Monday, April 28, 2008

Deontological Approach to Ethics


"There is not a moment without some duty." -- Cicero.

But what is duty? Is duty the voice of conscience? Is duty the expression of God's will?


Alice C. Linsley


The term "deontological" comes from the Greek word deon, meaning "duty." This approach to ethical decisions holds that some moral principles are binding, regardless of the consequences. This concept is difficult for many students as evidenced by their tendency to try to combine deontological and other approaches. As one student wrote, "My approach to ethical decision making is guided by a blend of Consequential, Deontological, Virtue and other decision making processes. "

This student didn't realize at first that some approaches are mutually exclusive. When students try to employ all the approaches, it suggests that they don't really know what their approach is.

The philosopher who refined deontological ethics was Immanuel Kant. According to Kant the nature of morality is to do one’s duty even when we are not inclined to do it, and not because we are afraid of the consequences of not doing it. Here you see that Deontological ethics is the opposite of consequential ethics. The moral person does her duty regardless of the consequences.



In Kant's view the person who does his duty to appear virtuous, is not moral. The person who does his duty to get it over and done with, is not moral. The person who does his duty to avoid negative consequences, is not moral. Only the person who does his duty because it is his duty, is moral. A parent who acts responsibly toward his child because it is his duty to act responsibly toward his child, is moral. Kant argues thus:

Everyone recognizes that they have duties and obligations.

Duty is therefore a universal human experience.

Duty is the basis of Moral Law.

As all human have duties, the Moral Law applies to all humans


If you take a deontological approach to ethics, you must define your duty in each situation and then perform your duty, regardless of the consequences. You define your duty by asking "What is the universal principle to be followed?"

People who use the Ten Commandments as their ethical standards take a deontological approach. The problem with this approach is that it assumes, contrary to the evidence, we are always able to do our duty. But too often we discover that even when we believe that doing our duty will make us happy, we fail to do it.


Related reading:  Collectivists versus True Liberals; Moral Obligation

 

2 comments:

Kim said...

After reading about the Deontological Approach, I understand it to be a very black and white approach to business ethics. We would assume in taking this approach that we are 100% able to do our moral duty. I'm not sure how realistic this is, but it is definitely interesting.

I was also glad to have the concept of mutual exclusivity explained a little further as well. This makes the approaches less confusing for me.

Alice Linsley said...

Keep in mind that Kant was a religious man who believed that each person would face their Maker and would be judged by whether or not they fulfilled their moral obligations.