To begin with, recall that Kantian deontology is a form of deontology that places absolute moral value in the agent’s intent. Circumstances outside an agent’s control therefore don’t matter for this ethical theory.
In this view, if someone does something good or bad accidentally or unintentionally, then they shouldn’t be praised or blamed for it. In other words, Kantian deontology doesn’t give any weight to moral luck.
Another problem with privileging intention in ethics is that it seems to make ignorance a good thing. That’s because you can do bad things and still be a good person, as long as you are unaware of the moral impact of your actions.
There are many things to say in favor of Kantian deontology. One is that it fits with our ideas about what morality should be like. For instance, it agrees with our views that:
But the strictness of this ethical theory can also lead to some problems. Sometimes it seems like you should do something even though it goes against certain (Kantian) duties. For instance, it might be the case that saving human life requires stealing.
A Kantian deontologist seems to be unable to resolve the conflict between the duty to save life and the duty to not steal. Therefore, it seems like an unrealistic account of how we are to act.
As we have seen, Kantian deontology provides ethical evaluations that sometimes make sense to us, but sometimes don’t. In other words, it can give us both intuitive and counterintuitive results.
One way this position is intuitive is that it says intention is important for moral judgment.
Imagine two people, each driving in their own car. One respects human life, but accidentally hits a pedestrian, killing them. The other is evil and intentionally uses their car to murder someone.
In both cases someone died. But the intent of each driver was different. For this reason, the one that didn’t intend to kill anyone isn’t morally blameworthy, whereas the person that did intend to kill someone is morally blameworthy.
We intuitively think that the person that purposely killed someone is much worse that the person that accidentally killed someone.
A counterintuitive aspect of Kantian deontology is found in its lack of concern with outcomes of consequences.
Most of us would think twice about telling the truth if the consequences were so damaging.