Chapter  2:  Ethical Traditions   

Section 9: Deontological Theories

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These theories of the GOOD hold that actions are intrinsically right or wrong. They are right or wrong in themselves and irrespective of their consequences. They are traditionally associated with Kantian duty but can also be linked to ethical systems, which uphold absolute moral norms and human rights. Deontologists hold that one cannot undertake immoral acts like torture of spies even if the outcome is morally preferable, such as the early ending of a war. It is contrasted with Teleological/consequentialist ethical theories.  From the Greek deon meaning right or obligation: The rationality of moral obligation. A Normative Ethical theory most often associated with the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) which maintains normative evaluations are rooted in some intrinsic feature of an action which gives rise to an obligation or duty.

In a 'Deontological' system of ethics the consequences of an action are generally irrelevant to moral assessment. 

Rather, morality comes about from a rational agent's recognition of its duties toward others. These duties can be grounded in different ways, from divine revelation to objective rational principles. 

While each type of Deontological theory finds the locus of our moral obligations in different places, they all contend that 'goodness' resides in our ability to recognize and keep moral obligations; the consequences of our actions are of only secondary concern, if at all.  

In the next sections several deontological theories will be examined.

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

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