Kant & Deontology

Fulfilling the duties we should all live by.

Lesson Objectives

Appreciate the viewpoint of absolute (universal), deontological ethics

Appreciate why Kant focuses on a Good Will rather than Virtues in ethics

Understand Kant's insistence to act both in accordance with and from duty

Appreciate maxims and why goal-oriented commands are insufficient for ethics

Understand the Universal formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative

Understand the formulation of Humanity for Kant's Categorical Imperative

Key Terms

Universal Ethics



Principal of Universal Law

Principal of Humanity

The Search for Universal Ethics

An Ethics for Everyone?

• If everyone followed the same moral good, it'd get rid of a lot of unjust things like favortism, nepotism, and discrimination. This is the goal of Universal Ethics.

• Remember, absolutism is the metaethical claim that there is at least one rule

which everyone — past, present, and future — must follow (cf. Sec. 2)

• Do we not all share at least some values?

     • All cultures generally protect their children

     • All cultures generally promote truth-telling

     • All cultures generally prohibit harming someone without just cause

• Several moral frameworks have been built with absolutism in mind

     • Divine Command Theory: whatever the gods command is good

     • Deontology: whatever is our universalizable duty is good

     • Utilitarianism: whatever outcome makes the most ppl happiest is good

What is Deontology?

• Deontology is the study of moral duties (not moral virtue or consequence)

     • from the Greek: deon (Gr. "duty") + logos (Gr. "reason")

• We can contrast deontological ethics with teleological ethics (eg. Mill's Utilitarianism) which focuses on the effects or consequences of moral actions

• Instead of character or outcome, the deontologist focuses on the moral principles which ground the fulfillment of one's duties

• Divine Command Theory, Kantian Deontology (ie. Kantianism), and Ross' Prima Facie Duties (Sec. 9) are all examples of deontology. But unlike DCT, Kant (and Ross after him) will claim that reason commands our duties to us

Character 💚 —>   Duties 📜  —>     Actions ⚔️  —>    Consequences 🪦

(Virtue Ethics)       (Deontology)         things happen           (Teleology)