Deontology A2

Overview of deontology for people taking Religious Studies

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  • Created by: Charlotte
  • Created on: 15-04-09 11:09

Deontology : Strengths

- Motivation is valued over consequences, which are beyond our control. An immoral motive cannot be justified by unforeseen good consequences, but a good motive within itself deserves value

- It is a humanitarian principle in which all men are considered to be of equal value and worthy of protection

- Justice is always an absolute, even if the majority of the people do not benefit

- It recognises the value of moral absolutes that do not change with time or culture

- It provides objective guidelines for making moral decisions, without the need for lengthy calculations of possible outcomes

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Deontology : Weaknesses 1

- Moral obligations appear arbitrary or inexplicable except by reference to duty. In reality, our decision making is influenced by many more factors, and it is questionable whether duty is as good a virtue as Kant believed

- How far can good will/motives mitigate a distastrous outcome?

- Are we satisfied with doing our duties without understanding why we do them?

- Universalisability can become absurd as things that are not moral commands could easily become universalised

- Technically, anything could be universalised, making the principle exposed to a 'reductio ad absurdum'

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Deontology : Weaknesses 2

- Kant argues that what is good to do is what we ought to do - critics have accused him of committing the naturalistic fallacy

- Although his theory avoids emotivism, it does not allow for any sympathy/compassion to motivate our actions - there are no exceptions

- It is arguably not a mature moral theory as it's inflexible and therefore impractical

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Introduction to Deontology

- Opposite to consequentialist theories

- From the word 'deon' -> duty (Greek)

- Looks at how we discover what is right and wrong

- Certain actions are right/wrong within themselves; consequence is not considered

- A deontologist must not only do actions that are intrinsically good, but refrain from doing those that are bad

- These are deontological constraints, or rules and laws, which must be obeyed inflexibly

- A deontologist would maintain that violating a rule is in no way permissible, even if serious harm could occur

- The preservation of one's own virtue is above the preservation of another's life

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Forms of Deontology

Deontology may take several forms:

Rights - an action is morally right if it respects the rights which all humans have. This is known as libertarianism - a political philosophy where people can act as they wish as long as their actions do not harm the rights of others

Contractualism - an action is morally right if it is in agreement with the rules that rational moral agents would accept into a social contract

Divine Command Ethics - an action is only morally right if it is in accordance with the rules and duties established by God

Monistic Deontology - an action is only morally right if it agrees with a single deontological principle which guides all other principles

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

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Continued Summary

- Deontology is frequently associated with moral absolutism, which believes in absolute standards against which moral questions and moral decision making can be judged

- Charles Fried argued that the deontologist should focus upon what is permissable, 'After having avoided wrong and doing one's duty, an infinity of choices is left to be made'

- Deontology consists of two strands; identifying the permissable and the impermissable:

Right and wrong actions

  • One knows before doing something whether that action is right or wrong
  • Intuition alone can assess the moral value of an action
  • Thomas Nagel agreed that intuition alone could judge the morality of an action e.g. limits on how to treat people, rights to fair and equal treatment etc
  • However, these things alone do not tell us why deontologists believe that they are right
  • Deontological morality is often rooted in Judaeo-Christian teachings
  • Another fundamental deontological principle is the requirement to treat others as rational beings; 'Do unto others...' (Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12)
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Issues with Right and Wrong Actions

- Traditional Judaeo-Christian morality is widely viewed as outdated and harsh, and too open to interpretation to the point that we cannot know by intuition or common understanding what absolute morals are

- In order for everyone to agree that an action is inherently right/wrong, it must derive from an unquestionable source of authority. There can never be a sufficient argument about what constitutes such a source

- It focuses on avoiding wrongdoing, therefore a person is merely complying with a set of rules

- This is legalistic, albeit straight forward and simple

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Issues Continued

- By just adhering to laws, many of which are easy to do (e.g. do not murder), we are not nevessarily being moral people, and if there should be a loophole in the law, we could easily take advantage of this. There is no moral value in obeying rules we would not have broken anyway

- Therefore, to be truly moral, we must go beyond the law to demonstrate morality

- Jesus criticised the Pharisees for their obedience to the rules alone, 'Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint...but you neglect justice and the love of God' (Luke 11:42)

- He also taught that there was more to genuine goodness than obvious good, 'If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?' (Matthew 5:46)

- Letter of the law deontology reduces morality to a set of requirements, but puts little value on being a part of the moral community

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Immanuel Kant

- Kant believed that the reason for performing any given action is our moral obligation to do so

- He wanted to discover a rational basis for one's sense of duty, and devise a principle by which one can distinguish right and wrong

- We should have the correct motivation for an action, and in exceptional cases, a poor outcome would not be considered immoral as a result of good intentions

- Correct duties and obligations must be determined objectively, as otherwise they would be reduced to personal preferences and not universal obligations

- Kant adopted this approach because to focus on the consequences is to focus on what we cannot control (the future)

- As all men possess reason and a conscience, they should be able to understand moral truth independently of experience

- Morality was a priori, not a posteriori, and because reason was universal, moral reasoning would lead to the same results

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Immanuel Kant (continued)

- Kant argued that the universe is essentially just and that moral law would be satisfied in a post mortem existence

- God's existence is a necessary requirement of a just universe and moral law to be balanced

- He developed the categorical imperative to apply to everyone rather than a hypothetical theory which could change depending upon the person

- Hypothetical imperatives arew a means to an end (if...then...), but categorical imperatives are an end within themselves

- Kant considered these to be of extreme importance

- Whilst personal preferences are not necessarily wrong, they cannot be trusted as a reliable guide to what is morally right, and duty supersedes them as it always leads to morally right actions

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Kant's Formulae

Formula of Kingdom Ends

- Every action should be undertaken as if the individual were a law making member of a kingdom of ends

Formula of the End in Itself

- An act must ensure that human beings are valued as ends in themselves and not means to an end; allows deontology to acknowledge human rights as inviolable

- People, unlike things, are of intrinsic value and not potential instrumental value

Formula of Autonomy

- A genuine moral maxim is the action of a free moral agent

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Universalisability

- Kant wanted to find the categorical imperative which would provide the fundamental moral groundwork for all actionsm and he found this in the principle of universalisability

- In his 'Formula of the Law of Nature', he demanded that human beings 'act in such a way that their actions might become a universal law'

- If the rule or maxim governing our actions cannot be universalisedm it is not morally acceptable, and if you cannot will that everyone follow the same rule, it is not a moral rule

- Moral principles should not seek to achieve an end e.g. be nice to your parents so they will buy you presents -> they should apply without logical contradiction

Free Will

- Even if our duty is objective and already independently existing, it is still a person's choice whether or not they fulfil this duty

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Kant (Continued)

- Kant wanted to distinguish between actions performed to reach a desired end and morally obligatory actions which apply to all human beings irrespective of their desires

- He believed the latter of these two things to be morally superior to all others

- The distinction between a good and evil man is how they come to obey their duty; the evil man will only perform good acts if they are in accordance with his own self interests, whereas the good man will do the good acts even if they conflict with his self interests

- Acting morally for the sake of doing something moral is sufficient in itself, even if people do not feel motivated behind the action itself

Divine Reward

- Kant does not suggest that divine reward is a reason for acting morally - there could be no grounds on which morality and self interest could coincide

- Rewards and punishments may offer additional reasons for acting morally. but cannot be the only reason

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Kant (Continued)

- Kant wanted to distinguish between actions performed to reach a desired end and morally obligatory actions which apply to all human beings irrespective of their desires

- He believed the latter of these two things to be morally superior to all others

- The distinction between a good and evil man is how they come to obey their duty; the evil man will only perform good acts if they are in accordance with his own self interests, whereas the good man will do the good acts even if they conflict with his self interests

- Acting morally for the sake of doing something moral is sufficient in itself, even if people do not feel motivated behind the action itself

Divine Reward

- Kant does not suggest that divine reward is a reason for acting morally - there could be no grounds on which morality and self interest could coincide

- Rewards and punishments may offer additional reasons for acting morally. but cannot be the only reason

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Prima Facie Duties

Prima Facie Duties

- Duty based morality, revived in the 20th century

- WD Ross argued that the notion of acting out of motivation is incoherent as we cannot choose why we act, we can only choose how we will act

- Beneficience (helping others) and self improvements (developing our talents) amongst other things must be taken into account as wel as the consequences

- The way we act will be affected by previous things which have happened before, possibly causing us to turn to our prima facie duties - duties to repay acts of generosity or help those who are dependent on us

- There are 7 prima facie duties; fidelity, gratitude, justice, non maleficience, beneficience, reparation and self improvement

- A conflict between two of these duties does not negate one or both of them but is in fact a conflict of things that do matter and which is resolved by considering which is the most important in each given situation

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Prima Facie Duties (contined)

- We cannot tell before an event which prima facie duty will be required, it is only when we are in the situation that the duty is revealed

- Ross attempted to offer middle ground between consequentialism and absolutist deontology

- However, if we cannot tell in advance which duties are most important, then all duties are open to subjective evaluation

- Prima facie duties make Kant's theory more flexible

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Critiques of Deontology

- Jeremy Bentham criticised deontology on the grounds that it is essentially an intellectualised version of popular morality, and the unchanging principles are a matter of subjective opinion

- In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill argued that deontologists fail to specify which principles should take precedence when rights and duties conflict, therefore it doesn't offer complete moral guidance

- Shelly Kagan supports Mill and Bentham, arguing that whilst under deontology individuals are bound by constraints, they are also given options to not do the right things

- Principles of theories such as utilitarianism do not allow for this, and therefore deontology may lead to a decrease in moral goodness

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