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Similarities Between Deontology and Utilitarianism

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Imagine that you are a police officer that is off-duty in a crowded marketplace and you spot the friendly man you conversed with earlier near the merchandise. He suddenly declares to you “Leave now. Run! I have a powerful bomb that will kill myself and everyone here. But you seem nice and I would feel bad about killing you.” He shows you the bomb strapped to his chest and has the detonator in his hand. Do you save yourself? Do you let the bomber press the detonator and kill hundreds of people including you? Do you shoot him with your gun and save everyone, but him? I will discuss the similarities and differences between a utilitarian and a deontologist and their approaches to the scenario presented. I will defend that both have good points in terms of how to approach a decision, but a middle ground is needed in times of emergency, such as this one that I would choose to act on.

To contrast utilitarianism and deontology, utilitarianism uses the consequences of their actions as the basis of what they decide to do. The option that produces the greatest benefit/happiness for the largest number of people is the right course of action to take. Their core value is happiness. Deontology believes that there are some actions that are wrong to carry out or are immoral regardless of the outcomes they produce. They base their actions on deep-rooted morality (rights and wrongs) of the motives behind an action, consequences are irrelevant, and the action should be motivated by duty, not by emotion. Their core value is rationality and autonomy (freedom). Deontology is usually in regards to being caused by Immanuel Kant. Kant provides a categorical imperative to act morally at all times. It demands that humans act as though their actions would be universalized into a law that everyone had to obey. This shapes their belief that there are some actions that should never be acted on, such as lying and killing. The Trolley problem represents the differences between these two ethical theories. In this problem, you see a runaway trolley driving out of control toward five people on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever. If you pull the lever, the trolley will switch directions toward a single person rather than five. You can either: do nothing and let the trolley kill five people, or pull the lever for the trolley to switch tracks where it will kill a single person. A utilitarian in this situation would advise that you should decide on the action that maximizes happiness, which would be to pull the lever and save the group of five people. On the other hand, a deontologist in this situation believes that certain actions are always wrong, such as killing. They would advise that you should not pull the lever because that would mean that you personally killed a person, but if you don’t pull the lever then the five people that die is trolley’s doing, not yours. Whereas utilitarianism focuses on the outcomes/ends of action, deontology dictates that the actions, or means, themselves must be moral and ethical.

There are very few similarities between deontology and utilitarianism. The two are similar in the sense that they are both concerned with attempting to make out what human actions are right and what actions are wrong. However, beyond that, there are no similarities. They are polar opposites in how they approach understanding what is good and bad.

If I were placed in this situation, I would take into consideration both deontology and utilitarianism. I agree with utilitarianism that maximum happiness should be a goal to achieve when making a decision; however, this should not be based solely on emotion. For example, if I were to simply make a choice based on what would make the most people happy, then I would, react quickly off of instinct and shoot the man, that holds the bomb, dead. This would cause me immense emotional distress, as well as those of his loved ones and some of the bystanders, might experience PTSD from witnessing someone’s death. Even though bystanders in the marketplace would be grateful for this action, there would still be many people that will not experience happiness from this outcome. I also agree with deontology that I shouldn’t solely focus on my emotions and that lethal force should be avoided at all costs, even if it means disappointing a large sum of people. However, if I were to follow this advice wholeheartedly then I would let the man press the detonator and kill everyone in the marketplace, including myself and the bomber. That means that no one there that day got to go home to their families and loved ones all because it’s immoral to kill. If I were faced with this scenario, then I would have reacted with the middle ground between these two theories. I would have shot him in the hand that was holding the detonator to prevent him from being able to press it. Everyone in the marketplace gets to walk out alive and I do not have to carry any emotional distress because this option promotes the most happiness and I never perform the act of killing. Both of the core values of utilitarianism and deontology are carried out in this action since happiness was obtained and the rights/lives of each person were respected.

Utilitarianism is the principle that an action is justified if it benefits/brings the most happiness to the majority. Deontology is the belief that an action should be based on whether this action is right or wrong according to a series of rules. Assuming the hypothetical decision actually works, a balance between these two ethical theories is the best option to make a stable course of action that benefits everyone, rather than most people. In this “Off-Duty Police Officer” scenario, the advice of both theories was necessary to come to the conclusion that shooting the hand rather than killing the bomber to preserve his life and the life of those in the marketplace was the best option.   

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Similarities Between Deontology And Utilitarianism. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from
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