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What is Deontology?

Deontology is a moral philosophy that emphasizes duty, rules, and the intrinsic rightness of actions, regardless of outcomes. It's about following ethical principles that are considered universally binding. Think of it as a moral compass guiding decisions based on a set of unwavering rules. How do these principles apply to modern ethical dilemmas? Join the conversation and share your thoughts.
Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

Deontology is a form of moral philosophy centered around the principles of eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant. Its name comes from the Greek words deon and logos, meaning the study of duty. This school of ethics is based on the notion that people have the duty to always obey moral rules, regardless of any positive outcomes that can come from breaking them.

The basis of deontology is to assess a person’s character by how well he or she follows moral rules, even if by doing so, tragic results occur. It is in direct contrast to consequentialism, a form of ethics that determines the morality of actions by the results they produce. Consequentialism favors the Good over the Right, while deontology always advocates the Right over the Good.

According to deontology, people's moral choices are determined by personal obligations, such as toward family.
According to deontology, people's moral choices are determined by personal obligations, such as toward family.

The deontological model of ethics determines the correctness of a moral action by determining if it follows moral norms. There is no subjectivity and a moral rule is always be obeyed without any thought. For instance, Kant gave the example that it is wrong to lie even if it could save a person’s life.

The agent-centered theory of deontology states that people’s moral choices are determined by personal obligation and permission. For instance, a parent is obligated to treat his or her child as more important than other people; however, other adults have no obligation to treat that parent’s child any differently than anyone else. Since people can have personal obligations that are different from other people’s, they also have permission to protect their obligations at the expense of others. In this theory, a parent has permission to save his or her own child even if it means causing negative or tragic consequences for other people’s children. Critics of this theory believe it promotes narcissistic behaviors because its purpose is to keep personal agendas in check at the expense of others.

Immanuel Kant's writings from the basis of deontology.
Immanuel Kant's writings from the basis of deontology.

The patient-centered theory centers around the rights of individuals rather than personal duty. It states that individuals have the right to not be used for moral good against their wills. For instance, a murderer cannot be killed without his or her permission even if it would save several lives.

In the threshold theory of deontology, certain exceptions can be made to prevent moral catastrophe. A threshold can be established in which a moral can be theoretically disobeyed. For instance, a person can be tortured if it would prevent the mass killing of thousands. The theory is intended to prevent fanaticism; however, critics believe there is no set threshold that is stated in the theory. which could cause disagreement as to what constitutes a moral catastrophe.

Promoters of deontology philosophy believe it is beneficial to individuals because it gives them special permission to put the well-being of family and friends above others. They also consider it to be more flexible than consequentialism, which can advocate a person sacrificing family if it would result in a positive result for the masses. Critics state that deontological ethics can cause people to be immoral and lack compassion and that the philosophy is irrational.

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Discussion Comments


@anon115172 "In my true opinion, Deontology is inferior to consequentialism..."

I don't know if that's "ultimately true," but here's a scenario where consequentialism might not always seem to be right: Imagine you're a Jew in WWII times and you're running from Nazi troops. You have an infant with you and you're with a group of others who are also running and hiding from Nazi troops who will kill anyone they see that isn't blond hair blue eyed.

You're hiding at night and unbeknownst to you and the group, there might be Nazi soldiers nearby. The baby is crying, probably malnourished and sick. The cries of the baby might give you and the group of people away and jeopardize the lives of many. Would you smother the baby to save the mass? Or would the baby have a "right to live," regardless of what the outcome may be, as the deontologists would believe?

But then again, the outcome is not always predictable, nor the method to reduce pain and suffering of a greater whole is always the right one. But if the greatest moral outcome is for everyone to be saved including the infant, then it might be reasonable to conclude consequentialism over deontological ethics. But then again, this assumption doesn't undermine deontological ethics because the "greatest moral outcome" might be seen as unrealistic, or farfetched in certain cases. So duty "overrides" greatest outcome, such as protecting yourself, your family and your personal property.

I honestly think there is an "in between" ethical theory that better explains our moral experience than consequentialism or deontological ethics. Any guesses?


can i get the example of this theory related to business studies?


In my true opinion, Deontology is inferior to consequentialism due to the fact that even though it may be "immoral" in the steps taken to reach a goal, the goal is considered the ultimate outcome, and if it ends in a moral outcome, is it ultimately moral.

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    • According to deontology, people's moral choices are determined by personal obligations, such as toward family.
      By: sneksy13
      According to deontology, people's moral choices are determined by personal obligations, such as toward family.
    • Immanuel Kant's writings from the basis of deontology.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Immanuel Kant's writings from the basis of deontology.