Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 11: Deontology
Mark D. White In philosophical ethics, a significant dichotomy between two popular moral theories informs many ethical debates, whether general or specific, academic or practical. One group of theories is often described as teleological, in which moral priority is given to the ‘good’, however it may be defined, and the goal or end (telos) is to promote or maximize the quantity of good. A common theory of this type is consequentialism, which defines ‘good’ in terms of the outcomes or consequences of actions. Utilitarianism is a specific form of consequentialism in which the goodness of outcomes is defined as the sum total of individuals’ utilities generated in the respective states of the world. As we will see below, mainstream economics is intrinsically consequentialist or, more specifically, utilitarian in both its modelling of individual behaviour, as well as in its evaluation of institutions, law and policies. The other group of theories is known as deontological, and is much more difficult to define. It is usually understood in the negative, as being non-teleological or non-consequentialist, but positive definitions have been suggested as well, focusing on concepts such as respect, dignity, rights and duties. In a two-part article, Gerald Gaus (2001a, 2001b) dissected the term and found no less than ten different uses of it in the philosophy literature (2001b, pp. 189–90). He organized these into two groups: the first generally finds deontological systems of ethics to be those that give consideration of the ‘right’ priority over the ‘good’. In this regard,...
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