The Ethical Theories of Three Key Philosophers

Subject: 👸🏽 Famous Person
Type: Descriptive Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 940
Topics: John Locke, Aristotle, Ethics
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Philosophers of all ages have written various treatises that answered various questions about the meaning of life, the world we live in, and even death.  Some have written about morality on how to live life properly.  But of all these philosophers, these three philosophers are the most relevant today because their ideas about ethics theories can help resolve ethical dilemma in the modern world.  These philosophers and their ethical theories are Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and Locke’s Contractarian Ethics.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics is also known as the “golden mean” which meant that the virtuous action resides between the two extremes.  And being such, people should strive to achieve the golden mean or the middle ground of everything which is neither excessive nor deficient (Aristotle, 2003).  In simpler terms, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics advocated for moderation if one is to become virtuous.  That is, to temper or circumscribe one’s desires or tendencies to moderation so that one would not become deficient in morals. Concretely, Aristotle meant that if one would desire too much, one would become greedy or avaricious.  Or if one would feel too much fear, he would become a coward and inversely, one would also become reckless if one does not feel fear.  Aristotle’s golden mean prescribed for one just to have “feelings at the right times on the right grounds towards the right people for the right motive and in the right way is to feel them to an intermediate, that is to the best, degree; and this is the mark of virtue” (Kraut, 2018).  In simpler terms, it meant that one should have the right emotional disposition at a certain moment for one to avoid excess or deficiency.  Once the golden mean is achieved, it can now be said that the person has already become virtuous because he or she could already control his desires and tendencies and make it appropriate for any given circumstances.  It also means that he or he has circumscribed his or her excesses and is now living a life of moderation or temperance.  And to maintain the golden mean, one must avoid engaging in excessive pleasure or indulgence for the golden mean needs to be constantly practiced for one to remain virtuous.  Aristotle recognizes that achieving the golden mean is not an easy feat.  Such, he prescribed continuous practice and training for one to live a moral life.  Moderation, therefore, should be made as a way of life to make it natural for one in overcoming desires or licentious habits.

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Kant on the other hand introduced his Categorical Imperative ethical theories.  Categorical Imperative states that there are “absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself” (“Deontology”, nd).   It is an ethical perspective borne out of duty that compels individuals to perform the same to become good and ethical (Alexander and Moore, 2007).  It is an ethical theory marked by “steadfastness to universal principles . . . no matter what the consequential fall out” (Halbert and Ingulli, 1999, pg. 16).  According to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the best way to become virtuous or moral is to act from the sense of duty with the intention of pursuing the highest good as dictated by the will.  When one’s action is determined by the will, it means that one is motivated to do good without any requirement which is intrinsically amiable.  Kant’s crafted categorical imperative which meant that one must be compelled to do good for its own sake without consideration of consequences.  He qualifies this will to do good out of moral duty without consideration of the consequence as the highest good and by itself intrinsically valid (Johnson, 2004).  As such, one must act accordingly to form moral duty at all times regardless of condition or consequence for one to be considered virtuous.  Unlike in Aristotle’s golden mean where virtue is dictated by moderation and temperance, Kant’s sense of virtue is to act out of duty at all times regardless of situation and consequence for it is the highest good.  It derives its goodness or morality from duty and not from the ability to avoid excesses or deficiency.

Locke’s Contractarian Ethics is based on the normative ethical perspective that evaluates the morality of an act based on agreement and rules.  Locke’s treat morals as a sort of social contract where people have to give up some rights or privilege to be able to enjoy and achieve social order.  Locke also posits that one should adhere to a set of rules or agreed standard of right for one to become moral and ethical (Alexander and Moore, 2007).  In Locke’s contractarian ethics, the highest good depends on observing the mutually agreed contract and following the certain rule as stated by society or by authorities to achieve social order.  Unlike in Kant’s categorical where the highest good lies in the performance of duty regardless of consequence, Locke’s contractarian ethics puts its ethical primacy on rules, guidelines, or standards of behavior.  It does not call upon moderation or avoid excesses as stated by the golden mean to be the standard of morality but rather one’s ability to adhere and follow established rules regardless of what that rule is.

In conclusion, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and Locke’s Contractarian Ethics are the most relevant today because their ideas about ethics theories can help resolve ethical dilemma in the modern world.  It is safe to say that their treatises about ethics are timeless that it would not only the present generation who would study their ethical theories but also generations ahead.

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  1. Aristotle (2003). The Nicomachean ethics. (H. Rackham, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
  2. Alexander, L., & Moore, M. (2016). Deontological Ethics. E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological
  3. Deontology. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2018, from https://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_deontology.html
  4. Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (1999). Law and ethics in the business environment. Boston, MA, USA: Cengage Learning.
  5. Johnson, R. & Cureton, A. (2018). Kant’s Moral Philosophy. E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/kant-moral
  6. Kraut, R. (2018). Aristotle’s Ethics. E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/
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