Non-Consequentialism and Its Divisions

Revised: February 24, 2003


Virtue Ethics

Rule Theories


Duty Theories

Rights Theories

Justice Theories

e.g., Ross
e.g., Kant

e.g., Nussbaum

Normative Ethical Theories are general approaches or strategies to moral deliberation and decision-making. They are future oriented as well as past oriented. As future-oriented, they provide us with guidelines for decision-making; as past-oriented, they provide criteria for evaluation of choices or decisions already made. Each normative ethical theory typically includes its own philosophical justification, worked out by its advocates, together with criticisms of alternate approaches for being in some way inadequate.

Normative Ethical Theories are generally divided into two groups: Consequentialist Theories and Non-Consequentialist Theories.

Non-Consequentialist Theories always reach decisions or evaluations on the basis of something other than, or in addition to, the sum total or net aggregate of the consequences of choices.

Non-Consequentialist Theories do not always ignore consequences. For example, some of Ross's prima facie duties (non-injury and beneficence, for instance) are directly related to promoting good consequences or minimizing bad ones, but others (fidelity, gratitude, justice) are not.

Virtue Ethics is included under Non-Consequentialism simply because the focus of virtue ethics is on the creation or expression of character traits and not on production of the greatest net aggregate of consequences.

The other types of Non-Consequentialist theories share the feature of being clearly rule oriented. Duties can obviously be stated in terms of rules. Rights can be stated in terms of duties, which can in turn be stated in terms of rules. And theories of justice endorse principles of justice, which logically imply duties or rights that can be stated in terms of rules.

For more on rights, see The Concept of Rights.