Deontological Ethics

From the Greek deon meaning right or obligation: The rationality of moral obligation.

An Ethical Theory—often associated with the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)—which maintains normative evaluations are rooted in some intrinsic feature of an action or agent which gives rise to an obligation or duty. In a 'Deontological' system of morality the consequences of an action are usually held to be irrelevant to moral assessment (e.g., “the ends never justify the means”). Rather, moral obligation arises from a rational agent's recognition of their duties toward others (or themselves). These duties can be grounded in different phenomena, from divine revelation to objective rational principles.

As a branch of Normative Ethical Theory, Deontology can be divided into two main types:

  1. Act Deontological Theories (which include)

    1. Situational Ethics, and
    2. Existentialism

  2. Rule Deontological Theories (which include)

    1. Categorical Imperative Theories (i.e., Kantian morality) and
    2. Divine Command/ Natural Law Theories
While each type of deontological theory finds the locus of our moral obligations in different places, they all contend that 'goodness' is in some way an objective feature of the world and all moral agents are distinguished by their ability to recognize and obey moral obligations (the Principle of Autonomy); the consequences of our actions are of only secondary concern, if any.