My Problem With Deontological Ethics

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Reply Sat 19 Jan, 2008 12:06 pm
I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about philosophy in general, so I was hoping someone could help me with this problem I have with deontological ethics... mainly... why?

It seems to me like there's no reason to follow any form of deontology.

For example, why shouldn't I lie?
Because it's wrong.

Why is it wrong?

Whereas a consequentialist might argue that we shouldn't lie all of the time, most of the time, or some of the time because lieing is harmful to society, why would a deontologist support anything?

After all, unless I am gravely mistaken, deontologists believe we should make decisions based on if a certain action is right or wrong, but not if the consequence of the action is right or wrong.

So how would you determine if an action is right or wrong, good or bad? Obviously, deontologists can't claim that an action is wrong because it could, for example, cause the death of someone. Then the deontologists would effectively be consequentialists...

So the question is:

How do deontologists determine if an action is right or wrong?
 
de Silentio
 
Reply Tue 22 Jan, 2008 07:46 pm
@krazy kaju,
[quote]How do deontologists determine if an action is right or wrong?[/quote]

Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. - Kant

From what I understand, Kant's moral philosophy is derived from his metaphysical philosophy. I have just begun trying to understand Kant's metaphysical philosophy, so I have not had the chance to see how. Perhaps another could expound on this.

Either way, I feel that deontologists have the advantage of looking beyond the surface of actions. What is right in an action comes from the universality that is the human condition. If an act can be universal good for mankind, then it is the right action to perform, not when it has the most benefit, but all the time. Why should right and wrong be determined per situation? Should whimsical humans be trusted with this responsibility?

You might find Rule Utilitarianism interesting. As opposed to Act Utilitarianism, a Rule Utilitarianist will come to the same conclusions about an action as would a deontologist.

Quote:
After all, unless I am gravely mistaken, deontologists believe we should make decisions based on if a certain action is right or wrong, but not if the consequence of the action is right or wrong.


Deontologists say you should judge the action, not the consequence of the action.

------

(This is Kant's deontology at least, I think)
 
Billy phil
 
Reply Tue 22 Jan, 2008 08:38 pm
@de Silentio,
Deontologists also act in a manner that is self-perceived as self-sacrifice for teh greater good.

Eudaimonists act for self-actualization, or self-percieved self-interest.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Tue 22 Jan, 2008 10:06 pm
@krazy kaju,
I have three problems with deontology:

1) there may be situations in which you need to violate one moral to uphold another, and deontology cannot satisfactorily guide this decision without resorting to utilitarianism

2) deontology forces you to uphold morals even when a particular situation makes them ridiculous

3) deontology presupposes metaphysics, because morals have to be grounded in something -- and metaphysics feels awfully arcane to me
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 11:25 am
@de Silentio,
de Silentio wrote:
Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. - Kant

From what I understand, Kant's moral philosophy is derived from his metaphysical philosophy. I have just begun trying to understand Kant's metaphysical philosophy, so I have not had the chance to see how. Perhaps another could expound on this.

Either way, I feel that deontologists have the advantage of looking beyond the surface of actions. What is right in an action comes from the universality that is the human condition. If an act can be universal good for mankind, then it is the right action to perform, not when it has the most benefit, but all the time. Why should right and wrong be determined per situation? Should whimsical humans be trusted with this responsibility?


Perhaps I stated the question wrong.

It's always seemed to me that deontological moral theories have a giant black hole in them. They state you should follow certain rules. For example, Kant's categorical imperative.

But why?

How will I, or anyone else for that matter, benefit from following the categorical imperative?

How do deontologists determine if an action is wrong? Ignoring Kant for now, why would you follow a law like "Thou shalt not kill?" Why would you follow a law with no rationale behind it?

Followers of the categorical imperative might say that an action is wrong because if it was a universal law the world would be worse off. But say you were in deep poverty and had to rob someone for food and money. But if everyone robbed each other, the world would be worse off, so this action is ethically wrong, according to the categorical imperative, even though you might've saved your family by robbing that person for food and money.

[quote]You might find Rule Utilitarianism interesting. As opposed to Act Utilitarianism, a Rule Utilitarianist will come to the same conclusions about an action as would a deontologist.[/quote]

... No they wouldn't.

A rule utilitarian follows certain general rules because the consequence of acting against those rules would not cause the greatest amount of pleasure/least amount of pain attainable.

For example, not killing unless your life is in imminent danger is a general 'rule'.

On the other hand, a deontologist follows a rule just because the rule says you should follow it. The deontologist isn't concerned with the outcome of the actions (or then he'd be a consequentialist and not a deontologist).

Quote:
Deontologists say you should judge the action, not the consequence of the action.


Again, with the exception of Kant, how should we judge an action?
How do we ascertain if an action is right or wrong?

You need a rational basis for everything. Consequentialists have one but deontologists don't. You can't just judge an action without judging its results.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 11:47 am
@krazy kaju,
krazy kaju wrote:
You need a rational basis for everything. Consequentialists have one but deontologists don't. You can't just judge an action without judging its results.

That's the consequentialist argument. The deontologic argument is that it's irrational to judge an action by its results, because results can be unpredictable and you have to decide on an action before knowing the results. A deontologist would say it's rational to procede from first principles -- whether they're rational first principles like Kant's (act in a way that you would have your action become a universal rule) or they're theistic first principles like "Thou shall not kill" (which are only rational if you accept the theistic authority behind them).
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 12:27 pm
@krazy kaju,
Well, no theistic belief can be rational by definition. You're simply accepting something as fact without evidence.

As for Kant, I still don't see how his "universal law" idea is rational. First of all, it still focuses on the consequences of actions in a way, so in itself, it is somewhat consequentialist. Secondly, it deems actions immoral by effectively saying, "well, if everyone else did it, then..." This reasoning doesn't fit every single situation. Take this as an example:

A criminal took you and your family hostage. You know for a fact that he will kill you and your family. You either have to kill him or let your family and yourself die.

So what would Kant say? You can't kill the captor because if everyone killed one other person then the world would be worse? But if you don't kill the captor you're essentially killing your family and yourself... which is also wrong according to Kant. You shouldn't commit suicide and you shouldn't kill your family.

Whatever you do, your actions are immoral. I don't see how a case can be made for the categorical imperative being rational when it causes such huge contradictions.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 03:01 pm
@krazy kaju,
krazy kaju wrote:
Well, no theistic belief can be rational by definition. You're simply accepting something as fact without evidence.

That's not what the Scholastics thought, or predecessors to them like Maimonides. People believed for centuries that prophets were equivalent to philosophers, and therefore it was rational to build logical systems on prophecy. People did rational God proofs that are logically unassailable (which still doesn't prove existence -- it only proves logical coherence).

Quote:
First of all, it still focuses on the consequences of actions in a way, so in itself, it is somewhat consequentialist.

How so? He only talks about how one should act, not what one should accomplish.

Quote:
Secondly, it deems actions immoral by effectively saying, "well, if everyone else did it, then..."

That's not what it says... it says that when presented with a situation, you should act in a way that you think would be a universal rule for everyone. In other words, if you're about to steal a loaf of bread, would you universilize this action such that everyone must steal that loaf of bread if given the opportunity?

Quote:
This reasoning doesn't fit every single situation. Take this as an example:

A criminal took you and your family hostage. You know for a fact that he will kill you and your family. You either have to kill him or let your family and yourself die.

Well that's the problem I raised with deontology. It causes conflicts between divergent morals, and it forces you to defend silly morals in very extreme circumstances like the one you've raised.

Quote:
I don't see how a case can be made for the categorical imperative being rational when it causes such huge contradictions.

Have you read how he derives it in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals? It's a lot more complicated than that, and he does derive it rationally. You may not find it a satisfying moral scheme, but I think it is deeply rooted in reason.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 04:03 pm
@krazy kaju,
Well I need to do some more reading on deontology for sure, so I'll be picking up some of Kant's work later, when I have more time.

Quote:
That's not what the Scholastics thought, or predecessors to them like Maimonides. People believed for centuries that prophets were equivalent to philosophers, and therefore it was rational to build logical systems on prophecy. People did rational God proofs that are logically unassailable (which still doesn't prove existence -- it only proves logical coherence).


If we're going to debate the existence of God, maybe we should do it in the philosophy of religion or forum, or better yet, in the debate forum!

My point in that was that there is no rational reason to believe in God. The beginnings of the universe, earth, mankind, etc. have already been explained in a rational manner by science. Why would one believe in an infinitely complex being existing before the simple singularity?

Furthermore, there is absolutely no rationality behind believing that one's prophets are better than the other's, or that one's texts are the only really sacred texts. Even if God was a logical concept, there is no way you could prove that one religion is the true religion, and therefore, deontology derived from such scriptures, prophets, etc., are irrational.

Quote:
That's not what it says... it says that when presented with a situation, you should act in a way that you think would be a universal rule for everyone. In other words, if you're about to steal a loaf of bread, would you universilize this action such that everyone must steal that loaf of bread if given the opportunity?


That's what I meant.

My meaning by "if everybody else did it, then..." was that if it was a universal law, what would it mean to the human species and the world? i.e. if everyone committed suicide, well, there wouldn't be a human species any more.

That's my limited understanding of the universal law idea.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 04:43 pm
@krazy kaju,
krazy kaju wrote:
Well I need to do some more reading on deontology for sure, so I'll be picking up some of Kant's work later, when I have more time.

I hate reading Kant because he invents so many of his own words. But Groundings is pretty short. It's the flagship document of "rational" deontology -- which doesn't mean it's flawless, but it expresses deontology about as rationally as can be done. Of course that also makes it quite impractical.

Quote:
If we're going to debate the existence of God, maybe we should do it in the philosophy of religion or forum, or better yet, in the debate forum!

My point in that was that there is no rational reason to believe in God. The beginnings of the universe, earth, mankind, etc. have already been explained in a rational manner by science. Why would one believe in an infinitely complex being existing before the simple singularity?

I'm not debating the existence of God, which I don't accept anyway. I'm just saying that there are points of view that regard God as rational. There are other points of view (including among theists, like Kierkegaard) that regard God as irrational.

Quote:
Furthermore, there is absolutely no rationality behind believing that one's prophets are better than the other's, or that one's texts are the only really sacred texts. Even if God was a logical concept, there is no way you could prove that one religion is the true religion, and therefore, deontology derived from such scriptures, prophets, etc., are irrational.

I think you're universalizing rationality more than I do. Go back far enough and everything is irrational. Everything is circular. The reductio ad absurdum hits its circular wall much quicker in religion, however, than in empirical endeavors.

Quote:
My meaning by "if everybody else did it, then..." was that if it was a universal law, what would it mean to the human species and the world? i.e. if everyone committed suicide, well, there wouldn't be a human species any more.

Kant specifically addresses suicide. His argument is not consequentialist -- it's about duty and universal natural law:

Quote:
One sees at once that a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would destroy life by means of the very same feeling that acts so as to stimulate the furtherance of life, and hence there could be no existence as a system of nature. Therefore, such a maxim cannot possibly hold as a universal law of nature and is, consequently, wholly opposed to the supreme principle of all duty.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 06:59 pm
@krazy kaju,
Mmmmkay... Any other works you suggest I read? Maybe something else by Kant? Are there other non-religious deontological ethical theories?
 
Aedes
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 09:05 pm
@krazy kaju,
Another classic one is Gorgias by Plato.

I haven't read this, but The Right and the Good by WD Ross is another.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Fri 15 Feb, 2008 12:23 pm
@krazy kaju,
Actually, I just realized that the example I provided of the categorical imperative being contradictory was wrong.

But it still shows that certain deontological systems are simply ridiculous, if you approach them from a consequentialist stand point... but I'm guessing that is to be expected.
 
 

 
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