Deontology and Utilitarianism: Ethical Theories for Nurses
Ethics is not a concept that is thought about often, but it is practiced on a daily basis. Even while unconscious of the fact, people consider ethics while making every choice in life. There are many theories to which people allude, but two radically different theories that are sometimes practiced are deontology and utilitarianism. Deontology deals with actions in a situation while utilitarianism examines the consequences of those actions. While polar opposites on the broad spectrum of ethics, deontology and utilitarianism are bioethical theories that can be applied to nursing practice and personal life situations.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant popularized the philosophy of deontology, which is described as actions that are based on obligation rather than personal gain or happiness (Rich & Butts, 2014). While developing his theory, Kant deemed two qualities that are essential for an action to be deemed an ethical. First, he believed it was never acceptable to sacrifice freedom of others to achieve a desired goal. In other words, he believed in equal respect for all humans. Each human has a right for freedom and justice, and if an action takes away the freedom of another, it is no longer ethical or morally correct. Secondly, he held that good will is most important, and that what is good is not determined by the outcome of the situation but by the action made (Johnson, 2008). In short, he simply meant that the consequences of a situation do not matter, only the intention of an action. Kant also declared that for an act to be considered morally correct, the act must be driven by duty alone. By extension, there could be no other motivation such as love, family, or lust. Finally, Kant stated that an action must be absolute in order to be deemed morally correct (Rich & Butts, 2014). In other words, an act must be able to be applied to all situations to be seen as acceptable. Like the Golden Rule, a person should not perform an act that he would not want done to himself such as infidelity, lying, or stealing. While most consider these examples to be negative behaviors, is it safe to say that these should be an absolute? Kant stated that for an action to be considered moral, it had to be an absolute truth (Johnson, 2008). With Kant, if a parent told a child that Santa was real, which technically is a lie, or if someone lied about a surprise birthday party, it would be considered a horrible act.
On the other hand, utilitarianism, or teleology, consists of the concept that an action or deed is weighed by the amount of goodness or happiness it produces (Rich & Butts, 2014). Basically, no action or rule is considered morally wrong or right until it is weighted against the amount of pleasure it created. Where deontology focused on the action of a situation, teleology is primarily concerned with the consequences of the action. One of its famous promoters,...