Jim has found himself in a quandary. When arriving in a South American town he has happened upon a captain and his army about to assassinate twenty Indians in order to deter other Indians protesting against the government. Jim is treated as a guest to the town and offered the privilege of shooting one of the Indians in which case the captain will let the other nineteen go, however declining this offer will mean the captain will carry on as planned and kill all twenty.
Consequentialism is ordinarily distinct from deontology, as deontology offers rightness or wrongness of an act, rather than the outcome of the action. In this essay we are going to explore the differences of consequentialism and deontology and apply them to the quandary that Bernard Williams and J.J.C Smart put forward in their original analogy of “Jim and the Indians” in their book , Utilitarianism: for and against (J.J.C Smart & Bernard Williams, 1973, p.78-79.).
The deontological view would be that we should act according to a set of rules, obligations, or duties that we must fulfil, unmindful of the consequences. Kant, a popular deontological philosopher of the 19th century, wrote in his “Foundations of Metaphysics of Morals”,
Nothing in the world – indeed even beyond the world – can possibly be conceived which could be called good with qualification except good will (Kant 61).
This “good will” is the basis of for a deontological argument. Courage, perseverance and patience are all qualities of character, while qualities of mind may include intelligence and judgement. All are desirable and good; however these qualities can become bad and harmful, if there is no good will.
The belief here is if there is good will in everyone and that this good will can prevail however we are not answerable for someone else’s good will, we can only answer for our own good will. Take for instance we were to find a large bag of money on the street, our good will would mean that we would hand this money up to the appropriate authorities. However, should these authorities deicide to keep the money and not declare it, is beyond my control as they are acting on their own good will. Likewise in the Jim and the Indians case, we could only act on our own good will and not kill anyone in the hope that the good will would prevail in the captain and his men.
Deontologists would be of the opinion that something’s we are not expected to do, to perceive ourselves as moral agents. However opponents of the deontological view, such as Nancy Davies (1993), would argue that this is just “keeping ones hands clean”. Davies goes on to argue that,
“Deontologists … not only assign more weight to our own avoidance of wrongdoing—where wrongdoing is understood as violating the rule—than to the interests of others, they also require that we assign more weight to our own avoidance of wrongdoing than we do to the avoidance of wrongdoing tout court, or the prevention of wrongdoing of others” (1993, p. 207).