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Do you think utilitarianism is right? What are your thoughts on the greatest good for the greatest number? How do you feel about negative responsibility? Do you think any of our case studies especially support or hinder utilitarian theory?

Introduction: Utilitarianism, Deontology and Virtue Theory

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory consider the best action as the one which can maximize the utility or well being of sentient entities, where utility can be understood as the aggregate pleasures from an action minus the suffering caused by the action (Patrick & Werkhoven, 2017).

Deontology on the other hand judges the morality of an action based upon the obligations, duties or rules, and focuses on the actions instead of its consequences. It considers the best action as the one that abides by the duties, rules and obligations of the person taking the action (Mandal et al., 2016).

Virtue theory focuses on the virtues of the mind and character of the individual taking an action. Here virtue is considered as a character trait, and the theory assumes that good virtue can make its possessor a good and ethical human being (Sosa, 2015).

The word Deontology is derived from two Greek words, ‘deon’ (or duty) and ‘logos’ (or study). It is one of the normative theory that focuses of choices that are morally, forbidden, permitted or required, and thus deals with how we assess out choices regarding actions we should or shouldn’t take. It judges the morality of the choices and considered as separate from the consequences of those choices (Holyoak & Powell, 2016). This helps to focus on the morality of the actions or choices instead of the morality of the consequences of those choices or actions, while the morality of the choice and actions are imbibed within the duty of the person. The theory also proposes that a moral wound not make certain erroneous choices, because even if a moral agent makes a certain erroneous choices, repetition of that erroneous choices would be minimized by other moral agents, thus showing that they would ‘learn’ from other’s mistakes. Actions or choices that are in alignment with the moral codes and norms would be considered the right ones, and thus be followed by all moral agents. On such accounts, what is considered as ‘right’ takes precedence over what is ‘good’, implying that no matter how good the possible outcomes might be, if the action or choices that produce it is not right, it should never be taken (Chan et al., 2016).

Utilitarianism implies that no act, choice or rule is intrinsically right or wrong, instead the rightness or wrongness of an action, choice or rule is entirely a matter of the overall rightness or wrongness of the consequences of that action, choice or rule. In other words, it implies that the ‘end justifies the means’, and that the moral duty plays an instrumental role but not an end in itself, unlike the assumption in case of deontology (whose central idea is the ‘means justifies the end’) (Barrow, 2015). The problem with utilitarianism is that it supports or justifies actions, choices or rules which can clearly be immoral or unethical such as punishing someone who is innocent or stealing as long as it is considered to have good consequences. However the acts or choices or rules in themselves are immoral, regardless of how ‘good’ the consequence they might bring for the larger crowd. In contrast deontological theory has three important considerations, the first is that only for the sake of duty a duty should be done, and the rightness or wrongness of the action depends on the moral factors that are intrinsic to the action or duty. Thus under such consideration, acts such as lying, stealing, cheating, murdering or breaking a promise are wrong intrinsically and moral beings have a duty not to engage in such activities. The second important consideration is that humans should not be considered as the means to an end but as ends in themselves and thus as objects with intrinsic values of morals. The third consideration is that moral principle is applicable for every moral agent in similar situations. Thus it supports moral statements in the form of commands or imperatives regarding the all the possible actions or choices made by a moral agent for example not to tell a lie, not breaking promises or not killing another person (Mandal et al., 2016).

Which Theory is superior?

Virtue theory is a normative theory of ethics that focuses on the moral characters or virtue of a moral being. Here virtue is understood as the good traits of character, and is a deposition that is ingrained in the moral matrix of the possessor. Possessing certain virtues can instill specific mindsets among the possessor, and thus influences the expectations, choices, feelings, desires and actions of an individual. It assumes that a moral or virtuous person would have a complex mindset that is utilized to make specific actions, and that a person cannot be considered honest simply if the person engages in an honest work, but instead only when the person engages in such work thinking that such is the correct course of action (Jayawickreme et al., 2014). For example, a person who does not cheat because of a fear of retribution would be considered as less moral compared to a person who would avoid cheating since it is wrong. In such aspect, the moral compass of a virtuous person would point towards the same direction as to a deontologist, except that the virtue theory has a more complex proposition to judge the goodness or badness of an action that are based on the virtues of the person instead of the duties associated with the action. As such a deontologist would be bound to the duties or the codes of practice while a virtuous person would be bound to the virtues of a person. However, such is a very slippery slope, as it opens the path towards morally justifying an immoral action, by considering the act to be virtuous. Moreover, a virtue theory posits less confidence on rules, duties or codes of practice compared to the virtues held by the person, due to which a person with flawed virtues can justify immoral acts (van Zyl, 2018; Moreso, 2015).

From the understanding gathered from the discussion above, it is evident that deontology is the right theory of ethics that can be used in any professional line of work, ensuring adherence to ethical code of duty outlined in that professional practice. I believe changing the focus from consequences of actions (as in Utilitarianism or Consequentialism) and realigning the focus on the morality of the actions themselves is a vital step towards establishing and maintains a code of conduct (Birle et al., 2016). Not being able to consider the consequences of actions however can also be risky proposition since it removes the morality from the consequences. However, since the actions themselves are embedded within the duties and code of conduct, it can be assumed that their possible consequences would be positive. Moreover, an action that might be in accordance to the moral, and ethical codes of practice but leading to negative consequences can be identified by moral beings, thereby leading to such actions no longer being a part of the code of practice. For example, if a certain healthcare practice have been found to cause adverse effects, such practice would soon be discontinued after its full evaluation. This also leads to the judgment of an individual based solely upon their intentions without ever knowing the person. On one hand such as aspect makes it easy to judge the morality of people without fully understanding their character, but also increases the chances of a bias, and not understanding the context under which an individual take an action (Madva, 2016). I believe that is a significant challenge with the deontological theory. Moreover, the theory also does not properly address differences in actions caused due to conflicting duties. If the duty itself compels an individual of dishonesty, following the dishonest actions can thus be justified, which is clearly wrong (Holyoak & Powell, 2014).

Conclusion:

It can thus be concluded that deontology can be more useful to make moral decisions, compared to utilitarianism and virtue theory, in the aspect that, firstly deontology considers the morality of the actions themselves to judge the action as good or bad instead of the consequences they cause, secondly it provides a simples context of judging individual’s choices and actions based upon what their duty and obligations entail, instead of how complicated set of principles or virtues that influences the choices and actions. Deontology also ensures better identification of the best course of actions in specific context, and thus helps in the formation of an ethical code of conduct, that can be used to inform future actions or decisions. Therefore I believe that for professional practice it is best to follow the deontological approach than virtue or utilitarian approach.

References:

Barrow, R. (2015). Utilitarianism: A contemporary statement. Routledge.

Bîrle, D., Bonchi?, E., Oakland, T., Opre, A., Cri?an, D., & Jimerson, S. R. (2016). Examining The Ethical Knowledge And Application Ethics Among School Psychologists In Romania. Romanian Journal of School Psychology, 9(17), 7-24.

Chan, Y. L., Gu, X., Ng, J. C. K., & Tse, C. S. (2016). Effects of dilemma type, language, and emotion arousal on utilitarian vs deontological choice to moral dilemmas in C hinese–E nglish bilinguals. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19(1), 55-65.

Holyoak, K. J., & Powell, D. (2016). Deontological coherence: A framework for commonsense moral reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 142(11), 1179.

Jayawickreme, E., Meindl, P., Helzer, E. G., Furr, R. M., & Fleeson, W. (2014). Virtuous states and virtuous traits: How the empirical evidence regarding the existence of broad traits saves virtue ethics from the situationist critique. School Field, 12(3), 283-308.

Madva, A. (2016). Virtue, social Knowledge, and implicit bias.

Mandal, J., Ponnambath, D. K., & Parija, S. C. (2016). Utilitarian and deontological ethics in medicine. Tropical parasitology, 6(1), 5.

Moreso, J. J. (2015). The Uses of Slippery Slope Argument. In Argument Types and Fallacies in Legal Argumentation (pp. 53-65). Springer, Cham.

Patrick, T., & Werkhoven, S. (2017). Utilitarianism. Macat Library.

Sosa, D. (2015). The Vice of Virtue Theory. In Moral and Intellectual Virtues in Western and Chinese Philosophy (pp. 87-95). Routledge.

van Zyl, L. (2018). Virtue Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge.

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