Deontology is an approach that focuses on the moral rightness or moral wrongness of a specific action. It does not look at the consequences of such actions or the characteristics and habits of the actor involved. That means situations are either good or bad based on the action that brought it about.
Here are some of the various pros and cons to deontological ethics that are worth considering.
List of the Pros of Deontological Ethics
1. It is a practical application of the “Golden Rule.”
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule is a long-time standard for human conduct. Many religions even have this concept at the core of their “behavioral expectations” of faith. In deontology, to be ethically right, people can only act in a way where humanity is treated as a means of an action and as an end. People should act in such a way that their actions would become a universal law.
2. It creates a level of personal responsibility.
Deontology also asks that people act as if they were responsible for creating laws and expectations within their society. Actions should only be taken in a way that would harmonize society if all the laws and procedures enacted were to harmonize. Creating disharmony would be considered ethically wrong, so it would be an action to be avoided.
3. It creates a guideline to follow.
In deontology, right is always “right” and wrong is always “wrong.” There are no exceptions to this black-and-white concept, even if the situations rise to the extreme. It is a process where all members of a society can aspire to be virtuous because they understand what is expected of them from an ethical standpoint.
List of the Cons of Deontological Ethics
1. It offers a paradox.
In deontology, there are times when the maximum welfare of society is forbidden. You are tasked with saving lives, but one cannot purposely sacrifice a life to save other lives. The act of killing someone purposely to save others is not allowed as “good,” but neither is allowing others to die if you can take action to prevent it.
2. It can be applied in non-realistic situations.
One form of deontology involves divine commands. Say that God orders that all people not work on Sundays. People who choose not to work because God commanded it are morally right because they followed the command. People who choose not to work because they would rather play video games on Sunday are morally wrong, not because of what they are doing, but because their purpose was to avoid following God’s commands.
3. It is a matter of subjective opinion.
On an excessively windy day, two people look at a group of people who are about to be killed by a trailer. The first person makes an attempt to save their lives by pushing them out of the way. The second person realizes that they might die if they attempted to push someone out of the way, so they yell for the group to move. In deontology, the person yelling is more in the right.
4. It eliminates the idea of self-defense.
Let’s say that you’re a pacifist. You believe that all forms of violence are wrong. In deontology, that means one can never respond with violence, no matter what. Even if you are being attacked by someone violently, you cannot respond in kind. Your only available self-defense is to find a means of escape that does not involve harming yourself or someone else. Because there are no exceptions, it is difficult to always remain ethically “right” in deontology.
5. It could people at risk.
Immanuel Kent introduced deontological ethics in the late 18th century. His argument was that all ethics were absolute. Even lying to a murderer, he argued, to save someone from becoming a victim was morally wrong. His argument is that because ethics are based on the action, a better choice would be to do nothing.
Because the action is the foundation of ethics, the pros and cons of deontological ethics do show us that society can benefit by having clear expectations for decisions. The downfall of this ethical theory is that certain standards will always be subjective, especially when divine commands are included. That means every perspective is individualized, but society will attempt to generalize.
The end result is that some people will always see an action as “right” and others will see it as “wrong,” no matter what.