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Deontology vs. Consequentialism

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Even though Deontology and Consequentialism can be extremely similar, both contain key factors that make each idea unique and very different. Sometimes, it may appear that both these theories simply arrive at the same conclusion by way of different paths. While this is sometimes true, it is important to understand how these theories differ. Each of these braches of Ethics deals with morals, actions, ethical decisions and judgments. Beyond the surface though, each of these Ethical ideas begin to differ greatly. Deontology is the theory and/or idea that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to the overall rules. Consequentialism is the theory and/or idea that the morality should be judged on the action’s overall outcome or consequences. Both theories judge morality. However, Deontology judges morality based on the actions themselves, while Consequentialism judges morality based on the end reaction. Out of these two ethical theories I believe Consequentialism to be least likely to be false.

As according to the Merriam-Webster, and Kantian ethics, Deontology is defined as the ethical idea of judging the morality of actions based on their adherence to the rules (Merriam-Webster 2013). In simpler terms, this means that actions are judged on whether or not society, or god, or any predetermined standard believes them to be okay. People must act from duty. For example, a Deontologist, or someone who practices Deontology, from the 1850s would judge slavery to be acceptable (Slavery in the United States 2013). However, a Deontologist today would not consider slavery to be acceptable, or in other words, would consider it morality forbidden. This change in judgment is due to the fact that slavery was considered to be widely acceptable in society in the 1850s but now it is considered widely unacceptable. Another principle of Deontology is that the humanity principle, which states that you must always treat humanity with respect (Robbins, Deontology 7). “Humanity” refers to rational, self-governing beings (Robbins, Deontology 8).

Respect refers to treating people in a way that they are not just a means but also an ends (Robbins, Deontology 7). The strongest argument against Deontology deals with this idea of respect, the argument of Vagueness (Deontological Ethics 2013). The argument of Vagueness focuses on three main points. The first of these points being that it is not clear what counts as respectful treatment. The second is tricky cases, how do you apply deontology to cases like truthful gossip or killing in wartime? Lastly, the third point is how to apply the principle of humanity (Robbins , Deontology 9). How do you judge if you are using someone as a means or as an ends, or both, for every situation? Further more, how do you judge whether or not to apply the principle of humanity to confusing or intermediately cases such as babies, or the mentally handicapped?

Under the argument of Vagueness the ideas of Deontology essential fall apart. As according to John Stuart Mill’s philosophies, Consequentialism can be summed up by the idea that the morality of an action is determined by the specific results of that action (Deontology vs. Consequentialism 2013). In other words, it is not the action itself that is being judged, it is the outcome or consequences of the action that determine its morality. For Example, a Consequentialist would say that stealing out of greed is wrong, but stealing to feed your starving family is not. However, stealing to feed your family is only permissible if the person you are stealing from is far better off. We can use the Iraq war as another example of Consequentialism. Even though it is a war, president Bush believed that fighting the war would prevent farther terrorism on American soil. Even though some of the actions have questionable morality, over all, the outcome is good. Therefor fighting the Iraq war is okay, or morally permissible.

The main issue that arises out of Consequentialism is the Measurement Problem” (Robbins, Consequentialism 7). The Measurement Problem addresses the issues of measuring the overall benefits of a situation. The issue is how do you measure if something has positive or negative affects on the outcome? Furthermore, how do you measure the degree of that positive or negative affect? By again using the Iraq example we can demonstrate this issue. Bush may have said that the war overall benefits America because we are reducing terrorism on our soil. However, is it still permissible even though we are destroying parts Iraq’s land and losing lives? Not everyone measures costs and benefits in the same way or units. Something that may be a benefit for one person may be a cost to another. Another issue that comes about from the Measurement Problem is the issues of indefinite future.

How far into the future do we go to determine the cost or benefit of something? Something right now may appear to be a benefit but later turn into a cost. If we all can not agree on how to measure the net utility in a situation then that means that Consequentialism is really just a matter of opinion. If Consequentialism becomes nothing but a matter of opinion then it crumbles as an ethical theory. After reviewing Consequentialism and Deontology, as well as, arguments against them, I believe Consequentialism least likely to be false. As we continue to father develop and understand theories in Ethics and Philosophy we keep coming up with the some conclusion. There is never a universally right answer for everything. The universe, as well as, every morality situation is never completely black or white, there are always a million shades of grey in between.

That being said, I think that Deontology does not give enough flexibility to situations where there is not a black or white answer. Consequentialism is much more practicable and easier to apply to everyday life and real world problems. There is hardly ever a situation that has all completely moral actions behind it. Lets look at an example of why I think Deontology is impracticable and counteractive. If we were to seriously apply deontology, it would mean that if a Nazi solider knocked on your door and asked if you were hiding Jews, which you are, you would have to say yes. Under Deontology It is an immoral action to lie, so by saying yes your action of giving up the hiding Jews is morally permissible. I think most people would disagree with this and say that it would be much more moral to lie and in return help the Jew stay safe. In that case you would be applying Consequentialism. Even though both Deontology and Consequentialism have their flaws. The fact that most people, including myself, would rather lie to save the Jews proves Consequentialism more realistic. Which is why I believe that Consequentialism is least likely to be false.


“Deontological Ethics.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

“Deontology vs. Consequentialism Part 1.” Den of Hydralisks. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

“Deontology About Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

Robbins, Philip. “Consequentialism.” Introduction to Ethics. University of Missouri, Columbia. 7 Mar. 2013. Lecture.

Robbins, Philip. “Deontology.” Induction to Ethics. University of Missouri, Columbia. 21 Mar. 2013. Lecture.

“Slavery in the United States.” Economic History Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.

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