The Paradox of Deontology

Dissertation, University of Leeds (2022)
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Abstract

This thesis develops a deeper understanding of and provides an answer to the paradox of deontology. Traditional deontological views include deontic constraints that prohibit us from harming innocent people even to prevent greater harms of the same type. Although constraints correspond to widely shared moral intuitions, they seem to make traditional deontology unavoidably paradoxical: for how can it ever be morally wrong to minimise morally objectionable harm? The thesis argues that previous attempts to solve this paradox have been insufficient because they have failed to distinguish clearly between two distinct puzzles that together constitute the paradox. The first puzzle—the rationality paradox—says that if we think that we should not harm others in a certain way, it is rational by default to think that we should minimise the occurrences of that kind of harm overall. Thus, to answer the rationality paradox the deontologist must justify constraints by reference to some value that cannot be furthered by minimising the occurrences of harm. However, this will make her vulnerable to a second puzzle—the value paradox—which says that in the face of the severe harm that awaits the greater number of individuals, it seems morally inappropriate to be concerned with anything other than the minimisation of the occurrences of that kind of harm overall. The thesis develops a comprehensive approach that can address both these paradoxes. The hyperinviolability account developed in this thesis shows that traditional deontology ceases to appear paradoxical once we understand it as an agent-neutral moral theory that gives priority to our moral standing over the moral significance of what might happen to us.

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Andreas Bruns
University of Heidelberg

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