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Deontology Versus Utilitarianism: the Difference in Ethics

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Do you know the difference between what is right and what is wrong? The ideas and differences between right and wrong are the studies of ethics. You are home in the evening with your family. You happen to hear the glass break from your front door while watching a movie with your family, the knob is turning and your front door is open. You run to your bedroom and grab your gun for protection. Do you shoot the intruder to protect yourself and your family? Or do you attack the intruder or shoot him in a non-fatal area and tie him up, then call the cops? The more suitable question is: which one should you do because it is morally right? Your choice will depend on which theory of ethics best fits your core values and beliefs. I believe the second option is more suitable to not kill the intruder because this presents the possibility of a better account of moral rightness. The consequentialist (utilitarian) normative theory gives us a morally right choice without completely losing our humanity in the process of this intruder case.

Firstly, consequentialism inspects what is right or wrong based on the outcomes. Utilitarianism is a branch of consequentialism and focuses mostly on the outcomes when deciphering right from wrong. Accordingly, the definition of consequentialism: the theory that the value and especially the moral value of an act should be judged by the value of its consequences (‘Definition of CONSEQUENTIALISM’, 2019.)

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Additionally, utilitarianism explores the most morally correct action is the one that creates the best for ALL parties involved, everyone’s happiness counts the same. Likewise, actions will yield the greatest positive outcomes or results for the greatest number of people involved. John Stuart Mill adapted utilitarianism into a more hedonistic approach utilizing the concept of being good equals pleasure and avoiding pain. According to deontology, an ethical theory that uses rules to distinguish right from wrong, some acts are always wrong. Deontology states, these actions are always judged separately from their outcome. Therefore, an act can be morally bad, but may intentionally lead to a favored outcome. Often associated with this ethical theory is Immanuel Kant, he states there are rules to distinguish right from wrong. Some of these moral, universal rules are: “Do not lie, Do not cheat and Do not steal.” Kant believed that human beings are original, rational beings in contrast to animals.

Deontology does not require weighing the costs of the results of our actions or take into consideration the consequences like utilitarianism, which is based on the final consequence of our actions. However, deontology may not consider the subjectivity or outcomes because you only have to follow certain rules. Utilitarianism would frown because abiding one hundred percent by the rules would produce risky and dangerous outcomes. Applying deontology to your own lives involves a simple application of following the rules and doing our moral duty. Take into account the question: “Do you shoot the intruder to protect yourself and your family?” The case of the intruder shows up at your house and according to deontological theory, you must protect your family members, so you kill the intruder. Remember, deontology states the action and the outcome are independent things. Therefore, deontology says to focus on your act of family protection (action) and not focus on the action of killing (result) because they are measured separately. According to deontology killing the intruder is the wrong thing because you disobeyed the rules. However, killing actions are not made right because it will not promote long term happiness, even though you protected the family you still murdered. Consequently, you still broke a rule, “Do not kill.”

Unfortunately, the deontology theory does not consider what is good for anyone else or society, just the sense of duty to others, duty to defend family and it is not our problem of what happened to him. Kant states your basic maxim is to do whatever it takes to keep your family safe. Killing is intrinsically wrong, and cannot be made right by any good consequences in the long effects. Justifiably, if it is your sense of duty to guard your family, then you must kill your son’s bully at school or spouses tattling coworker. In fact, it goes against the instinct of right versus wrong. If you kill once, then it will be okay to kill again later and follow the rule of protecting the family.

Therefore, you have broken the law and killed, even if it was an act of protection, not an intentional plot to kill. Deontology is great on paper but when applying to real life, it is difficult to choose between two evils? Sometimes there may be one unacceptable action, but other actions may be accepted and Kant does not say which is the most correct. Likewise, Kant’s acting based on fulfilling your duty or acting in compliance with duty, therefore still making it wrong. Deontology has no room for gray areas and utilitarian is good for all. Taking into consideration the same case of an intruder breaking in and analyzing it based on ALL sides, even by the intruder’s viewpoint, wanting the good for ALL in this situation. There are good consequences of this act (not killing) which make it right in the utilitarian argument. Mill says to consider the right of an intruder before I shoot him, tie him up and call the cops or shoot in a non-fatal location, consider ALL of the people involved. According to utilitarianism not killing the intruder was the right thing because you saved a life. Moreover, the act is a good act because it is the most positive outcome, no one died and then down the road the intruder can receive counseling, help and may just make a turn in the future in the right direction with his life.

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