Ethical Theories and Frameworks

Ethical theories are important to study in order to establish a strong foundation for challenging situations or guide decisions — how do we know whether something is right or wrong? How can we use ethical theories and frameworks to help us determine appropriate legislation or whether or not a particular technology is designed to be ethical? The good news is that for many centuries, philosophers have discussed theoretical ways of understanding morality and ethics and have theorized various ways to guide moral living.

The following is a brief summary of the most common categories of ethical theories and frameworks. Click on any of the following for further details.

  • Consequence Based (Utilitarian) – this perspective, founded by Jeremy Bentham, focuses on consequences and results and the pursuit of common good — a central goal is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering for the most people.
  • Duty Based (Deontology) – this perspective, founded by Immanuel Kant, is focused on binding rules and one’s obligation and duty to family, country, church, or other etc. One’s motive is important; results or consequences of one’s actions are not the focus.
  • Contract Based  (Rights) – this perspective is about rights and agreements between people; not necessarily about character, consequences, or principles.
  • Character Based (Virtue) – founded by Aristotle, this perspective is focused on virtue and practicing good.