Deontological ethics

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Deontological ethics

Deontological ethics

Kantian ethics

Kant’s ethical philosophy was that actions must be guided by universalisable principles that apply irrespective of the consequences of the actions. In addition an action can only be morally right if it is carried out as a duty, not in expectation of a reward. Knowing what to do in a situation will be determined by a set of principles that have been established by deductive reasoning, independent of, or before, the specifics of the decision in hand have been considered. For Kantian ethics the context and consequences of a decision are irrelevant. For Kant actions have moral worth only when they spring from recognition of duty, and a choice to discharge it. The duties were formulated around the concept of the ‘categorical imperative’. A categorical imperative refers to a command/principle that must be obeyed, with no exceptions.

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Justice and rights

The libertarian perspective (Robert Nozick, 1974) adopts the notion of negative freedoms. That is, it holds as its primary tent the individual’s rights of ‘freedoms from’. Differences in personal wealth, talent, physical attributes and intelligence are seen as being obtained in the ‘natural’ sense, in that their ownership owes nothing to social or political institutions. Nozick coined the term ‘entitlement theory’ to express the view that what has been acquired legally and fairly cannot be taken away within a libertarian concept of justice. With no limits attached to what individuals can achieve in a liberal society, it is for every individual to improve their own life-chances.

Rawls, justice as fairness

Rawls’ theory presents a normative approach to deciding what a just society would look like in what he describes as ‘the original position’, allowing each of us to contemplate a ‘just’ society without the burden of our life experiences and prejudices tainting our views. We are required to envisage a situation in which we have no knowledge of who we are. We are placed behind what Rawls refers to as a ‘veil of ignorance’. Rawls argued that the rational person would adopt a maximin strategy. This is a risk-averse strategy that works on the basis of studying all the worst-case scenarios that exist within each option before us. Having identified all the worst-case possibilities, we then select the one that is the least worse. Rawls argued that there are two guiding principles that will explain the reason for each choice made:
1.Each member of society would be entitled to the same civil and political rights.
2.Open competition for occupational positions exists, with attainment being based upon merit, but with economic inequalities being arranged so that there is no way in which the least advantaged stratum in the society could as a whole do any better.