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Three Ethical Approaches Based on Virtue, Duty and Consequence

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Three ethical approaches have evolved as the focus of those who study moral philosophy: virtue ethics, duty ethics and consequential ethics. Virtue ethics, associating ethics with personal habits, is associated with Aristotle. Duty ethics is associated with religious beliefs, although Kant tried to create a system of duties independent of belief in God. Consequential ethics is associated with the quest for rationalism during the Enlightenment, and especially with the Utilitarians.

Virtue Ethics

Plato and especially later Aristotle described moral behavior as “what the moral or virtuous person does.” The virtuous person develops a sense of right and wrong. This idea endures. We look to people we think of as ethical to give us advice on an ethical issue because such people have a sense of right and wrong.

Aristotle tried to take the idea further, with less success. He thought that virtuous behavior meant people realizing their potential. He suggested that virtue was tied to moderation, a middle way between excess and deficiency. This idea is in practice not proven so helpful because where the midpoint is depends on where we put the extremes.[2] For example if an extreme drinker is someone who drinks six liters a day of vodka, then is three liters a day a moderate drinker?
Markets operate without depending on the virtue of the business people who trade in them. But in practice ethical behavior is admired. Political campaigners like to focus on the ethical shortcomings of business, while businesses poke fun at the ethical shortcomings of political leaders.

Business Example: A company has a certain DNA. If it has a permissive cultural code that that loses sight of who the customer is, it can lose the confidence of investors, workers and customers. Why should anyone invest in a fund or…...

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