This theory (Duty ethics) is given by Immanuel Kant, the most famous of the ethicists who regard duties as fundamental rather than good consequences.
According to him, right actions require some duties such as be honesty, keeping promises, not to cause suffering to other people, be fair, show gratitude for kindness etc. to others.
Duties for oneself such as seek to improve one’s own intelligence and character, develop one’s own talents and not to commit suicide.
Duty ethics are based on three conditions explained by Kant.
The first principle of duty is to show respect for persons. People deserve respect because they have the worth of rational beings inherently; they have the capacity for autonomy i.e. Governing our own lives on the basis of moral principles, and for exercising a goodwill i.e. the careful effort to do what is right and to live according to universal principles of duty.
Kant also states that honest and conscientious effort plays an important role in the actions of a person. He said that only goodwill will create happiness and not any other thing.
As per Kant’s view, to respect people is to respect their autonomy and their attempt to meet their duties and respect for oneself i.e. fulfill our duties to ourselves.
Duties are binding on us only if they are also applicable to everyone. Duties must be universal.
Duties prescribe certain actions categorically, without qualifications or conditions attached. These principles of duty are called by Kant as “Hypothetical imperatives“.
They are the commands on the basis of some conditions or hypothesis.
Examples of hypothetical imperatives are (i) “If you desire to become healthier, then stop over eating” (ii) “If you want to be happy, develop friendships“, etc.
Moral imperatives or commands require us to do certain things whether we want or not. As per this, we have to avoid cheating and other forms of dishonesty.
The major difficulty in Kant’s view is that he thought principles of duty were only absolute and they are never having any justifiable exceptions.
These exceptions are known as “Prima facie duties”. This was stated by contemporary duty ethicists. They state that moral dilemmas can be solved only by creating exceptions to simple principles of duty.
Contemporary Theory of Duty Ethics
This was stated by John Rawls, a famous ethicist.
According to Rawls, valid principles of duty means those principles that would be voluntarily agreed upon by all rational agents in a hypothetical contracting situation that assures impartiality.
He also gives the characteristic features of persons who are in the hypothetical situation. They are :
- The persons will lack all specific knowledge about themselves – i.e. They don’t know about their desire, intelligence and achievements.
- They will have general knowledge about human psychology, economics, politics and science.
- They will have a rational thinking for improving their long-term interests.
- They will form a moral agreement to abide by principles to which they all subscribe.
Rawls also states that these hypothetical contracting situations help us to reason more easily and honestly about moral principle and enable us to check our powers of knowing without learning and to set aside our biases.
Rawls argues that, all rational people have to agree to hypothetical situations, because of the two basic principles which are applicable to societies and professions.
They are as follows :
Each person is entitled to the most extensive amount of liberty consistent with an equal amount for others.
This should be satisfied first, because without these basic liberties no other benefits of economic and social can be sustained in the long run.
Differences in social powers and economic benefits are justified only when they are likely to benefit everyone.
It insists that allowing some people with great wealth and power is justified only when all other groups get benefited by this.
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