Deontological ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L015-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

3. Permissions

Some deontologists, such as W. D. Ross, claim that there is an unlimited duty of beneficence – you are required to do as much good as possible provided it does not breach any of your other duties (see Ross 1930). However, given the amount of suffering in the world and the disparities in wealth, to do this would require enormous sacrifice from anyone with more than a minimal standard of living. Ross’s duty of beneficence may thus seem too demanding. It is open to other deontologists, however, to claim that our duty to help others is limited. There is some point, though its location is hard to determine, at which agents have done all that duty demands. At that point they are permitted to decline to do more. We admire those who make the extra sacrifice, but it is supererogatory – more than morality requires. Ross’s view leaves no conceptual space for supererogation (see Supererogation).

No deontologist denies that morality can be demanding. We may be obliged to make significant sacrifices – even of our lives – rather than breach a serious constraint or betray a friend. But, contra Ross, many deontologists see the duty to do good as limited.

Citing this article:
McNaughton, David and Piers Rawling. Permissions. Deontological ethics, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L015-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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