What Is Deontological Ethics?

So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as a means only.

- Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Kant's Categorical Imperative

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Short Article of the Day

One popular moral theory that denies that morality is solely about the consequences of our actions is known as Deontology. The most influential and widely adhered to version of Deontology was extensively laid out by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Kant’s ethics, as well as the overall philosophical system in which it is embedded, is vast and incredibly difficult. However, one relatively simple concept lies at the center of his ethical system: The Categorical Imperative...

Continue reading Andrew Chapman's article: Introduction to Deontology: Kantian Ethics

Further Reading

The word deontology derives from the Greek words for duty (deon) and science (or study) of (logos). In contemporary moral philosophy, deontology is one of those kinds of normative theories regarding which choices are morally required, forbidden, or permitted. In other words, deontology falls within the domain of moral theories that guide and assess our choices of what we ought to do (deontic theories), in contrast to those that guide and assess what kind of person we are and should be (aretaic [virtue] theories). And within the domain of moral theories that assess our choices, deontologists—those who subscribe to deontological theories of morality—stand in opposition to consequentialists...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Deontological Ethics by Alexander & Moore

Bonus Webcomic

Kant Goes to Poker Night - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in deontological ethics, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Consequentialism | EthicsKant | Virtue

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