Normative Ethics and Virtue Ethics

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Normative ethics provide a basis for moral evaluation based on the motives, character, intention, actual actions, features of the actions, and the results or consequences of conducting oneself in a particular manner. The exploration of the three elements of normative theory and to provide their alignment to biblical teachings based on different pieces of research is this paper’s key role. The paper explores the different theories pertaining to virtue ethics such as the Eudiamonist virtue ethical theory, agent-base theories, target centered virtue theories, ethical theories of care, and the Platonist virtue theories; Duty theories such as Kant’s theory of categorical imperative, the Rossian theory of duties, Locke’s rights theory, Kantian duty-based ethics, and Pufendorf’s theories of duties to God and oneself; and consequentialism such as utilitarianism, egoism, negative consequentialism, act consequentialism, and rule consequentialism. The biblical alignment and the connection of all the fifteen theories to the teachings of Christianity is discussed and supported accordingly.

Keywords: Normative, Virtue, Duty, Consequentialism, Ethics

Normative Ethics


Normative ethics, according to Kagan (2018), fall in between the two major types of ethics that include meta-ethics and applied ethics. The branch of philosophical ethics entails the study of ethical actions and the categorization of good and evil. Meta-ethics mainly deals with questions regarding the goodness of a thing or action as well as their objectives. Therefore, normative ethics are guidelines for human life. Kagan (2018) further argued that normative ethics has three main subcategories that include consequential, duty, and virtual ethics that define morality, the responsibility of an individual in ensuring that their actions are in line with the various moral guidelines, and the consequences of human behavior and practices. This paper’s primary objective is the exploration of the three elements of normative theory and provides their alignment to biblical teachings based on different pieces of research.

Virtue Ethics

According to Van Hooft (2014), virtue ethics were predominant in the ancient times and paid less attention to learning rules but placed more emphasis on the significance of developing good characters that would result in excellent habits. Virtue ethics are considered to be the first normative ethical theory that stresses the morality of the character of agents. The theory argues that one has to possess ethical traits such as compassion, pity, generosity, and courage that must manifest in their action rather than their words. According to Van Hooft (2014), some individual actions might be deemed as bad or inappropriate. However, based on the virtue theory, an individual has the choice of defining their actions that would result in the overall good for the society.

Christians are guided by a myriad of laws that are mainly derived from the old testament. Moses was provided with the testaments that would guide the Israelites on how they would act morally. According to Kotva Jr (1996), despite the virtue theories offering ethical frameworks that match Christian conventions, these theoretical principles are both compatible and helpful in moral living. Kotva Jr (1996) further contended that theologians and philosophers mainly developed their interests in the virtue theory from a myriad of biblical teachings of what ought to be moral or ethical. The main reference of the laws used in Mathew and the new testaments is on the Pentateuch. The laws and the prophets were God’s intention to ensure that ethicality was observed in human actions. Therefore, the virtue ethics of normative ethics are aligned with the biblical teachings of good and bad. The five major theories under virtue ethics include the Eudiamonist virtue ethical theory, agent-based theory, target centered virtue theories, ethical theories of care, and the Platonist virtue theories.


According to Crisp (2010), the eudaimonist virtue ethics theories were initially developed in Greece to define how humans were to live to ensure that there existed happiness in the society. The concept of eudaimonia can be translated to mean prosperity or happiness or overall well-being. The Aristotelian term was conceptualized to mean that living a virtuous life must be accompanied by happiness which is of the supreme good.

According to Charry (2011), the orientation of theology in the past has leaned towards the eschatological happiness. Such forms of happiness are self-fulfilling and result in communal flourishing. Eudaimonism can be linked to Asherism which is a Hebrew concept that describes a way of life that allows human beings to enjoy the happiness that God created while allowing God to enjoy His creation (Charry, 2011). Therefore, the Eudaimonist virtue ethical theory aligns with the biblical concept of happiness.

Agent-Based Virtue Ethics

Agent-based ethics theorists believe that not all virtue ethics accounts can be eudaemonist or based on the concept of happiness but on the values of the agent (Doviak, 2011). Linda Zagzebski and Michael Slote are the best-known agent-based theorists who defined a wide array of the qualities of agents of morality. According to Crisp (2010), Slote believed that an act can be categorized as good or bad according to the motivation of the agent. However, Zagzebski defined right and wrong based on the disposition, motives, and emotions of the virtuous agent.

According to Harrington & Keenan (2002), Jesus was the main custodian of virtue ethics. Harrington & Keenan (2002) defined an agent as an individual or subject whose actions are human such as Christian theologians whose actions are consistent with the teachings of Christianity. The agent influences the actions of the persons that are close to them making them assume a behavior that is deemed to be ethical in the lens of Christian and Christianity teachings. Harrington & Keenan (2002) contended that Jesus was the main agent whose motives remained unclear in the eyes of most Christians until his death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to console his disciples. Therefore, based on Harrington & Keenan’s arguments (2002), Slote’s contentions of agent-based theories are consistent with the teachings of the New Testament regarding Jesus being the agent of morality and ethics.

Platonist Virtue Ethics

Plato is a renowned philosopher who inspired numerous theoretical foundations that pertain to ethics. According to the dialogues of the Socrates of Plato, ethics must have virtues such as justice, wisdom, pity, and courage. However, Plato fails to provide clear links between his arguments and their influence and contemporary revival. Plato also discussed the concept of virtue ethics while discussing the dualism that exists between spirit and matter whereby the philosopher argued that the spirit is good while matter is evil and corrupts humans (Doris, 2010). The Platonist virtue ethics does not have any biblical alignment due to its poor development and the lack of adequate literature that discusses the dualism of matter and evil.

Target Centered Virtue Ethics

The agent-based virtue ethical theorists focused on the motives and emotions of agents who influenced the values and actions of their targets while the eudaemonist virtue ethical theories focus on happiness and prosperity. In contrast, the target-centered virtue theory examines the individuals’ conceptions of virtues and focus on how an individual can possess virtue, the interaction of virtues, and the various ways in which the theories of virtue ethics can be utilized to build theoretical guidelines of right actions. However, the target-centered virtue ethics have no biblical alignment despite their wide application in moral living.

Theory of Ethics of Care

Lastly, the theory of ethics of care is a modern theoretical concept that was developed by feminist following the thought that men perceived themselves to be masculine and this perception interfered with autonomy and justice, However, females deemed themselves to be caring and as the custodian of morality. The ethics of care theorists advocate for the change of the perception of morality as exemplified by the females and ensuring that men also develop values of care and self-sacrifice.

According to Harrington & Keenan (2002), the bible is a guide for human living that advocates for equality. In fact, the scriptures provide the roles that should be assumed by both the male and female members of the society. Wilson (2012) argued the book of Genesis indicate that females were created to be the counterparts of men and that all humans are equal in the Lord’s eyes. Based on the contentions of Wilson (2012), the theory of ethics of care is inconsistent with the biblical teachings since the theories deem men and women as unequal and to be having diverse perceptions.

Duty Ethics

Deontology or duty ethics is a branch of normative ethics that mainly emphasizes the obligations that humans have such as taking care of the environment and other creatures. The duty-based ethics primarily focus on the actions of individuals and not the consequences of such actions. According to Martínez-Frías, Luis González, & Rull Pérez (2011), deontologists argue that people should undertake the right actions because they are good and should not do the wrong things due to their evil nature. Therefore, an individual cannot justify his or her actions based on their consequences making duty ethics to be termed as “non-consequentialist.”

Coleman (2011) argued that there exists a solid link between deontology or duty ethics and biblical teachings. God gave humankind their natural rights and the corresponding duties. Humans were to take care of the Garden of Eden and all its components. However, after Adam and Eve’s fall and the death of Jesus, ministers of religion were given the duty of making humans feel God’s presence (Forell, 2012). The primary sub-categories of duty ethics include Kant’s theory of categorical imperative, the Rossian theory of duties, Locke’s rights theory, Kantian duty-based ethics, and Pufendorf’s theories of duties to God and oneself.

Rossian Theory of Duty Ethics

Ross argued that the duties of human beings are a part of the fundamental nature that must be morality-driven. The philosopher provides a list of seven obvious duties that include justice, beneficence, fidelity, non-maleficence, gratitude, self-improvement and gratitude. The biblical alignment of the Rossian duty-based ethics can be seen in the arguments of Forell (2012) that hold that humanity came with responsibility. The laws of Moses demand that in pursuit of individual dreams, humans should avoid activities that pose danger to the society (non-maleficence).

Kantian Categorical Imperative

The Kantian theory of categorical imperative, unlike the Rossian duty-based ethics, regulates the ethicality of activities that have direct implications for individuals. The theory mandates the actions of an individual irrespective of their personal emotions and desires. Kant argued that people must treat others with dignity and not an instrument of achieving selfish ambitions. The theory’s alignment with biblical teachings can be seen in its advocacy for decision-making and moral-judgment are argued by Bartels et al. (2014). The ten commandments prohibit one from killing another being. Similarly, Kant’s theory argues that an individual should only act in a manner that corresponds to the maxim that is in accordance with the universal laws. Therefore, the Kantian categorical imperative is consistent with the various laws in the bible and aligns with Christian teaching.

Samuel Pufendorf’s Theories

Samuel Pufendorf theories had two main components that include the duties to God and the responsibility towards oneself. The duties to God are both theoretical and practical in that they are intended to worship God. However, the duties to oneself entail the development of talents and skills that would involve non-maleficence, and not killing oneself or engaging in drunkenness. According to Saastamoinen (2010), Pufendorf’s theories mainly touch on self-esteem, natural equality, and human dignity which are all consistent with biblical teachings. For instance, Pufendorf holds that the only way to learn the requirements of salvation is through the reading of the Bible. The duties to God are also enshrined in the Bible.

Locke’s Right Theory

John Locke contended that duties and rights are related in such a manner that the duties of an individual have direct implications on the rights of other persons. Therefore, moral rights are natural, universal, inalienable, and equal. Despite the mention of natural rights and the behavior of individuals so that they cannot impact on the rights of others, Locke’s theory describes God’s purpose for humans. According to Forell (2012), God purposefully designed the natural law to preserve mankind.

Kantian Duty-based Ethics

The Kantian theory duty-based ethics distances itself from religion as the philosopher argues that a rational being has the potential of working by themselves so that they do not depend on the community or God in the discovery of right and wrong. According to Apple (2013), the Bible clearly provides guidance on good and evil and no man can distinguish wrong or right based on rationality. Therefore, the Kantian theory of duty-based ethics does not align with the Bible.

Consequential Ethics

Consequentialism, teleological or consequential ethics is a category of moral ethics that is founded on the concept that the consequences of the actions of an individual are the key judgments for wrong or right. An action that is morally upright would produce excellent outcomes meaning that the means are justified by the ends. The primary theories under consequentialism include utilitarianism, egoism, negative consequentialism, act consequentialism, and rule consequentialism.

Utilitarian Theory

Utilitarianism is founded based on the premise that most pleasure results from right actions. However, pain is the ultimate end-result of actions that are deemed to be evil or wrong. Therefore, rational beings would strive for pleasure rather than pain. According to Childress & Macquarrie (1986), a utility can be linked to Jesus’ teaching of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as utilitarianism advocates for benevolence.


According to Eggleston (2011), egoism holds that right actions maximize good or pleasure to oneself. However, the theory does not license actions taken to enhance the well-being of other individuals making it a selfish theoretical framework. Jones (2014) argued that egoism is inconsistent with the biblical teachings of taking care of one another as advocated by theological and biblical ethics.

Rule Consequentialism

The theory bridges deontology and consequentialism and argues that moral actions have a set of rules that must be chosen based on the consequences of the behaviors. Therefore, an act is only right if it is a consequence of internalization of moral rules. “Thou shall not kill” is a biblical verse that shows the alignment of rule consequentialism and Christian teachings (Antonenko Young, Willer, & Keltner, 2013).

Act Consequentialism

Act consequentialists argue that an action is morally acceptable or right only if it produces better outcomes than the alternative actions. Cullison (2010) argued that act consequentialism is a flexible system allowing individuals to take account of all the surrounding circumstances. According to Peterson (2014), act consequentialism is in line with the ten commandments that provide the best actions of living with one another among a myriad of alternatives.

Negative Consequentialism

The theory of negative consequentialism holds that the primary focus of a human being should be to minimize bad consequences rather than to promote the good ones (Cullison, 2010). According to Witt (2017), Jesus taught that human beings should not focus on the negative goal of striving to avoid a sin but the positive objective of adhering to God’s ways for his people. Therefore, negative consequentialism does not align with biblical teachings.


In summary, normative ethics deals with the formation of theories that can evaluate an action as either good or bad. This type of ethics is pivotal in the study of philosophy since they not only provide the recommended means of human actions but also formulate regulations that explain the consequences of the behavior or actions of an individual to the society. This paper finds that most of the normative ethical concepts that fall under virtue duty, and consequential ethics are aligned with biblical teachings while some theories contrasting Christian teachings.


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January 19, 2024



Philosophical Theories

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