“The Varieties of Ethical Theories,” Buffalo Psychiatric Center, March 27, 1979.The Varieties of Ethical Theories
Given at Buffalo Psychiatric Center
March 27, 1979
Richard T. Hull, Ph.D.
There are two fundamental types of ethical theory: those based on the notion of
choosing one’s actions so as to maximize the value or values to be expected as
consequences of those actions (called consequentialist or teleological theories
[from the Greek telos, meaning aim or purpose]; and those based on the notion of
choosing one’s actions according to standards of duty or obligation that refer not
to consequences but to the nature oaf actions and the motives that are held by those
performing them (called deontological theories [from the Greek deon, meaning that
which is necessary or binding]). We will consider each type more fully and give
specific instances of each type as illustrations.
I. Teleological theories: hold that an action is morally right either if a person’s
doing it brings about the best attainable consequences in the situation, or if the
action is of a kind which would have the best attainable consequences if
everyone did it in that sort of situation. it is the goodness or badness of the
consequences of actions alone that makes them right or wrong, rather than
anything intrinsically good or bad about the actions themselves. Thus, on this
view, there would be no universal moral prohibition against deliberately killing
another human if so doing would produce a greater balance of good over evil
than any other course of action open at that time. Because these theories usually
involve the notion of utility in producing good consequences, they are often
called utilitarian theories.
A. Utilitarian theories have three parts: a theory of value, a principle of utility,
and a decision procedure.
1. There are several theories of value held by individuals who have been
called Utilitarians.
a. Hedonism: equates good with pleasure, bad or…