Deontology vs. Consequentialism Part 2

Yesterday I summarized the main criticisms with both of these two ethical systems. The problems with deontology as outlined, when I began to realize them, are the reasons I rejected that system. It is now incumbent on me to explain how I answer the criticisms of consequentialism.


As I wrote, consequentialists tend not to be concerned with motivations and intentions. Certainly we do not put the same emphasis on intentions that deontologists do, but that does not mean we ignore them completely. Intentions are, after all, an indicator of what a person is likely to do in the future, or for that matter, has likely done in the past. The bad that will result from the future actions of a person who always has bad intentions may very often outweigh any good that occasionally results from them, and therefore from a consequentialist point of view it may make quite a lot of sense to condemn or put a halt to these actions at an early stage.

The flaw in the second criticism I mentioned yesterday lies in the fact that consequentialism is not in itself a complete ethical system any more than deontology without its specific rules is. In programming terms, both are “base classes”. The complete ethical system most consequentialists favor is utilitarianism, that philosophy that has as its prime directive the objective of maximizing total pleasure/happiness/value/preferences (different varieties of utilitarians prefer different words here).

To we utilitarians, this moral rule is the only one that matters; the morally correct decision in any situation is the one that best maximizes utility. While we don’t believe in natural law, divine justice, or any other kind of etheric transcendentalism, that does not necessarily mean we throw out some constructs that have proven themselves to be useful to a utilitarian end. Given that human beings often cannot make the complex calculations called for, it is reasonable, when in doubt, for us to follow imperatives such as “Do not tell a lie”. They are handy rules of thumb to the extent that they maximize utility. Whenever it is apparent that they do not, they should be readily discarded. This is in short, the rules of deontology in the discriminating service of utilitarianism.


2 responses to “Deontology vs. Consequentialism Part 2

  1. A question that occurred to me while I was writing this topic…

    When I think of deontology I think of Kant, but I also think of religion and particularly Judeo-Christian religions. The Ten Commandments is perhaps the most well-known archetype of rule-deontology.

    I am wondering how possible is it for a true believer of one of these religions to be consequentialist in his ethical philosophy? How possible is it for a consequentialist to be a true believer of one of these religions? They are mutually exclusive, aren’t they?

  2. Philosophy is a journey. The older schools of thought are constantly updated as we move through time.

    I’m sort of a cafeteria guy on this…Kant…Hegel…Aquinas…a few others mixed in.

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