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Corners Of The Ethical Theory Triangle And How It “Frames” Our Ethical Thinking

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The ethical theory triangle consists of three different ethical theories including consequentialist ethics, deontological ethics and virtue ethics . Each of these theories can be used to describe and explain ethical situations and to form a particular viewpoint of the situation. In particular, consequentialist ethics can be defined as basing a stance on a certain situation based on the consequences it can have on either the agent, or the individual, or on others. Consequentialist ethics focuses on the outcomes of the situation and who it will impact and there are various types of consequentialism including ethical egoism, ethical altruism, and utilitarianism which form different stances within this ethical theory. Ethical egoism is formatted in that the agent only cares about how the situation will impact themselves and their image, and on the other hand ethical altruism focuses only on how the situation will impact others, not themselves. Utilitarianism is combination of both ethical egoism and altruism as the theory bases all decisions off of the consequences directly rather than who the consequence will impact.

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With consequentialist ethics in mind, one ethical issue that can be further analyzed with this perspective is the runaway trolley issue which is mentioned in Sandel’s novel Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? The Runaway trolley is a well-known ethical dilemma in which the reader is put into a number of tough ethical situations regarding a trolley with broken brakes. In one situation, the reader is the trolley driver and can decide to hit either one worker or five workers. In another situation, the reader is a bystander and can choose to push an overweight man onto the tracks. In these instances, consequentialist ethics is being used as choices are being made based on what will happen as a result. In particular, utilitarianism is used in the first situation as it would be most beneficial to only harm one individual than five.

In the second mentioned situation, ethical egoism could be used as the bystander could do nothing which would be in their best interest. The Runaway trolley has multiple different aspects and perspectives and it can be seen through these mentioned parts that consequentialism ethics plays a very large role as all decisions are view with what the consequence or impact would be. Although the Runaway Trolley topic can be analyzed through consequentialist ethics, there are also aspects of the situation that appeal to both virtue and deontological ethics and make it essential to incorporate all three corners of the triangle to fully understand the issue. For example, deontological ethics can be used when discussing moral principles such as it being the duty of the rail workers to understand the amount of danger their job entails. Likewise, it can be said that it is the duty of the trolley driver to save as many lives.

With deontological ethics incorporated, it puts an emphasis on a person’s duties and or rights and this would not have been seen when only analyzing the situation through the consequentialist ethics viewpoint. Going off of that, virtue ethics can also be put to use in this situation when it comes to pushing an innocent man off of a bridge to save five. In this case the man on the bridge and the person that has the opportunity to push him can be evaluated in terms of this type of ethics and it can be seen that it is not right for the person to push an innocent, uninvolved man off of a bridge without any the man portraying any vice.

Overall, all three types of ethics are necessary when discussing ethical issues as they each bring forth different ways to analyze the situation and to analyze the ways in which the situation can be resolved.

11 February 2020

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