Sometimes I really think I can tell the future when I read what I have planned for my next lists. Did I know three months ago that I would study Utilitarian, Libertarian and Deontological ethics right now? No. But it feels like I did, because the timing for this post is perfect. My Kant has been feeling a little left out lately, as I’ve given a lot of attention to competing philosophies lately. So let’s give a hand for one of my favorites–Immanuel Kant and Deontological ethics!
- Duty Ethics. My understanding of duty ethics hinges on this: there is a standard of truth, of right and wrong, that we cannot abolish. When we do the right thing it is not the consequences gained, the severity of the action or the intimacy of the relationship to the action that grants it status as being “right” or “wrong”. Rather, it is the action itself that holds value. We don’t kill people not because it would cause unhappiness, but because it’s the wrong thing to do. For this reason you can call it your “duty” to do the right thing.
- The Universality Clause. So there is a but in that first point. For Kant at least there are Perfect Duties and Imperfect Duties. It depends on Universality, really. Perfect duties state that if making an action universal would lead to the destruction of the logic of the action, then it’s wrong. For instance again, murder. If everyone everywhere murdered, there’d be nobody left to kill. There’d be no people. So it’s wrong to murder. I still consider this to follow the “universal standard of right and wrong” because it causes moral law to follow natural logic of the universe–and that’s all I consider morals to be: a philosophical equivalent to the scientific laws of the universe
- Imperfect Duties. I like the imperfect duties because they follow the natural law of human progression: all humans want to progress. We all want to get better. But it’s a bit unrealistic to say we’ll always be progressing, never take any breaks to watch Kdrama. So when we follow imperfect duties (improve yourself and your talents) then you’re not morally wrong if you’re not always doing so. Another example is giving to charity–it’s a right action, but it wouldn’t cause any breakdown in logic if applied universally. So it’s an imperfect duty, and while I will be commended if I give to charity every day I don’t need to in order to follow the Perfect duties.
- Treat people as ends. Other philosophies tend to treat people as a means to accomplish some action or another. In Utilitarian ethics, it’s permissible to mistreat some individuals if the overall good will be heightened. Kant’s theories do not allow for the suppression of a person’s rights. Treating a person as an end (a final product) means you must interact with them without viewing them as tools to improve yours or others’ existence.
- Autonomy. This one I didn’t know as much about, but Wikipedia is a friend and I like what he has to say about autonomy. As you may know, autonomy is free will and the ability of the individual to choose. Kant says that we ought not act ourselves in any way we would not see universalized. This means that, like the first law of universality, our actions should be monitored by the effect it would have on the universe. It feels a little bit like the golden rule: do unto other as you would have others do unto others. Be an example, essentially. So long as what you’re doing is categorically correct, then you’re in the right.
Make sense? Yeah, it’s a bit confusing at first. And I don’t know if I’m very good at explaining it. But I do know that I like it–especially his ideas of right and wrong. Too many times in the world I think we view right and wrong as being in a constant state of flux–it depends. It depends. It doesn’t always depend, guys. We may not always know what the standard is (which makes things hard) but we have a guide in the natural laws of the universe. And that is why I like Deontology. Ask me about Micro and Macro morals sometime–we’ll have a party.
Thanks for reading,