Deontological ethics is too rigid in its emphasis on duties, utilitarian ethics too keen to override basic human rights. Deontology and utilitarianism are both types of ethics referring to how one reacts in a certain situation. Deontology is based on following a set of duties and sticking to these duties no matter what the consequences whereas utilitarianism is based on choosing the best outcome over a short term and long term even if it means depriving people of basic human rights for example. However does this mean that deontological ethics is too rigid in its emphasis on duties and that utilitarian ethics is too keen to override basic human rights? According to a deontologist ones actions must be determined by a set of duties regardless of whether the long term consequences are good or bad. A deontologist believes in human morals and that every human has certain rights and these morals and rights should not be betrayed no matter what the cost for example sacrificing one life to save one hundred lives would be unacceptable to the deontologist despite the fact the consequences would be better overall.
The biggest problem with deontology is knowing which set of duties to follow, there could be a great variation in systems between people from different backgrounds, different social classes, different religions and people from different cultures. For example a Protestant English Lord would have different morals and a different set of duties than a lower class Indian Hindu. It is very difficult to tell which set of duties, if any, is the right one. Deontologists suffer many problems when their duties seem to conflict with themselves or with other duties. One has a duty to save lives but what if in order to do this one must betray another duty for example a husbands sick wife needs life saving medicine but the husband cannot afford to buy it, should he steal the medicine in order to save his wives life or should he not betray his morals and allow his wife to die. This raises the question as to how do we tell which duty is the most important and which is the least? If the consequences of each are to be considered then this would make it a consequentialist view and not a deontological one.
Single duty conflicts cause just as many problems such as two people imminently need a heart transplant but only one organ is available, a deontologist has a duty to save lives but on this occasion only one out of the two can be saved. This is known as the doctrine of double effect and is said that since it is impossible to save both lives, ones duty to save lives has not been broken. Deontology does encounter many problems but also has a number of merits. Since deontologists refuse to betray human rights, every human is guaranteed these rights will not be broken. Deontology would also normally let justice prevail and this is a good quality indeed. According to Utilitarianism On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, mankind is under the governance of two sovereign masters one being pleasure and the other being pain and this in itself determines what we should do and what we actually do. ” By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question. ” (J.S. Mills).
According to utilitarian ethics the community at large is considered to be the party in question and so the interest of the community is the sum of the interests of the individual or the sum total of the communities pleasures against the sum total of its pains. A man may be said to be a utilitarian when his actions are determined by the consequences which will increase the total amount of pleasure throughout the parties involved or to reduce the total amount of pain throughout the same parties. J.S. Mills also claims that ” actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness ” The major problem with utilitarianism is the conflict it creates with ordinary morality for example sacrificing innocent lives in order to save a greater number of people. The problem with morality in this case is obvious as no one has the right to take another human life, however the long term consequences will be better as more lives are saved. Another serious problem is the difficulty in determining the consequences of a certain action.
It is impossible to predict the future with this sort of accuracy and so how do we know if one action will bring better consequences than another action. This is why determining the long term consequences is a lot more difficult than the short term consequences and is another serious problem with Jeremy Benthams utilitarian theory. Utilitarianism is based on the total amount of happiness of everyone concerned, but whose happiness counts? Every human or only those with sound body and mind? It is this problem that creates extreme difficulty in determining the total amount of happiness for those concerned. J.S. Mill claims that both mental and physical pleasure counts with intellectual activities giving the most pleasure despite his godfather, Jeremy Benthams, theory claiming the opposite.
However this gives rise to another problem as it is impossible to quantify happiness and so there is no way to guarantee that one action will bring a greater amount of happiness than another action. However utilitarianism is not all bad and Benthams beliefs did have some good qualities. Since utilitarianism represents the community as a whole and not just individuals it is a very selfless way of thought as a utilitarian would consider causing himself a small amount of pain in order to give everyone a large amount of happiness as worth it. Deontological and utilitarian ethics both have a lot of problems as I have shown.
Deontological duties often mean that the action with the best outcome is not selected and these duties themselves often conflict with each other causing even more problems with which action should be taken. On the other hand Utilitarianism often betrays human rights and morals in order to achieve the best consequence to such an extent that betraying these rights may not even be worth it. Also consequences are very difficult to predict and often unforeseen things can happen changing the long term outcome for the worst. So I would have to agree that ” Deontological ethics is too rigid in its emphasis on duties and Utilitarian ethics too keen to override basic human rights. “