Set 6: Kantian Ethics

Seeing the Light:
(ch. 2.4)
© 2012. WANDA TEAYS.
All rights reserved.
Deontological ethics
Deontological Ethics focuses on moral duties,
obligations, intentions that guide our ethical
NOT: goals, ends, objectives—those are of
lesser concern to a Deontological Ethicist.
Remember: “Deon” means “duty” or “obligation”
Those guided by ethical codes (such as the Nuremberg
Code, the AMA codes, the Ten Commandments , the
Golden Rule) are Deontological Ethicists
Deontological ethics
Here’s the big Three Ethical Theories:
Deontological Ethics (set out below)
Teleological Ethicists focus on end goals & objectives
(= consequences). They want to maximize benefits for
the majority of the society or the particular group in
Virtue Ethics focus is on moral character—with
particular attention to virtues vs. vices.
Immanuel Kant is the most famous —the SuperStar of Deontological Ethics
– He emphasized moral duty (not goals!)
and obligations of competent adults (= moral agents)
– Kant thought honesty was especially important.
– He wanted us to strive to be role model
– Universalize our ethical decision-making
Kant’s Deontological Approach
• The result was an ethical view that put the present—
not the future or the past—at center stage.
• Kant held such moral traits as HONESTY to be of
great importance—even if being honest causes pain
or suffering. Honesty is the right thing to do.
• DUTY RULES! Moral obligations trump objectives
and consequences
Duties rule
Kant focuses on what we ought to do, the moral duties
that should guide our decision-making.
• Even if the consequences are undesirable—
unpleasant or even horrific—moral duty rules.
• No exceptions! This bugs his critics!
• Many still use his ethical theory as a guide!
Moral Agency
Kant, Aristotle, and John Stuart Mill all agree:
RATIONALITY is of fundamental importance in
Moral agency To be a moral agent you need to be
• (1) rational (so you know the difference between good and
evil) and
• (2) have free will (so you are capable of acting on your own
volition, and not under duress or otherwise compromised)
Kant on moral agents
Kant emphasized rationality and moral
agency. Kant claimed:
Moral agents have equal moral status
• Not a moral agent? Too bad!
Kant thought those who were not moral agents—
children, the mentally impaired, any who are
incompetent or their rationality is in doubt—do NOT
have equal moral status.
The Big Question: What if everyone did it?
Kant wanted to universalize moral decisionmaking. Before you act count to three and ask,
“What if everyone did it? Would it then be right?”
• Ask yourself if you’d let everyone else do the same thing
• Think of the choice as a PRECEDENT = A RULE FOR ALL TO
• Be a moral role models for others!
Kant’s Two principles
Kant’s 2 principle are
The Categorical Imperative:
Act in such a way
that you would have it become
a universal law.
The Categorical Imperative
It is categorical
in the sense that it should apply across the board—to
everyone, not just a select few.
It is an imperative
in the sense that it is a moral command—something
we ought to do.
The Humanitarian Principle
Always treat others
as an end in themselves,
never merely as a means.
• Treat others with respect, with human dignity,
• See them as individuals and not expendable, not means to
some goal.
• CONTRAST with the Utilitarians who prioritize the society over
the individual.
• Kant sees individual rights as more important.
Pros and cons: Kantian ethics
The Categorical Imperative offers a way to doing the right thing
by asking, “What if everyone did it?”
By universalizing moral reasoning, Kant thought we’d all do
what’s best.
The Humanitarian Principle underscored the importance of not
just using others for our ends.
Kant saw the individual more important than the society --he
prioritizes human dignity.
Pros and cons: Kantian ethics
By focusing on moral duty or obligation over end goals, we may end up
with dreadful consequences.
• Being honest or keeping to your moral obligations without exception may
result in others harmed or even killed—there are problems with blindly
following duty.
• Kant’s system is brittle, inflexible, unbending.
• Some think it lacks the give-and-take needed for optimal moral reasoning.
Veracity vs. non-maleficence
• The Principle of Veracity:
Always tell the truth, even if it hurts (you or others!). That
was a view Kant subscribed to.
• The Principle of Non-Maleficence:
Do no harm. This is on such moral codes as the Hippocratic
Oath in medicine.
• Some ethicists—such as Sissela Bok—
think Non-Maleficence should trump Veracity
if great harm would result from following
the Principle of Veracity.
• She would say: “Do no harm” rather than “always be honest”

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