Sample Ethics Paper on Deontological Ethics

Introduction

Morals and ethics are principles that determine the acceptability of actions in a society. Morality is a subjective topic about which people have strong opinions of what is right and wrong. Looking at the modern society, for instance, subjects like animal vivisection, abortion, religion, and freedom of speech have been at the center of intense moral debates. Some people claim they are right while others insist they are wrong. While morals can vary among individuals or cultures, many are universal (Alexander & Moore, 2016). So how are moral assessments made? The 18th century ushered in an age of enlightenment when people started analyzing the principles of natural law, which calls for using reason in determining right or wrong (Alexander & Moore, 2016). In this paper, I will argue that deontological theory provides the best account of morality because it focuses on considerations other than good and bad effects.

Deontology is a prominent concept of ethics, which advocates that morality is a matter of responsibility. The word Deontology derives from the Greek words Deon and Logos, which mean science and duty respectively (Gibson, 2014). Also called duty-based theory, the deontological argument states that actions are morally correct if they conform to a responsibility, principle, or obligation. It overlooks outcomes in the moral assessment of deeds and prioritizes the motive. There are various approaches to the concept of deontology, but the most consistent attribute among them are the clear-cut rules. Firstly, deontology establishes that individuals have moral duties towards everyone. These responsibilities may include “prohibitions like do not murder, do not steal,” or “positives like help people in need” (Lacewing, 2014, p. 1). Secondly, our social or personal relationships guide our duties. For instance, if you make a promise, you have to keep it.

Immanuel Kant is the most prominent figure of deontology. His approach excludes religious faith but embraces rationality through goodwill and the categorical imperative (Gibson, 2014). The Kantian theory strongly holds that motive is the essential element in the assessment of morality. Consequently, our will guides our behaviors, whose motives will determine how ethical we are. At the opening of his book, as cited by Gibson, Kant says, “Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without the qualification, except a good will” (2014, p. 77). The categorical imperative looks for transcendent values that apply to all humans (The Arthur W. Page Center, n.d.). Kant advances this concept by the popular rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Gibson, 2014, p. 78). Duties are obligatory for everyone, and, therefore, when in an ethical situation, one identifies his/her responsibility and makes the appropriate decision. Kant mentions, “Whose universality as a law you can at the same time will” should guide actions (Gibson, 2014, p. 78). To consider the universality of this saying, Kant tells us to ask what would happen if everyone else did the same thing. This logical question forces us to think about the ways this maxim could fail. A universal law could be unsuccessful if there is a contradiction in conception. For instance, your child is starving, so you decide to steal food from a shop to feed him/her. The universality of the maxim “to steal food” is a contradiction.

Another Deontologist Sir William David Ross had a pluralistic approach to this concept by asserting that there is more than one principle (Gibson, 2014). Ross summarized his view by stating, “there will inevitably be conflicts, and we must find the greatest balance of competing obligations” (Gibson, 2014, p. 83). He uses the phrase prima facie obligations to include seven kinds of duty: “reparation, gratitude, fidelity, non-maleficence, beneficence, self-improvement, and justice” (Gibson, 2014, p. 84). These responsibilities may apply in any situation, and they may even contradict each other. However, Ross establishes that there can never be a real ethical dilemma because whenever there is a conflict of duties, the humans “intuitive judgment” will guide them on the right thing to do (The Arthur W. Page Center, n.p). Another deontological approach is the Divine Command Theory by William Ockham. Ockham relates morality to doing God’s will; hence, the source of ethics is God’s commands. The logic of Ockham’s theory is that if we believe that God is the creator, then we ought to follow His principles. Deontological theories are prominent due to their appealing consistency (The Arthur W. Page Center, n.d.). They also tend to place a high value on life thus encouraging the creation of laws that protect human life.

While deontology has received a positive reception in the field of ethics and morality, it has various limitations that have attracted a fair share of criticism. John Stuart Mill, through his book, Utilitarianism, criticized Kant’s categorical imperative (The Arthur W. Page Center, n.d.). He argued that the Kant’s concept uses the consequential approach: If the outcome of a maxim is logical, then the saying could be a universal law. According to Mill, this reasoning conforms to “the ends justify the means,” which is a principle of consequentialism. Considering the practicality of the Command Divine theory, it is less persuasive since it excludes atheists. Furthermore, Virtue Ethics, which bases morality on character, criticizes deontology ethics for its limited emphasis on the significance of virtues hence moral character.

Despite the above challenges, deontology has many redeeming features. Bowen, for instance, says, “Deontology is based on the moral autonomy of the individual, similar to the autonomy and freedom from encroachment that public relations seek to be considered excellent” (The Arthur W. Page Center, n.d.). The mentioned consistency gives deontology an upper hand in the functionality of the normative theory as well as public relations. Deontology provides humans the intrinsic worth, respect, and dignity and recognizes that they have rights that should be valued. Additionally, deontology is easy to follow since it builds on the foundation of human reason and people tend to have similar views on morality. Another strong point of deontology is that it allows people to give specific concern for families and friends. It, therefore, eliminates the excessively demanding features of consequentialism. Lastly, deontology can explain why some individuals have the right to complain about and even hold those who breach moral duties accountable.

Conclusion

Human conduct is guided by moral ethics, which entail the principles that determine whether an action is good or bad. While ethics can vary among individuals or cultures, many are universal. Various theories explain the assessment of morals, including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, consequentialism, and deontology. In this paper, I argued that the concept of deontology provides the best account because it advocates that duty guides morality. The major contributors of these theories are Immanuel Kant and Sir William David Ross. The theorists overlook the outcome of actions (good or bad) and prioritize the motive. However, various individuals have heavily criticized this concept. John Stuart Mill, for example, argues that deontology barely recognizes the virtues hence moral values. However, deontology theory features various strong points, including the consistency of the rules, the prioritization of human life and a specific concern for families and friends. It is, therefore, unjustifiable to reject the theory as an assessment tool of morality.

 

References

Alexander, L. & Moore, M. (2016). Deontological ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological/

Gibson, K. (2014). An introduction to ethics. London: Pearson.

Lacewing, M. (2014). Kant’s deontological ethics. New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from http://documents.routledge-interactive.s3.amazonaws.com/9781138793934/A22014/ethical_theories/Kant’s%20deontological%20ethics.pdf

The Arthur W. Page Center. (n.d.). Ethical theories. Retrieved from https://pagecentertraining.psu.edu/public-relations-ethics/introduction-to-public-relations-ethics/lesson-1/ethical-theories/