Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 3

In my previous post, I wrote about consequentialism, one of three moral or ethical philosophies for leading a good and moral life.  Consequentialism is concerned with the consequences of ones decisions, or the ends rather than the means to the ends.  The means to reach the ends are justified, no matter what they are, in this philosophical approach to life.  In other words, the greater good of a society is more important than the means of reaching the greater good.

Deontology, derived from the Greek word deon – meaning obligation or duty, is a philosophy based on actions that adhere to rules or obligations.  In many ways it is the opposite of consequentialism.  Deontology is not concerned with the consequences of actions but the motives behind those that carry out the actions, or what is “Right.”

Kant is one of the main proponents of this philosophy.  Kant believed that people should behave out of respect for the moral law.  He taught that people act out of respect for the moral law when they believe that they have a duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that what makes a choice right is conformity to a moral duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that the Right takes precedence over the Good, no matter what the Good may lead to.  The ancient Stoics, presented in my book, adhere to this theory of moral philosophy.  They believed that reason and knowledge would determine the appropriate duty or obligation to lead a moral life.  They believed that the consequences of our actions are out of our control.

A current example of deontology is the actions by Congress regarding Obamacare.  The Republicans thought that is was their duty or obligation to defund Obamacare.  As such, they tried to tie the defunding to the shutdown of the government and the raising of the debt limit.  Their duty to defund Obamacare had significant unintended consequences for the nation.  The same is true for the Democrats that passed Obamacare without really understanding the bill that they were voting upon. They believed that it was their duty or moral obligation to pass a bill providing affordable healthcare, not understanding the consequences of their actions.  Both parties were following the deontology approach to moral and ethical decisions.

So, what we have with Obamacare was consequentialism employed by the president and deontology employed by the Congress.  Unfortunately, both had good intentions but the unintended consequences are just now being felt by the nation.

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