The main difference between deontology and consequentialism is that deontology focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves. Whereas, consequentialism focuses on the consequences of the action.
Deontology and consequentialism are two contrasting, normative ethical theories that determine the morality of an action. Of these, consequentialism determines the rightness or wrongness of actions by examining its consequences. Meanwhile, deontology determines the rightness or wrongness of actions by examining action themselves, without focusing on their consequences.
Deontology is a normative ethical theory that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, instead of focusing its consequences or any other considerations. We sometimes describe this theory as duty-, rule-, or obligation-based. In fact, the name ‘deontological’ originated from the Greek word deon, which refers to duty. Thus, this theory simply requires people to follow rules and do their duty. In short, deontology is a non-consequential theory since the goodness or badness of an action in this theory does not depend on its consequences.
Deontology is associated with philosopher Immanuel Kant, who believed that ethical actions follow universal moral laws. Universal moral laws here refers to rules such as don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal. According to this theory, people have to do the right action, even if it brings bad results. For example, imagine you have received a gift from a friend, but you hate this gift. Your friend wants to know whether you like the gift. You believe that lying is a bad action, no matter the results; therefore, you would tell that you hate it even if you are hurting your friend. Here, you are demonstrating a deontological position as you are disregarding the possible consequences of your actions when determining what is right and what is wrong.
Consequentialism refers to a set of normative ethical theories that states an action should be judged right or wrong on the basis of its consequences. For example, telling a lie is a right action if it can have good consequences like saving someone’s life. Thus, according to consequentialism, a morally right act is an act that will produce good results. Furthermore, the more good results an act produces, the better or more right that act will be.
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There are different forms of consequentialism; utilitarianism and hedonism are two such main forms. In utilitarianism, consequences of an action are determined by a ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. Hedonism, in contrast, states something is good if its results produce pleasure or avoid pain. Furthermore, consequentialism is often contrasted with deontology as well as virtue ethics.
Deontology is an ethical theory that states it is possible to determine the rightness or wrongness of actions by examining actions themselves, without focusing on their consequences whereas consequentialism is an ethical theory that states it is possible to determine the rightness or wrongness of actions by examining its consequences.
More importantly, deontology doesn’t focus on the consequences of action, whereas consequentialism mainly focuses on the consequences.
Deontology and consequentialism are two contrasting normative ethical theories that determine the morality of an action. The main difference between deontology and consequentialism is that deontology focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, whereas consequentialism focuses on the consequences of the action.