Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 449-471

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Five Elements of Normative Ethics - A General Theory of Normative Individualism

  • Dietmar von der PfordtenAffiliated withGeorg-August University Göttingen Email author 


The article tries to inquire a third way in normative ethics between consequentialism or utilitarianism and deontology or Kantianism. To find such a third way in normative ethics, one has to analyze the elements of these classical theories and to look if they are justified. In this article it is argued that an adequate normative ethics has to contain the following five elements: (1) normative individualism, i. e., the view that in the last instance moral norms and values can only be justified by reference to the individuals concerned, as its basis; (2) consideration of the individuals’ concerns and interests—aims, desires, needs, strivings—insofar as they have a justificatory function; (3) a pluralism of references of these concerns and hence of moral norms and values to all possible elements of actions; (4) the necessity of a principle of aggregation and weighing with regard to these concerns; (5) finally, as a central principle of aggregation and weighing, the principle of relative reference to self and others, operating as a generalizing meta-principle that guides the application of concrete principles and decisions.


Normative ethics Ethics Justification of morals Justification of law Non-consequentialism Non-utilitarianism Non-deontology Non-Kantianism Plurality of the elements of action