EECS 690 January 27, 2010 Deontology • Typically, when anyone talks about Deontology, they mean to talk about Immanuel Kant. Kant is THE deontologist. • Deontology is an ethical framework that holds that what makes an action right or wrong is something that is contained in the action itself, and not in its consequences. • Deontology is the study of how to determine what our moral duties are. Rationality • Kant regarded human rationality as a very important consideration, and for several reasons: – Rationality is what separates us from the rest of the animal world (following Aristotle here) – If some action is to be right or wrong, anyone must be able to determine which by means of reason (this allows morality to apply universally among rational beings) – Rationality seems universally accepted as a measure of both moral agency and moral subjecthood. The Categorical Imperative • The categorical imperative is Kant’s test to see if an action can pass as moral. • Kant phrased this test in between 3 and 5 different ways (depending on which Kant scholar you ask) • We will focus on two of these. “The Kingdom of Sovereign Ends” • Since reason is of supreme moral importance, it will be immoral to treat rational beings as if they are not rational beings. • In Kant’s language, “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” • In my language, “Don’t treat people like things. Ever.” • Moral arguments that involve respect and dignity and personal autonomy as inviolable moral principles have the same intuition as Kant does here. The Universal Law • Kant: “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” • One thing that makes this principle work is the idea that what is immoral for one person should be immoral for all others. • This principle is easily confused with the “golden rule” but they are different. Consider the following example: Breaking promises • If you’re considering breaking a promise, consider what would happen if it were a universal law for everyone to break their promises. • In such a case, promises don’t exist, so it is rationally impossible to will that as a universal law. • If an action cannot be willed as a universal law, then it is not moral. The idea is, “If it’s not okay for everyone else to do it, why should it be okay for me?” Universality as a component of morality • This perspective is inspired by David Hume • Many components of morality take the form of widespread conventions. Promises can only exist as the norm, and not an aberration. • Respect for property, nonviolence, government, law and order, etc. are all things that have to be the norm to exist at all. Similarities to Utilitarianism • Utilitarianism and Kantianism will come to the same verdict in almost all practical cases, though the reasoning process is very different. (see Johnson case study) • Both theories are extremely demanding Notable differences: • Utilitarianism is a framework that tell you what to do, Deontology is a framework that mostly tells you what not to do. • Deontology will come to a verdict on a type of action, Utilitarianism will not. (Deontology is inflexible, but consistent) • Deontology does not consider consequences, does not require predictions. Hybrid approaches • James Moor, among others proposes that Deontology will tell you what actions are morally unacceptable, and utilitarianism can select the best action from all the permissible actions. • Another approach uses the framework that seems to best fit the given situation.
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