Deontology – Duty-Based Ethics (Kant)


One of the most influential ethical frameworksdeontology is  focused on binding rules, obligation and duty (to family, country, church, etc.), not results or consequences.[1]

The term deontology comes from the Greek deon, “duty,” and logos, “science.”


  • Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), German philosopher

Key Concepts

Deontologists first consider what actions are considered “right” and proceed from there.  This is in contrast to utilitarians who start by considering what things are good, and identify ‘right’ actions as the ones that produce the maximum of those good things.

What is my duty?

We may have a duty to our family, our country, or workplace, our religion.

“It is my duty to …”

Example: Do what my manager instructs me to do, even if I don’t want to do it or don’t agree. It is my duty to respect authority figures.

An act that may be considered wrong in and of itself, such as killing — could be considered appropriate in a deontology-based perspective if it is toward a duty.  For instance, if there were a home invader threatening where you live, killing him or her in order to protect your family could be deemed right.

Strengths and advantages to this approach

There are various advantages to this kind of duty-based approach.

  • No need for lengthy consideration of possible consequences
  • Deals with intentions and motives
  • Provides human dignity and intrinsic value 

Weaknesses and criticisms to this approach

  • Not as interested in effects of actions; therefore, there could be a reduction in the overall happiness of the world
  • Difficult to handle conflicting duties

Additional Resources and References


  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.