Deontological Ethical Systems

  • Created by: chantelle
  • Created on: 09-05-11 19:43


  • Reason should be the basis of moral decision-making
  • Individuals are free and autonomous
  • Nothing is good but the good will
  • Kant believed in objective moral law which is underpinned by God, but knowing that law is through reason not revelation
  • Duty not consequence should guide our action
  • Moral statements are categorical
  • Moral statements are independent of experience and guided by reason - A PRIORI

Sanctity of life:

Kant argued that human beings occupy a special place in creation and have "an intrinsic worth, that is, dignity" that makes humankind valuable "above all price".
In contrast, animals have value only in so far as they serve human purposes.
Human beings must be treated "always as an end and never as a means only".
We are so important because we are rational beings, free agents capable of making decisions, setting targets and guiding our conduct by reason.
We should "try as far as we can to further the ends of others".

 The categorical imperative has three elements:

  • Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law
  • Treat people as an end not means
  • Act as you live in a kingdom of ends, where everyone treats eachother as ends rather than means.

Strengths of Kantian Ethics:

  • he gives clear principles which could be helpful in delicate situations
  • gives human beings a dignity and worth
  • respects individual autonomy
  • giving morality a rational basis strengthens our inclinations
  • hippocratic oath reflects a Kantian respect of dignity for the individual

Weaknesses of Kantian Ethics:

  • generally Kant is impractical as he is based on inflexible duty, not allowing exceptions
  • he does not prescribe what to do in practical situations
  • the most rational approach is not always clear
  • are any two moral dilemmas the same?
  • he ignores the value of tradition, emotion e.t.c.
  • not allowing people to be treated as a means is very restrictive. Sometimes limited resources in a hospital mean a minority must be sacrificed for the majority.

Applied to Medical Ethics:

  • The question is what constitutes a human person. If an embryo is not a person, Kantian ethics is not offended.
  • If the embryo cannot be rational, do we have a duty towards it?
  • If it is a person, the use of embryos goes against the categorical imperative, especially the maxim of universalisation.
  • Gathering of embryonic stem cells involves using people as a means to end.
  • What is 'enhancement' - would a concept be universally agreed?
  • The status of the embryo hardly enables it to be considered a rational member of the 'kingdom of ends'.
  • John Paul II said gene therapy removes autonomy from the individual, it "exposes man to the caprice of others".
  • Personal Origins warns of the danget of treating others as a body to be used.


  • First established by Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics('logos'). Aquinas developed the Aristotelian idea.
  • God has written into creation moral laws in the same way that there are physical laws.
  • Human nature


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