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Introducing Kantian Deontology
Deontological ethics (or "deontology") is an approach to ethics that focuses on the rightness or
wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences
of those actions.
The focus is on your intention and your actions, however negative the consequences may turn out
to be. Deontology is sometimes described as "duty" or "obligation"based ethics.
This means, highlight what you need to do, and always do it.
Immanuel Kant formulated a deontological ethical theory, based on the following elements:
The Good Will & Duty
In the search for intrinsic `good', Kant did not believe that any outcome was inherently good. Pleasure or
happiness could result out of the most evil acts. He also did not believe in `good' character traits, as
ingenuity, intelligence, courage etc. could all be used for evil. In fact, he used the term `good' to describe the
`good will', by which he meant the resolve to act purely in accordance with one's duty. He believed that,
using reason, an individual could work out what one's duty was.
Free Will, God and Immorality
If our actions are predetermined and we merely bounce around like snookerballs, we cannot be described
as free and morality doesn't apply to us. Kant could not prove that we are free rather, he presumed that we
could act morally, and for this to be the case we must be free. He also thought that it followed that there
must be a God and lifer after death, otherwise morality would make sense.
Synthetic A Priori
We do not follow predetermined laws. However, we must act according to some laws, otherwise our actions
are random and without purpose. As a result, rational beings must determine for themselves a set of laws
by which they will act.
These laws are not analytic (true by virtue of their meaning), but they cannot be determined through
experience (a posteriori). Hume pointed this out when he said that you couldn't move from an "is" (a
synthetic statement about the world) to an "ought" (a statement about the way the world should be). The
rational being has to be determine the synthetic a priori the substantive rules that can be applied prior to
experience. (You will study this in further detail as part of your A2).
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An imperative is a statement of what should be done. Categorical imperatives are rules that would be
followed by any rational moral agent. They are duties you should do your duty because it is your duty.
Certain actions are logically inconsistent and would make no sense as universal laws, such as lying. As a
result, `Do not lie' is a categorical imperative.…read more
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This gives a different feel to the CI. Kant imagines a society where we use reason to make universal
rules. Could we make rules that valued anything more than people themselves? (e.g. pleasure). It
wouldn't make sense for a person to make a rule that used people as a means to some `greater good',
as they wouldn't be valuing their own self.…read more