Contemporary deontology

In Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics. John Wiley & Sons (1993)

Abstract

Many people profess to believe that acting morally, or as we ought to act, involves the self-conscious acceptance of some (quite specific) constraints or rules that place limits both on the pursuit of our own interests and on our pursuit of the general good. Though these people do not regard the furtherance of our own interests or the pursuit of the general good as ignoble ends, or ones that we are morally required to eschew, they believe that neither can be regarded as providing us with morally sufficient reason to take action. Those who hold such a view believe that there are certain sorts of acts that are wrong in themselves, and thus morally unacceptable means to the pursuit of any ends, even ends that are morally admirable, or morally obligatory. (How strong the prohibition is against performing such acts is a matter that will be taken up later.) Philosophers call such ethical views ‘deontological’ (from the Greek deon , ‘duty’), and contrast them to views that are ‘teleological’ in structure (from telos , Greek for ‘goal’). Those who hold teleological views reject the view that there are special kinds of acts that are right or wrong in themselves. For teleologists, the rightness or wrongness of our acts is determined by a comparative assessment of their consequences. [...] The focus of this essay is on deontological theories.

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