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COGS 3750 (2)

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York University
Cognitive Science
COGS 3750
Rebecca Jubis

1 Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 14 I – Utilitarianism and Deontology • Last week we discussed one of the two main normative ethical theories: utilitarianism. • This week we will discuss the other main normative ethical theory: deontology. • Of course, there are other normative ethical theories that have been proposed. • 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 reason based. • 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 phenomena. • 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
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