?Clarify the key features of a deontological theory of ethics. To what extent if any do the weaknesses outweigh the strengths of this theory Deontology literally translates as the science of duty. It is an approach to making decisions in ethics which relies on duties or rules to determine how you should act. Thus it is very different from consequential theories of ethics like Utilitarianism where results matter more than obligations (oughts). One of the most notable examples of a deontological theory of ethics is Kantian Ethics.
Kant rejected using results as a good way to guide actions. A notable feature is that, unlike Utilitarianism, he thought empirical evidence was an unreliable guide and that how we experience things came from the mind (a priori). ‘It is impossible to conceive of anything in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except good will’. A notable point is that, Kant took an absolute approach to morality and dismissed the idea of choices or consequences to solve a moral dilemma.
A significant feature is that, Kant thought that the idea of moral oughts must come from within which he called ‘reason’. Since Kant believed reason is shared by all humans and is inherent in the universe, then logically we should come to the same conclusions about how to live using their reason. Additionally, with our reason, Kant identified that there were ‘prima facia’ duties- duties that are supreme to others. Another key characteristic is that, Kant’s deontology states that we experience a sense of duty/ obligation to others.
This he called the categorical imperative; ‘you ought to behave in the categorical imperative because it is the moral law’. It differs from the hypothetical imperative because it exemplifies that we ‘work hard’ simply because we ought not to for personal rewards. The idea of a universal is a valid feature as Kant believes that for rules to be universally binding on all men, they must be unconditionally good. The highest or unconditional good is having goodwill hence, the only thing that is good without qualifications is good will.
Furthermore, Kant believed that our act had no moral worth if it is not performed for the sake of morality alone. He concluded that that ‘our ability to rationally make decisions and our possession of a free will that enables us to make those decisions’. Kant argued that the capacity of rational choice was the cornerstone of morality as making a choice rationally involves, applying principles of rules to ourselves to how we should act. Hence, a key feature is that Kant referred to these principles/rules as maxims.
Kant’s deontology is based on these three maxims which were; you ought to act in such a way that can you can apply the rule universally; never treat people as a means to an end, but an end in their own right and, act as if you are all equal members of a ‘kingdom of ends’. The contribution that Kant made is apparent in two ways. Firstly, he relies on a priori evidence while making a distinction between duty and inclination and that Kant’s theory gives humans a rational high point of creation.
However, the weaknesses are described to outweigh its strengths simply because, it is described to be an idealistic, unrealistic and outdated approach that emphasizes on moral absolutes. Therefore, compared to Bentham, Kant offers a more rigid approach to morality. R Walker criticised Kant’s idea by stating that, the categorical imperative has a ‘regrettable vagueness’. The ethical theory is said to be impaired as Kant only gives a framework showing the structure of moral judgements and doesn’t provide any guidance in situations where there are conflicting duties.
However, the strengths are of more significance that its weaknesses as the prima facie duties offers a valid explanation that, there are duties that come before others. Unlike Bentham’s idea of the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’, deontology allows for special duties i. e that to our parents, teleology ignores. This strengthens the argument. On the other hand, just like Aristotle, Plato and Descartes, Kant commits a naturalistic fallacy as he turns an is into an ought and places the highest value on reason as rationality is a distinguishing feature of humans.
Also, Kant gives irrational basis for not taking consequences into account because it is against humans’ natural disposition. Deontology offers a less flexible approach as Kant felt that consequences were unreliable when in the real sense, it is absolutely untrue. The theory is weak because it gives room for blatantly immoral acts. This is because, on the face of it the maxim ‘kill anyone who gets in your way’ could be easily universalised but it is clearly immoral.
But, this weakness can be outweighed by its strengths as theories like the categorical imperative and the first maxim offers humanity a deontological framework which upholds justice and equality. For this reason, a key strength is that, deontology considers the importance and emotions of humans because, it emphasizes that, by simply doing our duty for its own sake and ignoring the results we can avoid using people for our own benefit, and treat humans impartially.
To conclude, although deontology holds close relations to divine command (Ten Commandments) and is seen as outdated, it is important in how it fosters personal relationships in the universe and our respect to others. Thus, emphasizing the fact it is universal in nature. However, Kant’s theory holds certain similarities to Natural moral law as both Kant and Aquinas dictate what can and should be performed on earth which in the real sense, cannot be effectively performed. This shows that the weaknesses do outweigh its strength as ethical theories like deontology ought to fulfil their practical function of helping to solve moral dilemmas.