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Deontology Definition Essay

‘Whilst Deontology has it’s attractions it fails to provide a reliable foundation for moral decision making’ Examine and evaluate this claim (30)

Deontology is based upon the actions of a person, not the consequences. The word deontology is derived from the Greek word ‘deontos’. It was developed by Immanuel Kant and it is an absolutist a priori theory, the phrase a priori means it is knowable through experience and absolutist means there are fixed rules that cannot be changed. This means Kant believed the duty of the moral law was unchangeable and through experience, if everyone followed these rules the world would be a better place.

Immanuel Kant wrote ‘Critique of Pure reason’ in this book he devised his deontological theory of duty. He believed it is the duty of one to follow the moral law and not judge situations with feelings, inclination, love and compassion.

Kant also believed that all humans seek for summum bonum which is the state when all human virtue and happiness are united. To help people on their way to moral decision Immanuel Kant devised the categorical imperative, this is in contrast to the hypothetical imperative. The hypothetical imperative normally starts sentence with an if e.g. if you wish to complete a good essay you must spend time on it, where as a categorical imperative tells you that you should do something, e.g. you should brush your teeth in the morning. This then was devised into three different rules on how to live your life; The Universal Law, Treat Humans as Ends in Themselves and Act as if you live in a Kingdom of Ends.

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Kant’s second principle in the categorical imperative,

‘So act that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other human being, never merely as a means, but always at the same time as an end’

This shows that it could be an attractive theory as it has good intentions in mind.

Like many theories, Deontology has its strengths and weaknesses. One of its main strengths is that it is an absolutist theory. This means it is either intrinsically good or bad, e.g. do not commit murder.

This is a major strength as it makes an easy theory people to follow. This may attract people towards the theory as it shows guidelines to follow which some people may rely on to make their moral decision making. Another reason why it may attract people is because the rules are fixed so they do not have to question the rules whether they are right or wrong them just have to obey them keeping them in a comfortable position. This makes the theory practical in everyday use and people can depend upon the theory also there is no need to do any calculations.

However there are many conflicting views to this strength. One of them is how people can become dependant on the theory. If they become to dependant upon the theory and it does not help them in a situation on moral decision making they may struggle to think of what to do next. WD Ross devised the notion of prima facie duties, this means first appearance. This is when we follow our duty unless there is an overriding obligation, e.g. telling a white lie to make someone feel good about them self. This goes against the principle of duty as you must not lie but you could argue that you will feel morally good about yourself if you make another person feel good. Therefore this does not help is moral decision making as you have conflicting duties.

Strength to this theory is that justice is always the absolute. This means only intrinsically right actions are accounted for. This can be seen with Kant’s statement of good will.

‘it is impossible to conceive of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except good will.’

This shows that only good will is the only good we can achieve from the world.

By justice being an absolute it means that you cannot justify immoral actions. This is attractive because it shows that by following this theory you will not act unmorally and you will be able to reach that summum bonum as you are fulfilled with good deeds. By not being able to do any intrinsically bad actions this will make people feel it is a reliable theory because if you follow these set rules you will not harm another person.

Although it seeks justice, it does not seek the best interest of the majority, this means the minority may feel that justice has been done but on the other hand the majority may feel that justice has not been served. Personally I feel by pleasing the majority I will end up with a better outcome because there will greater happiness, this links in with Utilitarianism and the greatest pleasure over the greatest pain. Another reason why this theory has its flaws is the summum bonum.

The summum bonum is the ultimate fulfilment but it can only be achieved by having an immortal soul as it cannot be achieved in the lifetime. This shows links with religion, even though Kant rejected theological arguments with the existence of God. This strikes a problem because not everyone believes in God so how could you follow the theory if you do not believe in his existence. Finally it is to legalistic because it assumes everyone is a law abiding person, people have different intentions so by assuming everyone has the intention of justice is wrong.

To see whether is really does fail these reliabilities; we have to compare the strengths with the weaknesses.

A weakness to the theory is that there are no limits to what can be universalised. This is because in one person’s state of mind something may seem perfectly fine to another person’s state of mind, e.g. a chronically depressed person. They may feel suicide is perfectly acceptable. This links in with the first law of the categorical imperative

‘Do not act on any principle that cannot be universalised.’

This means moral laws should be taken into account into all situations. Again this is wrong because who is to say one right action is another person’s right action, this makes it very unreliable with moral decision making.

However if you take into account what the majority feel is wrong or right you could come to a conclusion on universal rules. This can be seen with rules such as ‘do not commit murder’ as most people do not tolerate that and it is safe to say they do not agree with it.

Finally another weakness is that Immanuel Kant starts to argue now ‘is’ to be done but what ‘ought’ to be done, this is known as the Naturalistic Fallacy.

This is a weakness because it makes people feel as he is in control and he is telling what should and shouldn’t be done. This is a weakness because Kant has different agreement on morals to another agreement, again he is assuming the masses will agree with this method making unreliable. By Kant saying what ought to be done he is showing what he feels is intrinsically good and that may vary from another.

On the other hand by Kant saying he ought instead of is, it shows he is laying down ground rules and some people may like this as they will have rules to follow making it a attractive and reliable moral decision making theory.

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