Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 14
I – Utilitarianism and Deontology
• Last week we discussed one of the two main normative ethical
• This week we will discuss the other main normative ethical theory:
• Of course, there are other normative ethical theories that have been
• The most common one is called ‘virtue ethics’.
• However, since the nineteenth century, the two dominant ethical
theories have been utilitarianism and deontology.
• Thus we will focus on just these two in this course. 2
II – Deontology
• Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a highly influential German
philosopher of the 18 century.
• His importance in the history of philosophy is enormous.
• His contributions were mostly in the areas of epistemology,
metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics.
• As far as ethics goes, Kant was the first to propose ‘deontology’. 3
• Deontology, like all normative ethical theories, attempts to supply us
with norms to govern the moral propriety of actions.
‘Deontic’: duty or obligation based.
‘Logos’: logic or rationality.
• Kant’s deontology was a theory that saw ethics as being based on a
logic of duty.
-The norms that govern the moral propriety of actions are based on
duties that are logically conceived.
• We will first go over the central features of this theory, and then some
virtues and drawbacks of it. 4
III – Deontology: Central Features of the Theory
• The first main feature of Kant’s deontological ethical theory is that it
is a duty-based theory.
• This implies that it contrasts with consequentialist theories.
Consequentialism: the moral justification of actions is assessed based
on the consequences of those actions.
• Unlike any version of consequentialism, deontology does not morally
assess actions based on their consequences.
• Rather, actions are morally assessed in and of themselves.
• More specifically, for the deontologist, the question is not whether
the action has the right kinds of consequences but whether it is done
for the right kinds of reasons.
-Did the agent perform the action for the right reasons? 5
• The question is, what does it mean for an action to be performed for
the right reasons?
-For the deontologist, an action performed for the right reasons is an
action that one has a duty to perform.
-Generally speaking, if one acts out of a sense of duty, they are acting
for the right reasons.
• But what does Kant mean when he says that we need to act ‘out of a
sense of duty’ to be acting in a morally praiseworthy way?
-The simple answer is that we need to act in accordance with the
following maxim: we should treat every person as an end in him or
herself and never merely as a means to our own ends.
• As we will see, it is quite complex how this kind of maxim is
supposed to govern the propriety of moral actions, but let’s leave
aside that point for now. 6
• Another feature of Kant’s deontological ethical theory is that it is
• Utilitarianism, we’ve seen, is in a sense not based on reason.
-True, we need to calculate the expected utility of an action in a
rational manner to assess its moral status.
-But ultimately what enters into the utilitarian calculus are not
reasons but inclinations ― desires, pleasures, preferences.
-Inclinations are psychological rather than logical or rational
• Kant, on the other hand, claims that the moral assessment of actions
has a rational basis in the form of the duty-based reasons (i.e., logical
reasons) we have to perform certain actions.
-Kant claims that once we look at what reason dictates are our duties,
we isolate a rational basis for the moral assessment of actions.
• This point should become clearer when we