Differences Between Virtue, Utilitarianism, & Deontological Ethics?

A Simple Introduction to Ethical Philosophies

Differences Between Virtue, Utilitarianism, & Deontological Ethics?

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There are three popular theories that explain ethics which include: virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological ethics. These theories explain ethics from three different perspectives. Although each is different, they also have their own respective benefits and issues that can be seen in their application.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics or character ethics is derived from the teachings of Aristotle. According to Aristotle the development of ethics was really the development of character and virtue. Virtue is considered a part of human nature and the virtuous person maintains thoughts that compel him or her to act ethically as defined by character traits such as being generous, helpful, heroic, etc. (Boylan, 2009).

This form of ethics assumes that a person is either good or bad by nature. This has the advantage of clearly dividing good and evil. However, this philosophy also characterizes individuals as being unchangeable.


Another ethical philosophy, Utilitarianism, posits that ethical decisions are based on making choices which provide for the greatest benefit to the greatest number of individuals. Utilitarianism attempts to achieve a line of thinking, which provides the best outcomes for all individuals such as providing free medication for plague because it provides the greatest benefit for a large number of people. Utilitarian theory does have a severe disadvantage because it tends to ignore minorities since it is concerned with majorities. For example, it is acceptable to ignore small populations if the greatest benefit is provided to the majority. This is problem because it can overlook aspects of equality (Boylan, 2009).


Deontology posits that ethics are founded on the idea of duty. Individuals have a duty to uphold and specific values because they are universal such as not committing murder. While this thinking appears to be logical it also accepts that the outcome is not important but rather the intention behind the act. In this instance, if a person murders a person to save 10 other people this could be considered morally acceptable.

Each of these theories has its limits and strengths. There is often a need to turn to each of these theories in order to determine which best fits a circumstance (Boylan, 2009). This highlights how no single theory truly characterizes ethics completely.


Boylan, M. (2009). Basic ethics: Basic ethics in action (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


Vincent Triola. Thu, Mar 25, 2021. Differences Between Virtue, Utilitarianism, & Deontological Ethics? Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/what-are-the-differences-between-virtue-utilitarianism-deontological-ethics