What Are the Four Major Ethical Theories?

There are four fundamental ethical principles and five major ethical theories. The four fundamental ethical principles are respect for autonomy, beneficence, justice and nonmaleficence. The five major ethical theories are deontology, utilitarianism, rights, casuist and virtue.

Autonomy, the first of the four fundamental principles, is to respect others' choices and human dignity, while beneficence is to bring about good in all actions. Justice is the obligation to treat others fairly, and nonmaleficence is to cause no harm or the least amount of harm possible.

Deontology, one of the five major ethical theories, is to adhere to duties and obligations in an ethical dilemma, while utilitarianism is choosing the action which provides the greatest benefit to the majority of people. Rights suggests that the rights set forth by society are ethically correct and should be high priority. Casuist uses previous ethical dilemmas to judge the best possible outcome, and virtue judges a person by their character rather than a single act which is out of the norm.