Introduction to Deontology
- The term 'deontological' comes from the Greek word 'deon' meaning duty, this means deontological theories are concerned with describing our moral duties.
- Deontology is an absolutist and a priori ethical theory, therefore it isnt concerned with the situation, consequences or experiences since these do not change the morality of an action.
- Space- 'the pure form of outer sense'
- Time- 'the pure form of inner intuition'
- Things we perceive through space and time are phenomena.
- Uses abstract reasoning- like mathematics, it does no take into account feelings and emotions as these are fickle
Kant's faultless logic
- Goes by the idea of human autonomy this means we are all free and self-rule.
- With our autonomy we can choose to act from reason alone, the form of reasoning is a priori reasoning
- the only thing good in itself is good will, because any other motive for acting such as happiness of pleasure is corrupted by desire and emotions which are fickle.
- so only the moral act is one from duty alone, doing something that is 'good' is fulfilling your duty.
- Good will is an important feature of Kant's deontology, we think characteristics such as courage, intelligence and power are all associated with 'goodness', but theyre not if we have bad intentions of using them, which makes it bad will.
- For example Hitler had good characteristics such as courage but had bad intentions to abuse these characteristics, so that doesn't make him good.
- if we do something with good will then we are doing our moral duty.
- Also known as the highest good, consists of two parts, virtue and happiness.
- for Kant virtue was connected to the 'good will' and meant dutiful or unconditional commitment to the moral law.
- but this does not mean that virtue is the "entire and perfect good" more like "for this happiness is also required"
The perfect state for Kant would be one in which humans are happy to the degree they deserve to be happy, as duty has its own rewards.
- The categorical imperative is an unconditional command which applies to everyone universally.
- it was introduced by Kant as a way of evaluating motivations for actions.
- Kant argued we act accordingly to our duty in any given circumstances we act rightly.
- there are 3 further principles...
- Formula 1- the formula of the law of nature. All moral laws must be applied to all situations and all rational beings. If an action is wrong for one person, it is wrong for everyone.
- 'Act as though the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature' (Kant, Groundwork 4:421)
- Kant asserted that not all moral issues are determined by the categorical imperative, os they can be determined by the hypothetical imp.
- the cat imp is a command that must be obeyed whereas the hyp imp refers to commands that had 'ought' to be obeyed.
- the hyp imp deals with things that arent absolute as they dont affect everyone, only those who the situation is relevant to.
- for example "if i wish to acquire knowledge then i must learn", this is not an absolute that every rational being must do to fulfil their duty.
W. D. Ross
- Kantian ethics seems pretty uncompromising and not really suited to the untidiness of many moral choices that people have to make so twentieth century philosopher W. D. Ross suggested that it would be helpful to look at Prima facie duties.
- Ross disagreed with absolutist ethical theories such as Kant’s deontology. He said we can’t choose why we act, we can only choose how we act. Ross developed prima facie duties meaning ‘first appearance’; they are moral obligations, not absolutes, which blinds us to follow it unless there is an overriding obligation.
- It allows us to make choices a posteriori which is a strength as we then know by experience. So if our intuition tells us another action is better, as we know this from experience, then we can override the other.
- There are 7 prima facie duties that Ross lists, examples are fidelity, gratitude and justice
Strengths to Deontology
Universal and fixed. ‘absolute rules, with no exceptions, which are easy to follow’ . Moral laws must be applied to all situations and all rational beings universally, without exception. If an action is right for me, it is right for everyone. If it is wrong for one person, it is wrong for everyone.
^^^^^^^^^^^^For example in the categorical imperative formula of the law of nature it suggests if an action is right for me, it is right for everyone. If it is wrong for one person, it is wrong for everyone. This is supported by the divine command theory as the simplistic absolutes make it easy to decide making moral decisions.
Deontology is also consistent and universal – we are consistent in how we apply rules (we don’t exempt ourselves or others), and how we treat people (as “ends” with dignity and rights).
Weaknesses to Deontology
Deontology leaves no room for evolutionary change, due to the fixed absolutes. However this is a disadvantage because the theory is outdated and too traditional for secular world and its issues, so how are we supposed to live a moral life going off deontology guidelines if it doesn’t even fit in today’s society? We are learning more and more about the world and evolution but deontology ad other absolute approaches like natural moral law rejects any change or adaption to the world, for example Stephen Hawking and his theory of evolution would be disapproved.
- fixed rules do not always lead to the right moral outcome, for example a fixed absolute is ‘do not steal’ however what if there is a situation of a starving family who can’t afford to eat and the only chance is for the mother to steal food, is it moral to stop a family from being able to eat? From a relativist theory the answer would be no, deontology is not an effective theory to moral living in today's society, because they are concerned with the consequences and the outcomes instead of the morality of an action, they believe a bad action can justify the moral consequence, take the mother stealing food as an example, the stealing of the food is a bad action however being able to feed the starving family is the good intention.
Categorical Imperative formula 2
Formula 2- The formula of ends in itself
'act in such a way that you treat humanity, (...) always at the same time as an end, never as a means' (Kant, Groundwork 4:429)
Never use humans for another purpose other than to treat them as you would yourself.
Categorical Imperative formula 3
- Formula 3- the formula of kingdom of ends
- In other words to act as if you live in a kingdom of ends. The principle of autonomy is to universalise your idea of shared interests implying that morality is a shared obligation with an idea of what is good.
- Kant said "all maxims which stem from autonomous law giving are to harmonise with a possible kingdom of ends and a kingdom of nature"