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Though there are several different ethical theories, each that presents a different approach, they all intend to answer the question of right and wrong. “Ethics is the study of those questions and suggests various ways we might solve them” (Mosser, 2013, 1.6). There are three classic theories; utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics. Utilitarianism is a theory that focused on not only utility, but also consequences and the clear majority pleased. The theory “argues that, given a set of choices, the act we should choose is that which produces the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice” (Mosser, 2013, 1.6). Instead of focusing on the consequences of an act, deontology examines the main reason an act was done. Deontology agrees that acts do have consequences but “it insists that those consequences should not play a role in our moral evaluation of such acts”. The third theory, known as virtue ethics, also seeks to clarify the right/wrong argument. However, unlike the other theories the focus is not the consequences of an act nor the reason/rule, it is the character of the person committing the act. “In general, virtue ethics focuses on the person—the moral agent—and evaluates the character of that person in terms of the specific virtues he or she exemplifies. Ideally, the most virtuous person—sometimes called a person with a “noble soul”—will have all the virtues in their appropriate amount, and they will all be in harmony with each other” (Mosser, 2013, 1.6).
The most prominent and influential utilitarian theorist was John Stuart Mill. In his text “On Liberty”, he explains what has come to be known as the “harm principle”. “[T]he only purpose for which power may be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Mill, 1977/1859, Chapter 1: Introductory, para. 9). Perhaps then, would Mills agree with a public smoking ban? “In other words, Mill is saying that the state must not be allowed to prevent someone from doing something, even if it is harmful to that person. The only legitimate way the government can step in to prevent some activity is if it can be shown to harm others” (Mosser, 2013, 2.4). Second hand smoke is one of the top health threats in our country. Each year more and more issues come into focus as being caused by the chemicals, additives, etc. found not only in cigarettes but their smoke as well.