Deontology Vs. Utilitarianism
Deontology and Utilitarianism theory can be simply defined as the idea of the moral quality of an act based on its utility. It focuses on the maximization of utility and minimization of bad utility. It’s feeling minus pain. Deontology is a concept that was established by Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), a German philosopher. It implies duty, or responsibility, a single means of making an ethical conclusion. Deontology can also be looked at as the constitution of this approach, considering a point at which priority is made to these basic rules (Thomson et al. 2000). That philosophy states that it is right when it encourages happiness, and it is wrong when it promotes unhappiness.
Deontology and Utilitarianism are theories that try to specify and justify moral rules and principles. In other words, they attempt to guide humanity into what should be considered right, and what should not be considered right. Utilitarianism is the principle of the right form of action that should be taken to benefit the largest number of people, whereas deontology is a branch of ethics based on responsibility, moral duty, and commitment. Both these theories try to explain the ethics and consequences of one’s actions and behavior, no matter the results. Deontology ethics has been considered rigid in its values on duties, where functional ethics can be used to override basic human rights. These two theories together relate to how one reacts in specific situations. They are used to explain different behaviors based on what is ethically right or wrong in different aspects of human existence. In economics, these theories are instrumental in understanding consumer and firm decisions considering what is beneficial to them and society at large. Humanity is a social being, and it exists because of interacting with other humans and nature. Therefore, there would be no humanity if there were not proper relations and guidelines to direct over these relations.
People must make decisions in their daily lives. And it is these decisions that define what we do with our lives. According to Deontology ethics, every person has a duty of responsibility. It has a lot to do with how the decisions we make affect the other people around us and us. Economics looks at consumers as rational-decision makers. They take steps and react to situations based on the idea of less risk and more benefit. It is logical for one to want something that benefits them the most. And it is also right for them to make a decision while considering the consequences of that particular decision.
Deontology was introduced by Kant as a model that reminds individuals about their moral obligation to act according to the underlying set of principles and guidelines, no matter the outcome. On the other hand, the utilitarianism theory was established by John Sturt Mill, indicating that the results of specific action or decisions determine whether it is justified as right or wrong. The two theories have been used separately and together to explain different actions and their outcome. Many examples relating to the comparison between the two theories have been made for academic purposes. The best comparison can be made using a simple model called duty-based. In this case, the main focus is on what people do, and not the outcomes of their actions. According to Kant, it was necessary for people to focus on doing what is right. Everyone has a moral obligation to do only the right things while refraining from wrong things for reasons that they are considered wrong. In other words, it does not matter the consequences of the action, as long as it was done in good faith.
Widely, Kant insists on the thought that an individual cannot justify an action by showing that it resulted in good results. This is why the theory is sometimes referred to as no-Consequentialist. This name has its roots originating from the Green word deon, which stands for duty. It is, therefore, good to also note that duty-based ethics is concerned with the common principle of the thing common among the people. Kant had a lot of followers, who together argue that certain acts can be seen as right or wrong based on what they are, and the actor has a moral obligation to act accordingly, irrespective of the outcomes resulting from the same. For deontologists, moral rules must be used to guide the universe. For example, the belief it is not right to kill, tell lies, steal, or take any other action might be harmful.
And on the other hand, keeping a promise is the right thing to do. The theory extends into the extreme where it states that one is obligated to do the right thing at all times, even if the result is more harm than good. Not also, deontologists hold on the thought that it does not matter the circumstances under which the actor is operating, they still have to do the right things, irrespective of what comes out in the end. And according to Kant’s thought on the application of the theory, it might look inapplicable. Yet, he still maintains a firm stand on it, that it will often lead to a harmonious coexistence in the society.
In another example, Kant holds that it would be unethical to tell a lie in an attempt to save a friend from murder charges. Even though this decision will have a bad ending for the friend, the actor will be considered to have done right because their actions have moral standing. Most importantly, deontologists believe that every human being should be treated with equal respect, no matter their standing in society. Kant continues to insist that morals or principles are founded on reason (Burnor & Raley 155). Deontology establishes respect and dignity for every person, including those seen as odd by the larger group. And this forms the foundation of modern human rights. In addition, Kantian ethics highlights that some action should never be done, no matter how good the result may be. This idea is a true reflection of how individuals think and/or make decisions. Kant continues to emphasize that moral rules should have the quality of universality. For example, he shows that one should act only according to the maxim and rationally be to universal law or principle.
In other words, moral rules should always carry universal traits where the results must be similar, no matter where they are applied. Kant (21) states that every human being needs to be treated equally regardless of their position in society. He believes that society turns into an ideal environment when people oblige to moral rules. Deontologists look more on the intentions of particular actions. They try to answer why people behave in the way they do, based on a thought that the motive behind an action supersedes the consequences of the action. And this is why the outcomes of action mean so little to them. Kant says that goodwill freely chooses to fulfill its duty, and moral responsibilities emerge from reason.
In summary, Kant’s deontology theory ignores many aspects of human actions and considers them as premeditated events that can be controlled/ regulated by moral rules within the society they exist. For instance, the thought does not consider that some actions come from the sub-conscious response to environmental factors. Some human actions and reactions do not require thinking because there is not enough time to determine their ethical outcomes. Hence, the implications of these actions are judged as immoral instantly. Deontology is more applicable to actions that the actor had time to think about and acted according to the set rules and principles. The theory of seven duties believed to be fundamental to human existence.
First is the duty of beneficence, which emphasizes on assisting other people in increasing their pleasure of better their personality. This duty is followed by that of non-maleficent, which forbids a person from harming other people. The duty of justice comes third, indicating that one should make sure other people receive what is rightfully theirs without being judged based on their knowledge of it. Then there is the duty of self-improvements, which insists that individuals should always strive to make themselves better in all areas of their existence, including social-economic and intellectual wellbeing, among others. This can be echoed by the duty of reparation, where one must recompense others for wrong actions, they do towards them. Kant and the deontology theory agree that humanity is flawed, and no one is perfect. However, an individual ought to make compensation to those if they cause the pain of loss too. He emphasizes that we should never stop other people’s toes for our gain rather treat them as deserving respect. There is also the duty of gratitude, which demands that one is obliged to appreciate those who helped them. In this duty, if anyone does something good to you, have the moral responsibility to return the favor. The last duty is that of promise-keeping. It compels an individual to honor the commitments that they make to others through various interactions.
Mills presents Utilitarianism as a though that stands for the moral rightness or wrongness of the action based on the outcome. He argues that actions are only right if they result in happiness, and where they produce mystery, they are wrong. In simple terms, Mills is saying the end justifies the means. He considers the fact that each one of use strikes to find happiness and pleasure in our actions. And at times, the results of our adventure may be undesirable outcomes of pain and suffering. Mills, therefore, shows that an action is good if it brings about positive results, and it cannot be considered otherwise. And it is wrong where the end result causes bad outcomes.
According to Utilitarianism, therefore, the intention or motive of the action does not have any effect on determining its moral position. Mills gives an example that if a person finds themselves held by armed robbers and lies to them to save their lives, the action is morally right. Even though the person lied, the outcome of their lies is the salvation of their lives. Utilitarian theorists hold that the overall reason for morality in society is to make life better by having more good things. Hence, a person should decrease the number of negative things like unhappiness and pain, leading to human suffering. Mills, therefore, highlights three basic principles that hold the foundation of Utilitarianism. First, he shows he indicates that pleasure and happiness are the only aspects of human life that have real value. Second, those actions are seen as right as long as they end up causing happiness, and wrong where they lead to suffering. Thirdly, in each one’s happiness counts in an equal way.
Mills says that society is obligated to focus only on what makes human life better, encouraging people to engage in activities that promote wellbeing in society. Deontology, on the other hand, focuses more on the action itself, no matter the consequences. These two theories differ a lot in their definition and the definition of morality. Deontologists are more concerned about rules and regulations of morality, as opposed to the purpose of this morality. Nevertheless, the two theories both serve to improve the general wellbeing of society.
Utilitarianism focuses on a person, while deontology is all about the action. In deontology, one must live according to rules, and there is no justification for breaking them. Human actions are motivated by certain things, which should form the basis of judging wrong from right. Utilitarianism has its eye on rules and regulations, while deontology encourages stability of the society. Based on this, Utilitarianism hangs on systems and institution, and not the people. These theorists hold that people cannot be trusted with decisions on certain matters. On the other hand, deontologists trust more in people, which is why they judge an action as right or wrong based on the outcome. Their focus is on the larger society, and there should be no objection to anything that makes a society happy. According to the theory, the greatest objective of life includes creating happiness and please, which is why it encourages giving people freedom of choice. Utilitarianism believes that people are inherently evil. Despite the differences, these two theories are useful in establishing law and order in society. Society remains a dynamic institution that requires changing rules and regulations to accommodate new issues, which makes applying these theories almost impossible.
Author: James Hamilton