Ethical relativism is the subjective theory that states that moral beliefs are relative to the norms of a person; therefore, judging whether an act is right or wrong totally relies on the moral beliefs of the society that practices it. This implies that the same behavior can be deemed as morally acceptable in one society but be morally unacceptable in another society.
This theory does not accept the existence of universal moral truths and it has two basic forms: personal or individual ethical relativism and social or cultural relativism. Egoism is the objective theory that takes moral relativism to its logical conclusion and instead of focusing on culture as a determinant of moral truth, it centers on the individual (Infantino and Wilke, 10).
Egoism falls into two main categories. For a psychological egoist, he or she can only be motivated by acting to fulfill his or her self-interest. The psychological egoist can never act for any other reason. An ethical egoist holds the normative claim that he or she should act in ways that give him or her individually the highest achievable good.
Utilitarianism and deontological ethics theories have been developed in an attempt to make justifications for moral rules and principles. Utilitarianism (or called consequentialism) holds that the moral worth of an act is achievable only through its utility in the ability to make sentient beings feel happy; therefore, the moral worth of an act is gauged through its outcome.
Utilitarians perceive that no moral act is intrinsically right or wrong, but the rightness or wrongness of a deed is exclusively through the non-moral good generated in the result of performing that particular action. As a complement to the weaknesses of utilitarianism, deontological ethics evaluate the morality of an action centered on its adherence to a certain rule(s).
For a deontologist, a behavior may be ethically right even if it does not lead to a net balance of good over evil since a behavior’s fulfilling duty is perceived to be morally correct in spite of its consequences. Deontological ethics has the following characteristics: first, duty ought to be accomplished for duty’s sake; secondly, people ought to be treated as objects of intrinsic moral value; third, any moral principle is categorically imperative.
The theories of utilitarianism and deontology are both moral theories since they relate to moral beliefs of duty, concern and respect and, eventually, questions of what is right or wrong.
However, the theory of virtue ethics is orthogonal to all of these: first, it is mainly concerned with the character of the moral agent instead of conduct; secondly, virtue ethics can be advanced, not as a moral theory, but as an account of other ethically deep aspects of human life. Virtue theorists pay less attention on rules and instead assist individuals in coming up with good character traits, for example, kindness and generosity, which improves the ability of a person to make correct life decisions.
Feminist ethics “is a body of philosophical speculation that, from diverse perspectives, purports to validate women’s different ethical differences and to identify the weaknesses and strengths of the values and virtues culture traditionally has labeled “feminine” (“Feminist ethics,” concluding section). It faults traditional ethics for showing less concern for women as opposed to the issues of men, implying that, generally, women are less morally mature than men are, and favoring male ideologies.
“Feminist ethics.” MPA 8300. Villanova University. N.d. Web. 14 May 2010.
Infantino, Robert L., and Rebecca Wilke L. Tough choices for teachers : ethical challenges in today’s schools and classroom. Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009.