Ethical Orientations: Deontology or Duty

Deontologists act on an inflexible set of beliefs about right and wrong, doing what they personally believe is right no matter what the consequences are. Members of activist organizations are prone to deontological views in regard to their organizational cause. Thus, we often see deontological ethics practiced by political extremists on both the left and right, fundamentalist religious adherents, and others, who simply believe that what they are doing is right, in spite of arguments and evidence to the contrary.

Deontology, however, is not simply a case of someone being stubborn. A deontologist acts on a set of personal beliefs about the world and is unwilling to compromise those beliefs. Thus, a deontologist will usually ignore situational factors when making decisions, and does not let the consequences of decisions get in the way of their actions no matter how risky the outcome. Mandatory minimum prison sentences are an example of a deontological ethics. By contrast, an absolutist might also believe that certain crimes demand stiff penalties, but also might be more willing to take into account exigent circumstances. Similarly, a situationalist is unlikely to have the same predispositions about punishment and might accept a plea deal if it was expedient.

From a communication standpoint, deontologists are fully capable of assessing possible outcomes, but believe that the long-term goals of their issues or causes are more important than short-term results. Thus, most activists are not willing to compromise their fundamental values with organizations that they oppose, although an activist (deontologist) might be willing to work to phase in a solution if it met long-term goals. Appealing to individuals holding deontological views requires a detailed understanding about the basis for their belief. Deontologists literally believe that they are right and everyone else who disagrees is wrong.

Q: What duties do you believe you are subject to? If the nation went to war, do you have an obligation to serve in the military? If a loved one was harmed by someone else, do you have a duty to seek some sort of revenge such as the death penalty?

Q: Are there any particular duties that a communication professional should embrace?

Next Page: Ethical Orientations: Dialogue