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Deontological Ethics – Motivation for behavior

Deontology evaluates the ethicality of behavior based on the motivation of the decision-
maker, and according to a deontologist an action can be ethically correct even if it does not
produce a net balance of good over evil for the decision maker or for society as a whole. This
makes it a useful complement to utilitaniarism because an action that satisfies both theories can
be said to have a good chance of being ethical.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) provided the clearest articulation of this theory in his
treatise groundwork of the metaphysic of morals. for kant, the only unqualified good is a good
will, the will to follow what reason dictates regardless of the concequences to oneself. He also
argued that all our moral concept are derived from reason rather than from experience. Kant
develoved two laws for assessing ethicality. The first is the categorical imperative. “I ought
never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal
law.” This is the supreme principle of morality. There are two aspects to this categorical
imperative. First, kant assumes that a law entails an obligation, an this implies that an ethical law
entails an ethical obligation. The second part of the imperative is that an action is ethically
correct if and only if the maxim that corresponds to the action can be consistently universalized.
Kant’s second rule is a practical imperative for dealing with other people. “act in a way that you
always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as
a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

Everyone is entitled to pursue their own personal goals as long as they do not violate the
practical imperative. This is the Kantian Principle. Treating other as ends acknowledges that we
are all part of society, part a moral community. In the same way that I am to act positively
toward my own ends, I also have a duty to act positively toward their ends.

Weaknesses in deontology, just like other ethical theories, deontology has its problems
and weaknesses. A fundamental problem is that the categorical imperative does not provide clear
guidelines for deciding what is right and wrong when two or moral laws conflict and only one
can be followed. With deontology, consequences are irrelevant. The only thing that matters in
the intention of the decision-maker and the decision maker’s adherence the obey the categorical
imperative while treating people as ends rather than as a means to an end.