What is moral theory?
In this short video, Angus Dawson offers a very brief description of what a moral theory is, with three examples.
Published in March 2014.  Description - watch the video.
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This short video is part of a longer lecture on frameworks and their role in public health ethics. Angus Dawson, (who at the time of this recording in March 2011 was Senior Lecturer in Ethics at Keele University in the U.K.) presented this lecture to a group who were meeting to discuss public health ethics in Canada. In responding to a participant's question during the lead-in to his discussion of frameworks, he offered this short overview of moral theory as “a systematic account of what you ought to do,” mentioning virtue theory (a character-based account), consequentialism (an outcome-based model, which includes utilitarianism), and deontology (a model based on duties) as leading examples of moral theories.

Dawson stresses the importance of doing ethics in the real world and getting as close as possible to actual decision-making, and proposes using frameworks rather than overarching moral theories as a way to achieve this. As such, he is not necessarily advocating for moral theories here. However, this is a helpful overview of what moral theories are and may help to put them into perspective.

 Click to watch (Flash video, 4:02, 46 MB).


Angus Dawson is presently Professor of Public Health Ethics at Birmingham University, UK and is co-editor of the journal, Public Health Ethics.
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The production of the NCCHPP website has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Public Health Agency of Canada.