Deontological ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L015-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

5. The framework problem

The account of deontology given so far has, in standard contemporary fashion, defined it within a consequentialist framework. But advocates of this approach might be accused of tacitly adopting consequentialism as the default position, and then framing deontology as a departure, making it harder to defend -- the deontologist must face the question: why not maximize the good? The simple consequentialist, for example, finds constraints irrational: what could justify, for example, a constraint against killing the innocent? Only the fact that killing is bad. So surely what we should do is minimize such killing. Thus if you can kill one to save two from being killed, that is(ceteris paribus) what you should do. But we have now undercut the very constraint we sought to defend.

Alternatively, we could have begun with the idea that the default is the pursuit of self-interest, and seen deontology (and morality more generally) as imposing restrictions on what we may do in that pursuit. But this paints deontology (and morality in general) as akin to a legal system – a system of directives imposed by society to maintain order. And just as we can question whether to obey the law, so we can raise the question: why obey the dictates of deontology, or, more generally, why be moral? On this view, if the answer is positive, then it must be that it is in your self-interest.

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

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