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Normative ethics comprises the study of those actions that moral agents ought to perform. In emphasizing moral obligation, normative ethics is distinguished from more descriptive ethical theories that view ethics primarily as illuminating the way in which moral agents actually do act. While normative ethics may use the tools of descriptive ethics, it seeks to articulate a set of standards that are binding on all moral agents.

Normative ethical theories are commonly divided into three broad categories described as “deontological,” “teleological,” and “ethological.” However, useful as this typology may be, in practice, moral action may make use of elements of all three.

Deontological Ethical Theories

The term deontology comes from the Greek word deon or duty. Deontological theories are primarily based on appeals to duty or some ...

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