Traditional Approaches to Ethical Decision Making

  • Paul WalkerEmail author
  • Terence Lovat
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Ethics book series (BRIEFSETHIC)


This chapter begins with an exploration of ethical decision making through the Classical period, the Medieval period, and the Modern period of our history. It then considers the workings of three normative frameworks in the secular Western tradition that, historically, have been important in guiding decisions in medical ethics. These are deontology, teleology, and virtue ethics. The deontological framework predicates moral permissibility on the intrinsic nature of the Act. The teleological framework predicates moral permissibility on the consequences of the Act. The virtue ethical framework focuses on the character of the agent. They are substantive—by which we mean that they are stand-alone frameworks. In considering deontological principles, specific attention is given to philosophical principles which help determine who actually is a person from a moral decision-making perspective, and how we might make moral decisions at the end-of-life, for example in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). In considering teleological principles, aspects of triage are discussed. Under the virtue ethics framework, the Good of the patient is the ultimate purpose of medicine, and empathy, compassion and care are proposed to guide normative moral decision-making in clinical situations. Finally, the theistic framework of the Islamic-Judaeo-Christian tradition is considered.


Clinical decision making Dialogue Discourse Dialogic consensus End-of-life Ethical frameworks Personhood 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Medicine and Public HealthThe University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia
  2. 2.School of Humanities and Social ScienceThe University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia
  3. 3.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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