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  • Created on: 18-04-16 10:56


Theories based on view that there are certain actions that are right or wrong in themselves, not in the consequences of the action

Right or wrong simply because they are, without reference to outcomes

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Forms of deontology

Rights - action is morally right if it respects rights that all humans have - people should be free to act as they wish as long as it doesn't infringe rights of others - do not murder

Duty - action is morally right if coheres with set of agreed duties and obligations 

Contractualism - action right if it is in agreement with rules that rational moral agents would accept into a social relationship or contract - drive on left side of road

Divine command ethics - action morally right if agrees with rules established by God - do not commit adultery 

Monistic deontology - right if agrees with single deonological principle which guides all other principles - killing is wrong 

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About deontology

Deontologist must perform actions that are good in themselves - refrain from performing actions known to be wrong (deontological constraints) 

Obedience to laws is inflexible - not perfmitted to violate rule if serious harm will occur

Mustn't favour one person over another - preservation of anothers life is less important than preservation of our own virtue

Not lie, even if it would prevent loss of several innocent lives 

Follow absolutist standards against which questions of morality and moral decision making can be judged

Deontological constraints formed as negatives - "do not" rather than "do" - pave way for definining what is obligatory or what constitutes our duty

Deontology consists of identerfying what is permissible and what is impermissible

Moral standards come from fundamental sources of morality - human nature, reason, God - unchanging 

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Problem with deontology

Deontologist not required to consider consequences - can say in advance whether action is right/wrong

Intuition alone may identify moral value of action, including, as Thomas Nagel suggests, obligations incurred by making promises and expecting fair and equal treatment

However, doesn't tell us why acitons are right/wrong

Methods of identifying whether actions are right/wrong can be flawed because unbreakable moral laws cannot be reliably identified unless we can also identify the law giver and a reliable means of settling disputes concerning them 

Allows people to act morally just by obeying rules - no deep thought about their actions - straight forward and legalistic however could be said to not help develop person

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Immanuel Kant - P1

Most famous deontological view - his theory was:

-Reason for performing any action - morally obligatory to do so
-This is the only correct motivation for action
-Following correct moral rules is not enough, must also have correct motivation
-Judged morality by examining nature of actions and will of agents rather than by the goals they achieve
-Reason for adopting this approach - cannot control consequences as we cannot control the future
-Right duties and obligations are determined objectively and absolutely 
-All people possess reason and conscience 
-Therefore, all can arrive at understanding of moral truths independent of experience
-Morality is a priori - reason is universal and moral reasoning will lead to same results over and over again
-Acceptance of other guides to morality - e.g utilitarianism - are always mistaken 

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Immanuel Kant - P2

Argued that:

-Universe is essentially just 
-Moral law will be satisfied (good rewarded, bad punished) in post-mortem existence
-Existence of God is necessary of a just universe and for moral law to be balanced
-Attempting to discover rational principle that would stand as a categorical imperative, grounding all other ethical judgements 
-Morality should not depend on individual likes/dislikes or other external circumstances
-Moral commands are categorical imperatives (should be done without conditions attatched) - they are ends in themselves
-Express an absolute and unconditional duty to act in a certain way and are of supreme importance
-If we act according to our duty then we will act rightly
-Personal preference lead to hypothetical imperatives
-Whilst preferences/inclinations are not necessarily wrong, they shouldn't be trusted as reliable guide to what is morally right

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Principle of Universalisability

Kant convinced that categorical imperative that provides the fundamental moral groundwork for all actions is the principle of universalisability:

Humans must "act in such a way that their actions might become a universal law"
If rule governing our actions cannot be universalised, it isn't morally acceptable
If you cannot enforce that everyone follows the same rule, then it is not a moral rule - e.g don't discriminate

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Formula of the kingdom

Kant's "formula of the kingdom" lays down principle that:

-Every action should be undertaken as if individual were a "law-making memver of a kingdom of ends"
-Every individual should appreciate how significant the part the play in establishing moral guidelines is

The "formula of the end in itself" requires that:

-A moral act must ensure that humans are valued as ends in themselves, not as means to an end
-Respect for others is paramount
-Doing duty simply because it is your duty is "greatest perfection of a human being heart of Kant's deontology- distinction betweenthose actions performed to achieve desired end and those morally obligatory actions which apply to all being irrespective of desires
-Rewards and punishment offer additional reasons for doing what we ought to do but cannot constitute the only reason for doing so

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W.D Ross - P1

Modern support for duty-based morality

Claimed he didn't believe that consequences of action are the only way to judge morality of action

Believed there are so many other factors it is impossiblet o say exactly why person acts as they do

Spoke of prima facie duties - duties to repay acts of genorsity or to help those who are dependent on us 

Said prima facie duties were important considerations in moral actions - e.g treating people justly, repaying debts 

Duties are paramount, but these can add some much needed flexibility into Kant's theory

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W.D Ross - P2

Acknowledged that it isn't possible to know in advance which prima facie duty will be needed in each situation and some element of judgement is necessary 

Prima facie duties are not ranked in order of importance they are simply items that, in some way, make a difference

Only way we can come to any moral knowledge, according to Ross, is to learn through moral experience 

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W.D Ross - P3

Approach may be criticised because, if all duties are open to subjective evaluation, then it is impossible to claim that in some cases, prima facie rights actually decided the issue

However, notion of prima facie duties give some flexibility to Kant's theory

Duties which apply to a soldier on a battlegroun are different to those which face teacher/parent/surgeon

Only if we reject notion of duties all together, believing them to be incoherent in an age of individualism, that deontology will fail

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Critique of deontology

Many utilitarian philosophers criticised deontology:

Bentham - it is essentially an intellectualised version of popular morality, and that the unchanging principles that deontologists attribute to natural law are really a matter of subjective opinion

J.S Mill - deontologists generally fail to specify which principles should take precendence when rights/duties conflict, so it cannot offer complete moral guidence

Kagen - whilst under deontology, individuals are bound by constratins and are given a lot of options - therefore, lead to a decrease in moral goodness even though it appears to be based around imposing constraits on moral behaviour 

Utilitarianism, however, always requres individual to maximise the good 

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Strengths of deontology

Motivation is more important than consequences - good motive is worth of value itself

Humanitarian principle - all people considered to be of equal value

Justice is always an absolute and applicable to all equally

Recognises the value of moral absolutes that do not change with time or culture

Provides objective guidelines for making moral decisions 

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Weaknesses of deontology

Moral obligations can be difficult to explain except by reference to duty

In reality our decision making is influenced by more factors

Questionable whether duty is a good motive - what if it goes wrong?

Principle of universalisability doesn't always work - any command could be universalised - would not make it morally right

Kant argues that what is good to do it what we ought to do - here he is commiting naturalistic fallacy - turning is into an ought 

Makes no allowances for compassion or sympathy to motivate our actions 

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