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3 Tutorials that teach Support for Kantian Deontology
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Support for Kantian Deontology

Support for Kantian Deontology

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Author: John Lumsden
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Identify common arguments in support of Kantian deontology

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Tutorial
In this tutorial we will look at various reasons why Kantian deontology is an attractive ethical theory. Our discussion will break down like this:
  1. Importance of Intention for Morality
  2. Further Support


1. Importance of Intention for Morality

To begin with, recall that Kantian deontology is a form of deontology that places absolute moral value in the agent's intent. The way you figure out if an intent is good or not is by seeing if it follows the categorical imperative.

Recall that the categorical imperative is that moral demand or law that’s binding on everyone, no matter who you are or what circumstances you find yourself in.

One way to see that intentions are more important than circumstances is through a thought experiment.

IN CONTEXT

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 murders someone with their car.

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.


If you agree that these two cases do differ morally, then you accept it is intentions that matter, not circumstances. This gives Kantian deontology a strong advantage over utilitarianism. Since the utility is the same in both cases, utilitarianism wouldn’t distinguish them like the Kantian deontologist does.

There are many similar cases that prove this point.

Say the police are asking for information to help capture a killer. One person offers information because they want to potentially save lives if they can. Another person only does so to get a reward. Both pieces of information help the police.

The outcome is the same, but only the first person was moral because of their good intention. The other person did it purely for their own benefit, and so doesn’t have moral worth.


2. Further Support

One of the reasons Kantian deontology is attractive for many people is because it backs up an important intuition most of us have. This is the intuition that people have value beyond being used as mere tools.

If a slave was treated really well by their owner and was pretty happy, wouldn’t you still feel there’s something wrong about this situation?

For most people, there are just some things more important than happiness. This is genuine freedom or the ability to be a self-determined agent. Kant’s formulation of humanity grasps this idea. It says that our humanity is more valuable than anything else and so should be respected at all times.

Another aspect of Kantian deontology that makes it attractive is the fact that it fits with many of our ideas about what morality should be like.

  1. Some things are simply just the right thing to do (and some simply wrong).
  2. These are like rules that can’t be broken, no matter what.
  3. They apply to all people without exception.

Although many of us feel strongly about these things, we can’t always say why we think they’re so important. A great advantage of Kantian deontology is that it offers an explanation for these deeply held beliefs. This is especially important in philosophy since philosophers argue that our beliefs should be justified.


We started this tutorial by looking at the importance of intention for morality, using a thought experiment to show that situations that are the same in their circumstances and results are still morally different. This difference was found in intentions, supporting the importance this has in Kantian deontology. Then we saw further support for this ethical position, focusing on how it fits our ideas about the value of people and the nature of morality.