Consequentialist vs. Deontological Ethics

Revised  1/19/2017

Ethics and Morals


From:  more/mores (L.), custom

(Note to instructor: next semester, see for update items)

*** Morals or Moral Code or Code of Morals (noun)

Refers to a code of conduct

Similarly, a code of ethics


Two kinds of morals / moral codes / ethical code / codes of morals / codes of ethics

(Did you expect simplicity??!)

1. Code of conduct adopted by an


(e.g. society,

religious or other group, or


2. Code of conduct that

any rational person

would agree with

Which, 1. or 2., best fits

Traffic laws?


The golden rule?

Two versions of it

What is one?


Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.


Is there a difference?

The 10 commandments?

Tax codes?

Laws about violent crime?

Dress codes?

Optional footnote: the related terms morality, moral

Moral (adjective)

Conforms to a set of morals (i.e. a moral code)


What is Morality?

See e.g. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Morality (noun)

An amount

…how moral?


Moral (noun)

Singular noun means something different

“The moral of the story is . . .”


What is Ethics?

“Ethic” (singular):

a “code of morals” or “code of ethics”

Example: a work ethic

Example: The Protestant work ethic

      (that you learned about in H.S.?)

“ethic” and “moral”

Ethics (plural):

“study of

standards of conduct


moral judgment”

Could rephrase it as “meta-morality”

Consequentialist Vs. Deontological Ethics

Let’s explore the




Two core approaches to ethics

The results determine if something is ethical

Consequentialism (consequentialist ethics)

(utility means usefulness)

Is this the same as

“The ends justify the means”?

The rules determine if something is ethical

Deontologism (deontological ethics)
Gr. deon=duty,

Is this the same as

“The ends cannot justify the means”?

Well do they or don’t they?

Related concepts: Kantian categorical imperative, subjectivity, intent and universalizing intent

1. Suppose an out-of-control train is hurtling down the tracks, you happen to be at the switch, and if you operate the switch it will hit one person but if not it will hit five. What do you do?


3. Section 5 of

4. “Don’t lie”: but what if that leads to harm to someone?

5. What about punishing “pre-crime” as in the movie “Minority Report” ?


Is this an example of a deontological or consequentialist approach to ethics?

More details on ends and means

Ends vs. means:

Which is the focus of deontological ethics?

Which is the focus of consequentialist ethics?

Which of the following are:

Laws about the awarding of damages

privacy and security issues in IT

tax laws

parking and speeding laws

laws about violent crime

The golden rules

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you

Do not do unto others as you would not have others do unto you

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them (promoted by e.g. J. Gray Cox)

The 10 commandments

Problems with deontological ethics

(i.e. the means are all-important,

the ends are not,

associated with philosopher

Immanuel Kant)

Intrinsically paradoxical to ignore the consequences

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”


“ ‘Better the whole people should perish’

than that injustice be done” (Kant 1780, 100)

We can short-circuit this

Kantian absolutism with

‘threshold deontology’

tolerate some adverse ends,

– but –

switch to consequentialism

if appropriate

Any examples?

How about awarding of damages in US civil law?

Problems with consequentialism…and yet…

(see e.g.

What is a good or bad consequence?

A dictator of a totalitarian country

has a different idea than

the Declaration of Independence!

Or as the SEP puts it:

“What is Good?

Hedonistic Vs. Pluralistic


…and yet…

moral intuition

often fits consequentialism

better than it fits deontologism

What do you think?

And how should we think about some of our examples?

(the golden rules, the 10 commandments, privacy and security issues in IT, workplace issues we’ve discussed, research issues we’ve discussed, tax laws, parking and speeding laws, laws about violent crime)

Theory of copyrights and patents

– persuade people to create by protecting their IP

– let others benefit by not protecting the IP

– how to balance those two?

– Is this deontological or consequentialist?

Suppose someone is injured by a rare side effect of a drug?

– should they be compensated, or not?

– what is the consequentialist argument?

– what is the deontological argument?

– what is your argument?


3 Responses

  1. […] (1) deontological and/or utilitarian approaches as these relate to the case (for hints, see; […]

  2. […] (1) deontological and/or utilitarian approaches as these relate to the case (for hints, see; […]

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