Compare Deontology with Utilitarianism

Deontology refers to an ethical theory that was introduced by a German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The theory postulates that individuals have a moral obligation to act in line with prescribed principles and rules irrespective of the outcome. John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, founded the Utilitarian theory that indicates that the outcomes of a particular action or decision determine whether it passes as right or wrong. Overall this paper seeks to analyze and compare ethical theories of Deontology and Utilitarianism. The theory also goes by the name duty-based. It focuses on what people do and not the consequences of their actions. Kant insisted that individuals ought to focus on doing the right thing for the reason that they pass as right and refrain from doing the wrongs things for reasons that they stand as wrong.

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Broadly, Kant insists that one cannot justify a particular action by indicating that it resulted in good consequences which explain why sometimes the theory acquires the name non-Consequentialist. The origin of the name deontology traces back to a Greek word deon, which means duty (Mills 109). Noteworthy, duty-based ethics refer to the popular principle of the thing common among the people. Kant and those who uphold duty-based ethics contend that certain acts pass as right or wrong by what they are and that individuals have a responsibility to act accordingly irrespective of the outcome that results from the same.

Deontologists believe that moral rules ought to guide the universe for instance; they believe it is wrong to kill, tell lies and steal whereas it is right for one to keep promises. The extreme part of the theory is that it indicates that individuals have a responsibility to do the right thing at all times even if the action produces more harm compared to doing the wrong thing. Notably, deontologists indicate that individuals have a duty irrespective of the circumstances to do the right thing and it does not matter whether it produces bad results. Kant suggested that in its application, the theory might look inapplicable but remaining firm on it will often result in the society living harmoniously (Kant 26).

For instance, Kant argues that it would be unethical for one to tell a lie in a bid to save a friend from a murderer. In light of the above, it suffices to assert that people will be considered as doing the right thing if their actions have moral standing. Importantly, deontologists focus on the value of individuals by according equal respect to all human beings. Kant insists that, Moral principles are based on reason (Burnor & Raley 155). Deontology forms the basis of the current human rights since it establishes respect and dignity of every single person including those that stand at odds with the expectations of the larger group. Additionally, Kantian, deontological ethics indicates that some action should never be done irrespective of the good consequences they deliver. The ideology reflects the thinking pattern of the individuals. Importantly, Kant indicated that moral rules should have the quality of universality, for instance, he indicates that, Act only in accordance with a maxim that you can at the same time (rationally) will be to universal law or principle (Burnor & Raley 161).

That implies that the moralrules should have some universal traits in that the consequences ought to be similar irrespective of where they are applied. According to Kant, all human beings require equal treatment regardless of one’s position in society (Kant 21). Kant believes that society becomes ideal when people live within prescribed moral rules. Deontologists focus more on the intention that people have for acting in a particular way. The motive of an action supersedes the outcome of a specific action which explains why the results bear little meaning to them. For instance Kant states that, Goodwill freely chooses freely chooses to fulfill its duty, and moral duties are determined by reason (Burnor & Raley 157).

Overall, Kant’s Deontological theory disregards many aspects of human actions and treats them as premeditated occurrences that can be controlled and regulated using the societal moral rules (Kant 31). The theory does not consider that some action occurs as unconscious responses to the happenings in the environment. Some human actions requires impromptu responses that do not give one time to determine their ethical implications and thus judging the outcome of such actions by their intention stands as immoral in the first place. Deontology only applies to actions that an individual carried out after meditating on them. Deontology observes seven primary duties that they believe that people ought to adhere to in the quest to make the society balanced and upright. The first duty is that of beneficence which entails assisting other individuals to increase their pleasure or improve their character. The second duty of non-maleficence forbids one from causing harm on other people while the third duty of justice indicates that one ought to ensure other people receive what they deserve without being shortchanged whether they know it or not (Kant 43).

The additional duty is the one that dwells on self-improvement where it insists that an individual should always strive to make themselves better in all aspects of their lives including, social, economic, and intellectual among others. The duty of reparation, on the other hand, provides that one ought to recompense others if they act wrongly towards them. The theory agrees that no human being can claim perfection, but if an individual causes pain or loss to the others, the person ought to make fair compensation to the people. He claims that, We should never use people for our own purposes; instead we should treat everyone as having worth in themselves, (Kant 158).

The duty of gratitude demands that an individual ought to benefit individuals who have helped them. The duty means that an individual has a responsibility to return the favor to others for their good deeds towards them. The duty of promise keeping closes the bracket of the seven duties. Promise-keeping compels one to honor commitments that they make to others as they interact in their various activities. Mills defines Utilitarianism as a theory that determines the moral rightness or wrongness of action depending on their outcomes. He asserts that actions stand as for right if they produce happiness and wrong if they produce misery. In other words, Mills holds the view that the end justifies the means. Mills indicate that everyone in the society strives to find happiness and pleasure in their actions and sometimes the consequences of their quest attract the undesired results of pain and suffering (Mills 37).

According to Mills, if an action brings about positive consequences, then it passes as good and no one ought to judge it otherwise, and when it produces bad outcomes, it passes as wrong. Utilitarianism holds the view that the intention or motive of an action has no impact of determining its moral stand (Mills 67). For instance, Mills avers that if someone finds himself in the hands of armed robbers and lies to them to escape, the action passes as morally right. The outcome is that the individual saved his life which stands as a positive outcome even though the person lied at first.

Utilitarians contend that the overall purpose of morality in society entails making life better by way of increasing the number of good things such as happiness and pleasure. They also believe that morality ought to decrease the number of negative things such as unhappiness and pain that causes human suffering. Mills outlined three basic principles that serve as the basis of the utilitarianism. He indicated that pleasure or happiness stand as the only aspect of human life that bear real intrinsic value. He also noted that actions pass as right as long as they promote happiness and wrong as long as they promote unhappiness. The third basic principle indicated each person’s happiness counts in an equal measure (Mills 67).

In general, Mills indicated that society ought to focus on promoting things that make human life better and encourage people to always engage in actions that aim to improve the general well-being of the community. Deontology focuses more on the motive of action as opposed to the outcome of the same action while utilitarianism focuses on the outcome of an action and not on the motive or the means by which the result occurred.

The two theories differ sharply in their definition of morality on the ground that one focuses on the outcome whereas the other one focuses on the process (Mills 45). Importantly, deontologists care much about the rules and regulations of morality as opposed to the purpose of the same morality. Overall, utilitarianism and deontology serve to promote the general well-being of the society only that they differ in their application. Noteworthy, utilitarianism focuses on the person while deontology focuses on the action. In the former, the person ought to live within the provisions of the rules and violating them for whatever reason has no justification. They also believe that human actions have motives and the motives ought to form the basis for judging an action as right or wrong.

Utilitarianism also focuses on rules and regulations while deontology focuses on the stability of the society. In light of the above, utilitarianism believes in systems and institutions and not the people. Proponents of the theory place trust on established institutions as opposed to placing it on people themselves. They also believe that human beings cannot be trusted with decisions on various matters which explains the much focus on judging an action by motive as opposed to the outcome. Deontologists, on the other hand, put trust on people which explains why they judge an action as right or wrong on account of their outcomes. Importantly, deontologists focus on the larger society and anything that brings happiness on the society that cannot be objected. Deontologists believe the greatest objective of life entails creating happiness and pleasure to the people and not to down them with rules (Mills 123). The theory believes in giving people freedom of choice.

The proponents believe that human beings ought to be given free will to decide on the actions they want to partake. They also indicate that freedom involves allowing individuals to do the things they want to do and only judge them by their outcomes. Deontology discourages the use of moral rules in controlling peoples’ behavior. They advocate for freedom of choice and the outcome of consequences. The theory strongly believes that human beings engage in actions that result in the common good of the society if given the freedom to choose what they want to do without imposing moral rules in them.

Utilitarianism, on the other hand, believes that human beings are inherently evil incapable of doing good on their own which means rules stand as essential in the society (Mills 142). They believe that rules motivate or act as stimulants for individuals to do good things. Whereas the two theories have notable differences, they also share similarities. For instance, both theories focus on human beings’ behavior. Behavior forms the basis for the two theories as they believe that society can live in happiness and exercise equality if human beings commit to doing the right thing. Both of them believe that when people do the right thing, then society will achieve general happiness where everyone will find pleasure in life. In the same light, both theories believe that human actions form the basis of morality (Mills 129).

The two theories categorize human action into two categories: right or wrong. The two categories also form the foundations for moral judgment as those who do the things that the society considers good pass as good people whereas those who do the wrong thing pass as bad people. According to Utilitarianism morality provides a means to an end but must never be mistaken for the end itself. Human beings live in a world with rules and regulations made by people who believed that social order could only exist when rules and regulations bar people from engaging in actions that harm others. The society leans towards deontological ideas in that authorities all over the world have rules and regulations that govern the activities of citizens in their respective jurisdictions (Mills 112).

Violating those rules attract punishment which explains the presence of the judiciary and the correctional facilities. Importantly, both Utilitarianism and deontological theories agree that human happiness and pleasure stand as the end reward for good actions. Everyone in society strives to bring joy to oneself and others, but at times some people find themselves doing the wrong thing even as they strive to deliver happiness. Deontology holds that such a person should never be judged as bad on such an account. Importantly, both ethical theories demonstrate rigidity in their principles meaning they cannot accommodate changes in the society. The society remains a very dynamic institution requiring that rules and regulations change to accommodate the emergent issues thus making the application of the two theories almost impossible. Freedom entails living free from rules that govern and determine rights from wrongs and bad people from good people.

Works Cited

  1. Burnor, Richard, and Yvonne Raley. Ethical Choices: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy with Cases. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  2. Kant, Immanuel. “F OR KANT, ETHICS can be defined as the system of the ends of the pure practical reason. The two parts of moral philosophy are distinguished as treating respectively of ends and of duties of constraint. Kant holds that since humans are free (moral) beings, duty is self-constraint. It is because of this that it is possible to combine con-straint with the freedom of the elective will.”
  3. Journey Into Philosophy: An Introduction with Classic and Contemporary Readings (2016): 432. Mill, John Stuart. “Utilitarianism.” Seven Masterpieces of Philosophy. Routledge, 2016. 337-383.
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Compare Deontology With Utilitarianism. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from
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