Teleology Deontology Compare Contrast Essays

Essays > Deontology and Teleology

One of the preeminent dilemmas of contemporary philosophy for the everyday person is the emphasis on a teleological theory or a deontological theory of ethics. They contravene each other thusly: the teleological theory prioritizes the ends of an action and thereby judges its moral nature while the deontological theory assigns priority to the obligation of one to act in a morally satisfactory fashion. The former can be said to be primarily concerned with human welfare and general societal well being, while the latter applies on a universal level to all without the ends being a factor for moral judgment. In this paper, I will illustrate the arguments pertaining to John Stuart Mill's teleological utilitarianism and Immanuel Kant's deontological categorical imperative.

In Utilitarianism, Mill generated an encompassing code of ethics by the same name (utilitarianism). In doing so, he articulated several key principles to the role one's morality should play and the manner in which it must do so. The first is that actions will be right as much as they promote the general happiness, and conversely, as wrong as they promote unhappiness. Ergo, actions are evaluated morally based upon their consequences, not the actual act itself. Moreover, since happiness is the quantifiable justification for moral actions, Mill elucidates the struggle to measure moral good by declaring that each person's happiness is equal to another's.

However, Mill concedes that Utilitarians who have "cultivated their moral feelings but not their sympathies" will be prey for the trap of mistaking character and the morality of actions for irrelevant. Apparently, they have some small significance worth noting. Indeed, he goes on to also cedes that the ethics can be very rigid, as one makes it, or very lax, as one deems.

Considering Mill's own concessions, one sees objections clearly: do not intentions have a role in morality? How can you apply morality to an agent that does not understand morality? At what cost do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one? Utilitarianism seems to put happiness into a business ledger. Sacrifices are okay if a greater profit can be gained.

On the other hand, Kant's deontological approach arrives at different conclusions. That is because in "The Categorical Imperative," he places emphasis exclusively upon the will of actions, the Good Will, not the consequences of the actions. Kant believes that the good will is a condition for happiness. As such, Kant considers that even if the good will lacks any means by which to accomplish something good, the good will remains a suitable end in itself. Three propositions follow this, according to Kant:

(i) One's will to actions of duty, prescribed by what is morally good, is a condition for being morally good. Not to act "as duty requires," but to act "because duty requires" (Kant 550).
(ii) Consequences are irrelevant because action through good will according to duty becomes its own moral worth.
(iii) As a consequence of the first two propositions, duty becomes the necessity of acting with respect for the law. It's another matter where respect must be present versus inclination.

With duty subsisting as central to Kant's approach, the categorical imperative becomes clear. When deciding what is morally good or not, one must inquire: would I will that the rule I am following for my action (or "maxim") be a universal law? If it is, then the maxim will be on sound moral ground.

It seems that Kant describes a rather rigorous code of ethics. For example, Kant does not believe that under any circumstances it is morally permissible to lie. To lie would make a person a means to an end, which is not good, but also to apply a maxim that would enable people to lie all the time. If people did that because it was morally all right, then civilization would surely ground to a halt. The objection becomes clear: what if all one had to do was say he sees six lights instead of five lights, which is the truth, in order to save the universe?

It's quite a quandary. If one were to follow the utilitarian approach to the light dilemma, then the universe would easily be saved. If one were to follow the categorical imperative, the universe would be destroyed- along with the good will of the person who told the truth. Though many, including myself, operate somewhere in between these two poles of ethical theory, it is no doubt because of compromise between the two, and a sacrifice of some value to make it so. At the very least, Kant and Mill still stand as consistent, moral ideals that people can continue to ascribe to.

Work Cited
Kant, Immanuel. "The Categorical Imperative." In Questioning Matters, ed. Daniel Kolak, 547-555. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000.

Compare and Contrast deontological and teleological ethical systems

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