Deontological ethics is too rigid in its emphasis on duties, utilitarian
ethics too keen to override basic human rights.
Deontology and utilitarianism are both types of ethics referring to how one
reacts in a certain situation. Deontology is based on following a set of duties and
sticking to these duties no matter what the consequences whereas utilitarianism is
based on choosing the best outcome over a short term and long term even if it means
depriving people of basic human rights for example. However does this mean that
deontological ethics is too rigid in its emphasis on duties and that utilitarian ethics is
too keen to override basic human rights?
According to a deontologist ones actions must be determined by a set of duties
regardless of whether the long term consequences are good or bad. A deontologist
believes in human morals and that every human has certain rights and these morals and
rights should not be betrayed no matter what the cost for example sacrificing one life
to save one hundred lives would be unacceptable to the deontologist despite the fact
the consequences would be better overall.
The biggest problem with deontology is knowing which set of duties to follow,
there could be a great variation in systems between people from different backgrounds,
different social classes, different religions and people from different cultures. For
example a Protestant English Lord would have different morals and a different set of
duties than a lower class Indian Hindu. It is very difficult to tell which set of duties, if
any, is the right one.
Deontologists suffer many problems when their duties seem to conflict with
themselves or with other duties. One has a duty to save lives but what if in order to do
this one must betray another duty for example a husbands sick wife needs life saving
medicine but the husband cannot afford to buy it, should he steal the medicine in order
to save his wives life or should he not betray his morals and allow his wife to die. This
raises the question as to how do we tell which duty is the most important and which is
the least? If the consequences of each are to be considered then this would make it a
consequentialist view and not a deontological one. Single duty conflicts cause just as
many problems such as two people imminently need a heart transplant but only one
organ is available, a deontologist has a duty to save lives but on this occasion only one
out of the two can be saved. This is known as the doctrine of double effect and is said
that since it is impossible to save both lives, ones duty to save lives has not been
Deontology does encounter many problems but also has a number of merits.
Since deontologists refuse to betray human rights, every human is guaranteed these
rights will not be broken. Deontology would also normally let justice prevail and this is
a good quality indeed.
According to Utilitarianism On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, mankind is under
the governance of two sovereign masters one being pleasure and the other being pain
and this in itself determines what we should do and what we actually do. " By the
principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every
action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or
diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question. " (J.S. Mills).
According to utilitarian ethics the community at large is considered to be the party in
question and so the interest of the community is the sum of the interests of the
individual or the sum total of the communities pleasures against the sum total of its
pains. A man may be said to be a utilitarian when his actions are determined by the
consequences which will increase the total amount of pleasure throughout the parties
involved or to reduce the total amount of pain...
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