Deontology and Utlitarianism

Deontology and utilitarianism are both abstract conceptions of ethics, and therefore, partial and defective. Their plausibility derives from two factors:
1) They each get at part of the truth: it is true, as deontologists insist, that principles are an important part of ethics. And it is true, as utilitarians contend, that the consequences of one’s actions are an important part of ethics.
2) Each approach is able to benefit from the defective nature of the other: so long as rationalism is understood as the only possible approach to ethics, then, to the rationalist, deontology appears to be the only alternative to utilitarianism, and vice-versa. So deontologists can strengthen their appeal by pointing out the obvious defects in utilitarianism (it ignores principles), while utilitarians do the same by noting the obvious defects in deontology (it ignores consequences). It is like a war between one’s right leg and left leg over which is the essential limb in walking: each leg can correctly note its importance to the activity, and also note the flaws in the argument of the other limb that it is exclusively essential to perambulation.


  1. This is inconsistent with what you've written previously about consequentialism and utilitarianism. Also, the distinction is usually between "deontology" and "consequentialism". Utilitarianism is not about "the consequences".

    1. Then what were you trying to say in these three posts?

    2. Oh, and utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism.

    3. I was saying that consequentialism is abstract in therefore partial and defective

    4. Yes, utilitarianism is considered a type of "consequentialism", but you have denied that "consequentialism" is actually a separate category of moral theories because all moral theories are about the consequences. It is easy to cast utilitarianism as a form of "deonontology" as "maximize the greatest good for the greatest number" is a rule.

  2. "Consequentialism, I find,is typically espoused by people who like to see themselves as 'hard-headed,' practical, empirical sorts of folks. So, faced with something like the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of WWII, they say, 'Unlike starry-eyed idealists, I am a realist: I consider the consequences. The US won the war; therefore, dropping the bombs was worth it.' … They actually convince themselves that people subscribing to other ethical systems don't think of the consequences of actions! … What the consequentialist is really arguing is not that 'consequences matter' -- absolutely everyone knows that -- but that he gets to decide how much weight to give to different consequences. And obviously one can't do that consequentially! … I guess it shows how easy it is too willfully blind oneself, because it ought to be rather obvious that the US winning the war was not quite the only consequences of dropping the bombs: there is also the minor consequence of a quarter of a million dead Japanese, and many more maimed and injured. The people who object to the bombing do so based on that consequence. … I suspect for many consequentialists the real deal is that as long as they personally like the result of some action, they think it is OK. … But unlike, say, Nietzsche, they don't quite have the guts to come right out and state this baldly. So, they declare themselves 'consequentialists.' But that is not an ethical theory: it is just some camouflage thrown over egoism." — Gene Callahan, Consequentialism, Part II

    Are you no longer of this view?


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