Normative ethics is also called as prescriptive ethics. It is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act. It examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions. Normative ethics suggests punishment when a person deviates from the path of ideals.

Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Immanuel Kant’s deontological ethics, J S Mill’s Consequentialism {Utilitarianism) and the Bhagwat Gita’s Nishkam Karma yoga are some of the theories in Normative Ethics. The Golden Rule is a classic example of a normative principle: “We should do to others what we would want others to do to us”.

Normative ethics can be of following types:

  1. Deontological Ethics
  2. Teleological Ethics
  3. Virtue ethics


  1. Deontological Ethics
  • Deontological Ethics is the normative ethical school that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action. It sometimes describe as duty or obligation or rule base ethics.
  • Famous proponents of Deontological ethics are Immanuel Kant, W.D Ross, John Rawls, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean Jacques Rousseau etc.
  • Theory of categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant, W.D.Ross Pluralistic deontology, John Rawls theory of Justice and theory of original position, Thomas Hobbes Contractarian ethics are some of the theories in Deontological ethics.
  • Deontology is an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions (Consequentialism) or to the character and habits of the actor (Virtue Ethics).
  • Therefore it is sometimes described as “duty-based” or “obligation-based” ethics, because Deontologists believe that ethical rules bind people to their duty.
  1. Teleological ethics:
  • Teleological ethics is the theory of morality that derives duty or moral obligation from what is good or desirable as an end to be achieved.
  • Consequentialism or teleological ethics is based on the premise that the morality of an action is contingent with the outcome of that action.
  • It is also known as consequentialist ethics, it is opposed to deontological ethics (from the Greek Deon, “duty”), which holds that the basic standards for an action’s being morally right are independent of the good or evil generated

Different types of Consequential ethics/ Teleological ethics include:

  1. Utilitarianism (Rule Utilitarianism, Act Utilitarianism)
  2. Hedonism
  3. Ethical Egoism
  4. Ethical Altruism
  5. Epicureanism

a). Utili­tarianism:

  • Utili­tarianism is a normative-consequentialist eth­ical theory that places the locus of the rightness and wrongness of an act solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy.
  • Utilitarianism is a universalistic form of Ethi­cal Hedonism {where Hedonism argues that plea­sure is the highest good and the supreme ideal of life) Utilitarianism maintains that the supreme ideal of life is pleasure – not the individual plea­sure but universal or general happiness.
  • It is an ethical doctrine pioneered by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills. Utilitarianism is fundamentally driven by the principle of utilitye. that action is morally right which produces the best overall consequences with regard to the utility or welfare of all the affected parties. Thus the underlying principle of utilitari­anism is that “an action is right if it produces great­est good for the greatest number”.
  • It is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering 

b). Hedonism:

  • Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the highest good, the supreme ideal of life. In simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure.
  • The philosophy of Hedonism has been propounded by Aristippus of Cyrene.
  • Hedonism evaluates human actions on the basis of the consequences of actions i.e. pleasure and pain.

 c). Ethical Egoism:

  • Ethical Egoism will prescribe that one should act only with respect to one’s own self-interest or in the self-centeredness, which may include actions that may be beneficial, detrimental, or neutral to the welfare of others.
  • Exemplary Personalities associated with the philosophy of ethical altruism are Ayn Rand (Rational Egoism), Adam smith (Conditional egoism), Thomas Hobbes etc.

d). Ethical Altruism

  • Ethical Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self-interest. More precisely, an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent.
  • Exemplary and iconic real life personalities associated with the philosophy of ethical altruism are Mahatma Gandhiji, Swami Vivekananda etc.
  • Ethical altruism prescribes that an individual should take action in such a way that it will have the best possible consequences for everyone except for himself. According to it an action is morally right if the consequence of that action is more favorable than unfavorable “to everyone except the agent”.
  1. Virtue Ethics:
  • Virtue ethics is the branch of ethics which Focuses on the Character of the agent rather than on the formal rules for or the consequences of actions. Virtue ethics is person based ethics rather than action based.
  • Famous proponents of virtue ethics/ virtue ethicists are Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
  • According to virtue ethics, the truly moral person is a virtuous person. Virtue ethics portrays moral persons as those who genuinely take pleasure in doing right things.

It also propounds the view that while doing right things is important, it is equally or more important to be a virtuous person.