Duties, Virtues and Rights

This chapter discusses three examples of nonconsequentialist theories. The first is the theory of duty ethics introduced by Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, an act’s rightness depends on the intention with which it is performed. Acts that are performed with an appropriate intention are right, whereas actions performed with inappropriate intentions are wrong. The second example of a nonconsequentialist theory is virtue ethics. Virtue ethicists believe than an act is right if and only if it would have been performed by a fully virtuous agent. This is an ancient theory advocated by, among others, Aristotle. The third and final nonconsequentialist theory takes the notion of rights as its point of departure. Two particularly influential accounts are John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. Nozick argues that rights are moral “side constraints.” If you, for instance, own a piece of land, this entails that there are a number of things others are not allowed to do, such as building a house on your land. Your ownership right to your land creates side constraints for what other people are permitted to do.

Back to top