Utilitarianism And Deontology Essays

The following is an excerpt from article DE197-1 from the Christian Research Institute. The full pdf can be viewed by clicking here.


Ethics Theories- Utilitarianism Vs. Deontological Ethics

There are two major ethics theories that attempt to specify and justify moral rules and principles: utilitarianism and deontological ethics. Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world in the writings of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

There are several varieties of utilitarianism. But basically, a utilitarian approach to morality implies that no moral act (e.g., an act of stealing) or rule (e.g., “Keep your promises”) is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, the rightness or wrongness of an act or rule is solely a matter of the overall nonmoral good (e.g., pleasure, happiness, health, knowledge, or satisfaction of individual desire) produced in the consequences of doing that act or following that rule. In sum, according to utilitarianism, morality is a matter of the nonmoral good produced that results from moral actions and rules, and moral duty is instrumental, not intrinsic. Morality is a means to some other end; it is in no way an end in itself.

Space does not allow for a detailed critique of utilitarianism here. Suffice it to say that the majority of moral philosophers and theologians have found it defective. One main problem is that utilitarianism, if adopted, justifies as morally appropriate things that are clearly immoral. For example, utilitarianism can be used to justify punishing an innocent man or enslaving a small group of people if such acts produce a maximization of consequences. But these acts are clearly immoral regardless of how fruitful they might be for the greatest number.

For this and other reasons, many thinkers have advocated a second type of moral theory, deontological ethics. Deontological ethics is in keeping with Scripture, natural moral law, and intuitions from common sense. The word “deontological” comes from the Greek word deon which means “binding duty.”

Deontological ethics has at least three important features. First, duty should be done for duty’s sake. The rightness or wrongness of an act or rule is, at least in part, a matter of the intrinsic moral features of that kind of act or rule. For example, acts of lying, promise breaking, or murder are intrinsically wrong and we have a duty not to do these things.

This does not mean that consequences of acts are not relevant for assessing those acts. For example, a doctor may have a duty to benefit a patient, and he or she may need to know what medical consequences would result from various treatments in order to determine what would and would not benefit the patient. But consequences are not what make the act right, as is the case with utilitarianism. Rather, at best, consequences help us determine which action is more in keeping with what is already our duty. Consequences help us find what is our duty, they are not what make something our duty.

Second, humans should be treated as objects of intrinsic moral value; that is, as ends in themselves and never as a mere means to some other end (say, overall happiness or welfare). As we will see in Part Two, this notion is very difficult to justify if one abandons the theological doctrine of man being made in the image of God. Nevertheless, justified or unjustified, deontological ethics imply that humans are ends in themselves with intrinsic value.

Third, a moral principle is a categorical imperative that is universalizable; that is, it must be applicable for everyone who is in the same moral situation. Moral statements do not say, “If you want to maximize pleasure vs. pain in this instance, then do such and such.” Rather, moral statements are imperatives or commands that hold for all examples of the type of act in consideration, such as truth telling. Moral statements say, “keep your promises,” “do not murder,” and so forth.

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April 17th, 2009by Christian Research Institute | Type: Standard

Filed Under: Bioethics, Christian Articles

Utilitarianism, deontological, and virtue theory ethics are three normative approaches to ethics. This paper will go over the similarities and differences between virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological principles. It will include information of the variations in how each concept details ethics, morality, and it will also discuss a personal experience to describe the correlation between virtue, values, and moral perceptions as they relate to one of the three theories.

Similarities and Differences

Virtue theory emphasizes character traits rather than the rules or consequences while deontology is described as an action that is right only if it is in accordance with a moral rule or principle. Utilitarianism puts more emphasis on the consequences and that decisions should be made based on happiness for the greatest number of people.

Virtue theory does not judge a person as good (or not) based upon one single action in their lives. Rather, it takes a look over time to judge ones character. Virtue theory also looks at past mistakes that are not normally in a person’s historical nature. For example, a virtuous person is someone who is kind across many situations over a lifetime because that is their character and not because they want to maximize utility or gain favors or simply do their duty (“Virtue,” 2010).

Utilitarianism usually relies on predicting the consequences of an action. Utilitarianism sets that an action is morally right when the action produces more total utility for the group than any other alternative (Boylan, Chapter 12, 2009). In this ethical theory, the consequences should fully be considered, as it will affect the most people.

Deontological ethical theory places more weight on the adherence to obligations and duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma. This emphasis is placed on the action itself rather than the outcome of an action. Religious denominations practice this ethical theory because rules, such as the Ten Commandments are meant to be followed.

Virtue ethics focuses on the benefits, or ethical personality, whereas deontology focuses on responsibilities or guidelines. Utilitarianism focuses on the repercussions of activities. Virtue ethics is also called agent-based or personality ethics. When using the quality principles approach, one should take the point of view that in living their lifestyle they should try growing quality in all that they do (Boylan, Chapter 11, 2009). Utilitarianism is a way of consequentialism; significance that the ethical worth of an activity is established by its results. Utilitarianism indicates that an activity is fairly right when that activity generates more total application for the group than any other alternative (Boylan, Chapter 12, 2009). Deontological principles mostly judge the activity, depending on the action’s sticking with a concept or guidelines. This principle uses guidelines and responsibilities to determine what is “right.” Deontology preserves the wrongness of activities in the kind of activity that it is, rather than the repercussions it triggers.

Personal Experience

The fundamental principle of the military is a typical representation of utilitarianism. From when one takes the oath of enlistment to the final day of active duty, the Navy instills the importance of virtues, values, and the correct moral actions. The virtue of the Navy is characteristic to an all-volunteer force serving today. Specifically, to be accepted and to serve in the military is an honor. I believe it is seen as a privilege from those serving to represent and defend our country. The value is shown in the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These simple principles give Navy members a focus and demonstrate their worth to the organization. The moral concept of protecting the countries national interests through the utilization of military force is yet another inherent part of the United States Navy. As a military organization, the Navy falls in line with the utilitarianism theory because it is the daily mission that calls for accomplishing what is right for this nation.

Ethical development is necessary to our culture. The similarities and differences between virtue theory, utilitarianism, and deontological began with defining each on their own values. In addition, my personal experience addresses how each theory identifies ethics and morality in relation to personal experiences with virtue, values, and moral concepts for a United States Navy service member.

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