When we make moral judgements about the activities of others or of ourselves, we typically apply the principle of 'moral consistency'. In other words, if we hear someone saying one thing but see them doing another we will feel that they are being inconsistent – they are applying different standards to different types of actions or to different people.
Someone might say "it is wrong for someone to drink and drive" and yet they are often seen driving a vehicle after drinking.
We may also observe that an individual's moral beliefs may be inconsistent between different issues.
The person may have a strong sense of community service yet have no difficulty routinely overcharging their clients.
Having a moral theory is one way to help us think consistently about how to address ethical issues.
A moral theory can be divided into three parts:
- A standard for what is right or wrong, for example: Treat every person as an equal.
- Principles for types of actions that are right or wrong, for example: Stealing is wrong.
- Statements about the rightness or wrongness of particular actions, for example: John was right to turn down that job.