Deontological and Teleological Views in Ethics - Ayesha Sultana
We ordinary mortals consider our material, physical needs as the most important of all the demands. However, while evaluating a person morally we take a different point of view usually. Had the physical needs been of the utmost importance, how come is it also true that we accept some other ethereal ideals as possessing a superior moral value?
Before reading any book on morality and well much ahead of our taking a formal course in Philosophy and Ethics; we do possess lots of superior ideals that tradition has handed down to us.
We live in a moral environment; so to say, no matter how much we like that or not! To us, at least, moral rules appeared more as the admonishing phrases from our elders through which they tried to discipline our frivolous natures. Moral rules are more like this at first. They appear as imperatives coming from a superior source.
Had it been so, that we ourselves are staying at the place of the superior authority; that is instead of a fear inspiring teacher, we ourselves order our carnal selves to abide by some strict principles, in order to purify our selfish motives that becomes very similar to the, deontological moral point of view. It is explained here very simply, so that, so that a school child can apprehend it.
Broadly speaking moral theories may be classified into two classes, depending on whether the result of our action should or should not play any role in deciding the moral worth of a situation. The word 'Deontology' is derived from the Greek root 'deon', meaning 'duty.
Immanuel Kant, the greatest German philosopher (1724 – 1804) was the best exponent of the deontological view in ethics. A Deontological, or duty-based point of view is one where it is maintained that the moral duties and obligations are explicit. There is no further need of justification. Moral actions are evaluated on the basis of inherent rightness or wrongness of principles rather than goodness or a primary consideration of consequences of actions. Things would be clearer if we compare the ‘Deontological’ view with the ‘Teleological’ point of view. Results of our action should not play any role in deciding the moral worth of a situation in ‘Deontological’ ethics.
The consequences of an action are not taken into consideration in evaluating its moral worth.
On the other hand an ethical point of view is called ‘Teleological’ where it is maintained that actions are right or wrong if the consequences of actions are good or are morally neutral when considered apart from their consequences. 'Ethical Egoism' and 'Utilitarianism' are examples of teleological theories. This point of view is also called ‘Consequentialism’, because the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct.
Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence. It seems that though these two points of view, opposite on fundamental points, are not mutually exclusive in our practical life.
The Kantian point of view, by placing the utmost importance on the inherent goodness of moral principles, possesses a superior moral worth. However, it is at the same time held to be too rigoristic to be applied in our day to day life. Sometimes the greatest number of people may not be benefited if we follow the rules strictly. The utilitarian principle of morality, expounded by J. S. Mill (1806 – 1873) and others, is a teleological point of view, that puts emphasis on the benefit of the greatest number of people.
Morality is, for the sake of life and if necessary, especially for the benefit of the general public we should take help from the ‘Utilitarian’ point of view. The Deontological view of respecting the duty must also not be forgotten totally while taking a somewhat lenient view.
Professor and Chair (Retired)
Department of Philosophy
University of Dhaka