It is the loyal thing to do, therefore it is right," regardless of the atrocious consequences. Existentialists argue no perfect maps for life exist and no methods of avoiding choices exist (short of severe brain damage). There is no way to prevent the consequences arising from choices.


†††† Deontological ethics emphasizes moral rules we give ourselves. Strengths of deontological ethics include universalism and anti-conformism. Weaknesses of deontological ethics include a lack of specific strategies, a lack of concern for consequences, and frequent tendencies to invoke arbitrary or absolute rules. As in virtue ethics, terrible assumed conclusions plague discussions of standards.


†††† Pragmatists claim the best individuals often fail the most. They keep experimenting. Those failing least often become long-term failures. Contract theories focus on real world political justice--a strength. But many contract theories have weaknesses:

        Lack of concern for overall consequences.

        Disinterest in consequences on out-group individuals.


        Omission of intergenerational and interfamily justice.

        Absence of concern for the rights of those harmed for no good reasons.

        Failure to include non-income factors in determining how well-off individuals are.


Consequentialism emphasizes the enormously important matter of long-term results. It astonishes me how often individuals think long-term means a mere few years. Wellert examines how moral theories dovetail, arguing that adherence to deontological rules perhaps leads to better long term consequences, how virtues may lead to better consequences, how giving high weight to consequences leads to better rules.


†††† Some of this work, however, confounds. Wellertís descriptions of the words reason, objective, and subjective fail. Seven Ethical Theories looks as if it were published on a typewriter, but I donít care. A refreshing escape from fancy fonts and layouts, Seven Ethical Theories possesses a down to earth quality. Worth a look.

172p (H) 1995

ó book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 21, 2009


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