Deontological & Teleological Theories

There are three types of ethical systems. The normative ethical system can be broken down into three categories: Deontological ethics, Teleological ethics, and Virtue ethics. In this paper I will be discussing the differences between Deontological and Teleological ethics as well as the problems with both. I will also discuss where my beliefs stand and compare them to others.

Deontology derives from the Greek work “deon-”, which means “duty”, and “-ology” which means the study of. It is the approach to ethics that is mainly about the rightness or wrongness of a particular action as opposed to consequences of the action itself. It is also described as “duty” or “described” ethics. Also described as “moral absolutists”, Deontologists believe that ethics “bind you to your duty.” Morality is an absolute no matter the penalty or consequence.

Basically, if you are ethical it is because you are doing what you have to according to duty. You are bound to the rules as a duty to society. The famous Immanuel Kant believed that it is always wrong to lie, no matter what the consequence(s) are. Even if someone is facing the possibility of death, and you have the opportunity to save them with a lie, that would be unethical in it’s stance.

There are some ethical theories that deal with deontological studies. There is: divine command, duty theories, rights theories, contractarianism, and monistic deontology. Divine command is one of the most common beliefs of deontological theories. It is the theory that their moral obligations are to God, and no one else. An action is morally accurate when it is in agreement with the rules and duties established by God.

Duty theories are morally correct if it is an accord with some list of duties or obligations. Someone would make a list of duties or obligations that they deem moral. They would then abide by those rules at any cost. No matter that the consequence, they abode by those rules (most of the time they were rules they found directly from the Bible).

Rights theories deem an action morally right if it respects the rights of all persons or members of society. Rights theories was a political philosophy that believes people should be free to do whatever they wish as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. This theory is also called Libertarianism.

Contractarianism is considered an action that is morally right if it is in accordance with the rules that rational moral agents would agree to observe upon entering into a social relationship (contract) for mutual benefit. This is also sometimes referred to as Contractualism. Most would not agree upon this theory because it does not have much to do with ethical laws.

Monistic deontology has to do with an action that is morally right if it agrees with some at least one deontological principle that guides all other subsidiary principles. So, as long as there is one guide – let’s say that guide is the Bible – you abide with than you are morally right and it would be acceptable.

Now there are some problems with the deontological theory. Most of the time there tends to be a conflict of rules. There would be a rule not to lie as well as a rule not to harm any person physically. Those two rules seem pretty easy to abide by right? Well, what if you have to lie in order to not hurt a person? There are some situations that would constitute a confliction of convictions. That is when most would just choose the “lesser of two evils,” but that would make a person rely on which of the two has the least evil consequence. Therefore, the choice would have been made as a consequentialist or teleological basis rather than a deontological basis. That is where the two collide.

Another problem with the deontological moral system is that it does not allow for any grey areas. It is based on absolutes where the morality of an action is never questioned. In most cases we do have conflicting duties and issues that makes decisions difficult to decipher if you are a deontological believer. As well, rules and duties change as time goes by making it difficult to follow all the same rules all the time especially when the consequences change as frequently.

Teleology is the study of design and purpose. The root word “telos” means end or purpose. A teleological based thought is directed toward the end result. Teleology is a more humanistic point of view. It is to do whatever is in the best interest of the being. Teleology deals with foreseeing the consequences rather than just abiding robotically by rules. Thus, when we are making choices that result in the correct consequences, then we are acting morally. When we make choices that result in the incorrect consequences, then we are acting immorally. In order to make moral choices we have to have some understanding of what the result from our choices will be.

It is said that there are two types of a final cause: extrinsic and intrinsic finality. Extrinsic finality consists of a person realizing that their purpose is the utility and welfare of other beings. For example, grass is made to grow in order to sustain the life of animals and animals are designed to sustain the life of humans. The intrinsic finality consists of a person realizing that its purpose is directed toward the perfection of its own nature. So, life is given to us and we are intended to behave in certain ways so as to preserve ourselves from death, disease, and pain.

Aside from deontological and teleological ethics, there is virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is a virtue-based theory that places less emphasis on what rules people should follow. It instead focuses on helping people develop good character traits. It is believed with virtue ethics that these character traits will, in turn, allow a person to make the correct decisions later on in life. Virtue theorists also emphasize the need for people to learn how to break bad habits of character. These “bad traits” are called “vices” and they stand in the way of becoming a good person.

I think I would have to more agree with virtue ethics. Since you cannot always follow the rules and still remain constantly moral than why try so hard? Rules do change all the time and you cannot follow every rule all the time. I don’t think someone is unethical simply because they do not keep every rule ever. When it comes to ones duties, I do believe you should adhere to your personal duties and keep your word. So my ethical view wouldn’t be too deontological.

I also don’t think I have a teleological view on ethics either. I don’t think you should base your personal code of ethics on what the consequences are going to be. Sometimes the consequences of telling the truth are bad, but you should do it anyway. The end result is not always the most important thing to think about when you are making a moral decision because you do not know the future, and cannot rightfully predict what would happen.
So, virtue ethics is where I stand so far. I think as long as you have good character than you will be able to make right choices in life. Ethics has to do with who you are.