The Rights Theory of Ethics and Its Application

Ethics contains four main ethic theories: deontology, utilitarianism, rights, and virtue. The theory of deontology concentrates on individual moral principles or beliefs; for example, one can make a decision based on the law, personal preferences, or attitudes towards certain situations or people. Utilitarianism concentrates on the outcomes or results of the made decisions for society. This theory involves both decisions made based on fairness and helping others; hence, the most important for this theory is the presence of a positive social effect. Virtue theory states that decisions made by individuals fully depend on their outlooks, previous choices, experiences, bad or good habits, attitudes, and intentions. For example, a good decision should not be expected from a liar or villain. In this case, the rights theory is more similar to the ethical theory of deontology.

The rights theory of ethics belongs to the category of non-consequential ethics. Generally, non-consequential ethics defines morality, values, and beliefs to be more important in decision-making than the evaluation of the possible outcomes. For example, when one decides what decision to make diverse options are estimated based on their moral or social correctness for the individual. Therefore, the rights theory of ethics concludes that people tend to make decisions based on diverse rules and laws that their society considers appropriate and morally right. This ethical theory is sometimes referred to as principlism due to its origination from social norms and principles as well. Hence, in comparison with the virtue theory, the rights theory does not refer to emotions or inner moral principles that all people possess. This concept refers to the prescribed laws, norms, and regulations, such as the Constitution of the United States.

Hence, sometimes the rights theory of ethics is also called natural law ethics and encourages people to respect their natural inclinations. This concept is based more on rational rather than emotional thinking; however, it is judged by some philosophers due to its controversy. Not every population possesses such a prescription of rights and regulations as the Constitution. For example, ancient civilizations did not have any regulations and made decisions based on their religious or moral norms and traditions. Hence, the rights theory of ethics cannot be applied to all situations, populations, and nationalities. Moreover, natural law ethics includes many concepts and consists of diverse aspects. This theory explains that people make decisions based on the hierarchy of laws that include eternal, natural, moral, physical, and civil criteria of decision-making. For example, privacy and data security rights can also be factors affecting decision-making, although they are not mentioned in the law (Formosa et al., 2021). Hence, rights cannot be viewed only from the perspective of their official or governmental support.

The process of making a decision can also be based on diverse permissions, opportunities, and unofficial regulations. For example, if one’s friend allows this person to borrow their car, then the individual has the right to utilize the vehicle during a defined and agreed period of time. Therefore, it is the person’s right to use the car because the individual was granted permission to do so. Additionally, certain types of relationships such as the doctor-patient or parent-child are not controlled by official rights; however, they are secured by moral rights present in society (Beckwith & Thornton, 2020). One more example of unofficial people’s rights concerns fair distribution of resources in healthcare or respect for patients’ personality and privacy (Nardo et al., 2019). It means that according to the rights ethical theory, people can make decisions based on their rights, opportunities, agreements, or abilities. All of the mentioned above factors can be criteria for making a successful decision. However, the biggest problem of this theory is that sometimes it is quite difficult to define what rights society provides its individuals with, especially unofficial rights that occur due to interpersonal relations.


Beckwith, F., & Thornton, A. K. (2020). Moral status and the architects of principlism. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine, 45(4-5), 504-520. Web.

Formosa, P., Wilson, M., & Richards, D. (2021). A principlist framework for cybersecurity ethics. Computer & Security, 109, 1-15. Web.

Nardo, M. D., Ore, A. D., Testa, G., Annich, G., Piervinecenzi, E., Zampini, G., Botari, G., Ceccehetti, C., Amodeo, A., Lorusso, R., Sorbo, L. D., & Kirsh, R. (2019). Principlism and personalism: Comparing two ethical models applied clinically in neonates undergoing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation support. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 7, 1-9. Web.

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