Deontological Ethics – Duty-Based Morality
Deontological ethics is a theory of morality based on a “nonconsequentialist” view of people and moral decision-making. Deontology comes from the Greek word for “duty.” Thus, deontological ethics maintains that actions are not justified by their consequences. Rather, factors other than good outcomes determine the “rightness” of actions. Unlike utilitarianism, where “the ends justify the means,” deontologism argues that it is the “means that are important.”
Deontological Ethics – The Categorical Imperative
Deontological ethics is grounded in the “Categorical Imperative,” which was first developed by German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in his “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals” (1785). The Categorical Imperative simply declares, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.” Are you willing to permit everyone to adopt the action? If Yes, your action is moral. If No, your action is immoral. In a nutshell, our internal responses are more revealing than our outward professions when we flip the moral actions back on ourselves.
Although the Categorical Imperative is very similar to the “Golden Rule” of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), deontologism generally rejects any moral theory grounded in God or a higher, absolute truth. At its core, deontological ethics is a naturalistic, duty-based theory of objective, cultural morality that somehow transcends and connects the subjective realities of each individual in the culture. Wait, does that really work?
Deontological Ethics – How Do We Really Determine Right and Wrong?
Dr. Joel Marks is one of the latest scholars of deontological ethics to publicly declare that there’s no difference between right and wrong. In fact, as an “ethicist” scholar at the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Professor Marks now honestly believes:
“The religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality."1
Through a series of articles in Philosophy Now, Dr. Marks fully developed his “Amoral Manifesto”.2 In the process, he had an "anti-epiphany," in which he rejected deontology and realized that “morality was nothing more than a fuzzy subjective feeling.”
"I retain my strong preference for honest dialectical dealings in a context of mutual respect. It's just that I am no longer giving premises in moral arguments; rather, I am offering considerations to help us figure out what to do. I am not attempting to justify anything; I am trying to motivate informed and reflective choices.... But this won't be because a god, a supernatural law or even my conscience told me I must, I ought, I have an obligation. Instead I will be moved by my head and my heart. Morality has nothing to do with it."3
Deontological Ethics – Duty-Based Morality or Fuzzy Feeling?
Dr. Marks' coming-out party reminds me of another shindig shortly after President Obama’s inauguration. In early March 2009, with a cloud of witnesses in the East Room of the White House (“more happy scientists than I’ve seen,” said Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science), President Obama abolished the Bush-era restraints on stem-cell research and declared the following:
“Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda—and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”