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Ryerson University
PHL 302
Glen Hoffmann

1 October 2, 2009 NURSING ETHICS – LECTURE 3 I – Ethical Theories • We have begun the course with an inquiry into theoretical ethics. • What theoretical framework should govern the examination of ethical issues? • This is a normative project: what norms, principles, or standards ought to govern the moral propriety of actions? • Before we can begin to examine ethical issues or dilemmas that arise in particular healthcare situations, we need one or more theoretical frameworks to apply to these dilemmas. 2 • Last week, we discussed one ethical theory: utilitarianism. • Utilitarianism: actions that maximize utility (bring about the most utility for the most amount of people) and minimize disutility are morally justified. • This week, we will look another important ethical theory: deontology (or Kantian ethics). • Next week we will look at another prominent ethical theory: virtue ethics. 3 II – Deontology • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a highly influential German th 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 the theory known as ‘deontology’. • 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 deontological theory views ethics as being based on a logic of duty. • 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 strictly on their consequences. • Rather, actions are primarily morally assessed in and of themselves. -Is the action itself a good one? -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. 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. • Now we might ask, 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 maxim that we 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 would appear to be 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 and to avoid certain others. • Kant claims that once we look at what reason dictates our duties are, we isolate a rational basis for the moral assessment of actions. 7 • The third main feature of Kant’s deontology is that it holds that the moral assessment of actions has an objective basis. • This goes hand in hand with the second feature. • The moral assessment of actions is supposed to be based on the logic of duty. • Duty is supposed to provide us with reasons, to govern the moral assessment of actions, which are rational (by definition) and objective they apply universally. • One way to see this point is to take a look at what Kant claims is the rational and objective test for the moral propriety of any action. • Kant claims that for an action to be morally beyond reproach, the action needs to be universalizable in the sense that it can be willed as a universal law. E.G.: I must only keep my promises when they benefit me. -This cannot be universalized without contradiction. -It undermines the practice of promise-giving (no one would put stock in promises). 8 E.G.: one should never lie. -Kant calls this a ‘categorical imperative’. -It tells us what to do in all situations. -This can be universalized, at least wit
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