Ethical Theories Essay Sample

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Ethical issues have been completely influential to some people in the society, though others have completely ignored them. Ethics is a set of rules that identifies what is right or wrong and is used as a guideline by a particular group of people. Ethics can be divided into cognitive theory and non-cognitive theory. Cognitive theory on the other hand can further be subdivided into relativist and Universalist theory. These theories are the same in some ways but differ in other perspectives.

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Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Theories

Cognitive theory asserts that moral statements are either true or wrong whereas non-cognitive theory describes that there is no such thing as objective morality and that people have their own views about what is right or wrong (Boss, 2013). In cognitive theories, moral judgments are made by the society, communities, or a group of people. Whereas in non-cognitive theories a person can only call a moral judgement true if he or she accepts the judgement. Cognitive theory is further divided into relativist and universal theories. Relativist theory describes that different people have different moral truths. The moral truths are created by individuals and can vary with time, location or even with different people. Whereas Universalist theory describes that all people are subjected to moral truths irrespective of their beliefs.

Relativist Theory

In relativist theory there is cultural relativists, ethical subjectivism and divine command theory. Cultural relativists believe that morality is not based on individual beliefs rather, it is based on the beliefs of certain groups. Different groups of people have their own moral truths and that each member of that group is subjected to them (Kim, 2014). Each group has the ability to determine who is a member of that group and who is not. However, in ethical subjectivism, every individual has his or her own opinion about what is right or wrong and is not subjected to any moral truth. What is right or wrong is a matter of a persons opinion or feeling and not what other people think or analyze the facts. On the other hand, divine command theory argues that morality depends on the will of God. There is no moral truth that binds people universally rather people base their moral truths in regard to how they read and interpret the scriptures. Different religions have different beliefs on moral norms depending on how they believe.

Universalist Theory

Universalist theories argue that all human beings are subjected to certain moral norms, regardless of personal beliefs and cultural values (Boss, 2013). Universalist theories places every human being in a moral community and every member of that community deserves protection and to be treated with respect and dignity.

Comparing Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Theories

The ethical theories compare in the following ways: first, both cognitive and non-cognitive theories consider that; human beings have a dignity on human nature. They have the ability to choose freely what to do with their lives. On the basis of such dignity, they have the right to be treated as ends and not merely as means to other ends.

Secondly, all theories allow people to choose what is right or wrong. The theories protect and respect the moral rights of those involved. Whether the people are subjected to certain moral norms or not, they have the authority to choose which ethical theory to follow in accordance with their personal beliefs or cultural norms.

Thirdly, all theories agree with subjectivism. In cognitive theories, people are subjected to moral truths. In order for a person to be right or wrong, it must be approved by a certain group such as the society, community or even the religion they follow. Moreover, in non-cognitive theories, it agrees with subjectivism in that it supports the idea that moral utterances conventionally express non-cognitive attitudes (Kim, 2014). When a group or community agrees that something is right or wrong, they are expressing a non-cognitive attitude such that a person may suggest that an action is right if he or she agrees with it.

Fourthly, all the theories suggest that interlocking relationship of the people are on the basis of ethical reasoning and that respect and compassion are the requirements of such reasoning. Whether a person agrees with the moral truths or not, these requirements are important to the welfare of everyone.

Lastly, all the theories are limiting in that one cannot follow two or more theories. An individual has to believe in one ethical theory such that he or she believes that there is no such thing as right or wrong or is subjected to the objective moral truths either by the society, individually or even through religion.

The most relevant theory in my life is the Cultural relativist theory. I believe that ethical action is that which is consistent with certain ideal virtues that provide forthe full development of our humanity (Kim, 2014). The virtues are habits that enables us to act according to the highest potential of our character and on behalf of values like honesty, truth, courage, love, compassion and generosity. Every society should have its own moral norms in order to guide the people on the ideal virtues that are important to the welfare of every member in the society.


In conclusion, ethical theories are merely tools for expressing moral ideas. The theories do not necessarily mean that their argument is true but they at least give solutions to old or new problems. Whether something is ethical or unethical should not be determined by theories rather, it should be determined by the personal beliefs or cultural norms of an individual.


Boss, J. (2013). Ethics for Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Kim, M. J. (2014). H. Jonas philosophy of life and Ethics of Life. Journal of Korean Bioethics

Association 15, 57-71.

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