A deontological ethical system focuses on the intrinsic nature of an act, regardless of its consequences, and considers it good if its inherent nature is good. However, a teleological system evaluates an act based on its consequences and may consider it good even if it initially appears negative, as long as positive outcomes are produced. Ethical formalism belongs to deontological systems and considers the motive or intent of the actor as the primary factor in determining morality.
According to Kant, the only thing that is intrinsically good is a good will. For example, a friend stops by another friend’s apartment to visit and finds him struggling to breathe, and was grasping at his chest. He dials 911 and then, having remembered a commercial for Bayer aspirin that mentioned taking an aspirin during a heart attack can help, she goes into her purse and gets an aspirin to give to her friend while they are awaiting the arrival of rescue crews. After giving him the aspirin, his symptoms worsen and by the time paramedics arrive, the man was dead.
Following autopsy, it was discovered that the individual’s demise was not caused by a heart attack but rather an allergic response to acedimenaphin. While the woman’s actions inadvertently led to the man’s death, ethical formalism asserts that her intentions were noble as she administered the medication with the intent of aiding him, despite the unfortunate outcome. Additionally, ethical formalism maintains that actions deemed morally incorrect are inherently so, without any room for justification. From this ethical perspective, intentional taking of another person’s life, or Murder, is condemned as it is believed that no positive consequences can arise from such an act.
Utilitarianism is an ethical system that judges the goodness of an action by its outcomes. In a particular scenario, a family and their two dogs get stuck on an island with no food. Despite their strong bond with their pets and objection from animal organizations, the family opts to slaughter and consume the dogs to ensure sustenance for their children. Additionally, they utilize the fur for warmth. While pets are generally considered cherished members of a family, the family prioritizes survival above all else, justifying their decision based on utilitarian principles.
Religion is a system of beliefs that explores deep questions like “What is the purpose of life?” and “What defines right and wrong?”. Additionally, religion offers moral principles and guidance for daily living. For instance, Christians and Jews find direction in the Ten Commandments, which outline behaviors that are considered unethical. To demonstrate this idea, helping the needy with genuine compassion is seen as a virtuous deed. In contrast, doing so for personal gain or recognition goes against religious teachings and is seen as morally unacceptable.
Natural law ethical system posits a universally applicable code of right and wrong, similar to various religious beliefs, but without specific reference to a supernatural entity. An example illustrating this concept would be a situation where an individual unlawfully enters a residence and holds a family captive. After witnessing his family being victimized for some time, the father decides to take up arms and resist. In the ensuing struggle, the gun accidentally discharges, fatally injuring the assailant. In accordance with natural law, the father’s actions would be deemed commendable as he was instinctively protecting his family.
The principle of ethics of virtue focuses on defining the qualities of a good person, instead of using reason to determine what is morally right. It emphasizes the significance of performing actions that are virtuous and righteous. For instance, in an emergency room scenario, a doctor encounters a friend who asks for a prescription for pain medication. Although there are no visible signs indicating any problem with the friend, the doctor chooses to offer Tylenol samples instead. The doctor never entertained the idea that their friend might be seeking drugs and placed trust in their friendship to provide the needed medication.
However, the doctor utilized his medical knowledge to handle the situation, which was perceived as commendable due to his consistent competence and resistance to unethical influences. The ethics of care is an alternative ethical framework that does not rely on universal rules or formulas to assess moral actions. It prioritizes human relationships and addressing human needs. Often associated with feminine morality, the ethics of care acknowledges that women, being the primary caregivers in most societies, exhibit a heightened sensitivity towards caregiving matters.
If someone is involved in a car accident and sustains serious injuries that require life support, and they are unable to make decisions for themselves, their closest relative must determine whether to continue or discontinue care. In this situation, the next of kin opts to stop treatment because they feel that living under those conditions would not be what the individual would want and could negatively impact their quality of life. This ethical dilemma is seen as a legitimate moral choice in accordance with the ethics of care.
Egoism proposes that acting in ways that advance one’s survival and personal happiness is morally correct. The extreme form of this belief suggests that all individuals should assume they can pursue any actions that benefit themselves. To illustrate, envision a student who enrolls at Western International University with the aim of achieving a degree. However, this student faces difficulty finding sufficient time to study or finish their coursework. To overcome this obstacle, they opt to hire an individual who does not attend the university to complete their work on their behalf. In accordance with egoistic principles, the student deems this decision morally acceptable as it enables them to obtain their degree, even though it is generally considered as cheating.
Although it is seen as moral due to its ability to bring happiness, I consider Ethical formalism, Religion, Ethics of virtue, and Egoism all to be part of the deontological system. This is because our duties, rules, and obligations are determined by God rather than being evaluated solely based on the action itself. In contrast, Ethics of care, Natural law, and Utilitarianism fall within the teleological system since they believe that an action should be deemed good if it leads to favorable consequences. The outcome justifies the initial motive for engaging in the act.
Thomson and Wadsworth (2005) suggest that the Natural Law resonates with my personal convictions. From my perspective, self-defense is justified when someone inflicts harm on you or your family. Hence, I find a correlation between the natural law and my beliefs. This idea is explored in Herdrich, Reese, and Dotree’s (2008) study on Deontological Vs. Teleological Ethical Systems in Criminal Justice.