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8. Deontology

From the book Communication and Media Ethics

  • Christopher Meyers


Most persons have intuitions that, for example, they should keep their promises, treat people justly, and respect autonomy. Deontological theories of ethics tap into those intuitions, translating them into commonly held moral rules or principles, while also explaining why such rules have moral force. Such theories differ: some are monistic, some pluralistic; some think intuitions/rules stem from theological or transcendentally rational sources, while others explain them through evolutionary naturalism. All hold, however, that the moral force is inherent in the rule; rules do not receive their justification from external or contingent causes, but just because God, the universe, reason, or human nature dictates it. One should, thus, keep one’s promises not (only) because doing so produces good consequences, but because it is simply wrong not to. Said differently, deontological theories emphasize the right - particularly as that is connected to motive - while consequentialist theories emphasize the good, the outcomes generated by one’s actions. This essay clarifies deontology’s distinctive elements and then reviews three central versions: Divine Command Theory, Immanuel Kant’s rationalistic absolutism, and William David Ross’s pluralistic intuitionism. I close with a brief discussion of how a deontological model works in journalism ethics reasoning.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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