DEONTOLOGY'S DUTIES AND DILEMMAS
performatory utilitarianism is a
matter of seconds, if not of milliseconds.
Until a certain moment your vote contributes to the 'production of
value-laden threshold effects' and one second later, whether you know it
or not, what you thought was the same act as your predecessor's, is
useless, or even antiutilitarian.
Instead of having performed, you have committed something.
However, this time-dependent discrepancy between what is actually done and
what is intended is not a problem which typifies consequence theories (or
rather performatory consequence theories) in particular.
To show that it does not, we will now turn to a typically
deontological example of a case as circulating in deontic,
theodemonically inspired logic.
The dilemma described in the following story is called after
--let's assume-- a
historical figure, but as we shall not mention the personal name of any
being that once lived or existed, or that still lives or exists, in the
this Model, we will refer
to the dilemma as "the classical deontological dilemma".
The story is a sordid religious one in which a criminally deranged male
could be anyone, apart from the sacrificial aspect, which is not essential
here-- to immolate whatever would meet him first
on his return home.
But the first one he met on his arrival was his daughter.
On the one hand, because of his promise, he had to offer his daughter in
sacrifice; on the other hand, because of the prohibition to murder,
interpreted as a prohibition to kill human beings, he ought to abstain
from killing her.
According to one deontological theorist the promise
itself ought already not to have been made, for it gave rise to
conflicting duties. Another one argues that the man in question
did not have the duty to abstain from his promise, since the
fact that the first one he met was a human being was an only
later forthcoming contingency.
The man's promise gave indeed rise to conflicting duties
--the argument runs--
but did not create a conflict of duties (granting that the man's
ethics did not even contain a prima facie duty to abstain from killing
any animal being not reared by
'imself, something that has to
be bluntly accepted on this reasoning.)
That this distinction cannot be made in traditional deontic logic has been
said to be a flaw in those systems which do not relativize acts to time.
(This recognition is the first step from an 'eternal' or
nontemporal, performatory ethics of duties to an ethics of moral
agents who decide and act at a certain moment in time.)
To make deontic judgments temporally relative is only a partial
Let us look at an extension of the story as proposed at a later date.
Suppose the man's daughter in the original story promised her
mother to surprise her father and meet him as the first one on
his arrival. It would, from the purely performatory point of
view, make a crucial difference whether she made her promise
before her father's or after. If she made it at a later moment,
she created a conflict of duties; if she made it one second
before her father's, she did nothing wrong.
It seems more plausible
tho, that the moral
status of the daughter's promise is independent of the question whether it
was made before or after her father's.
At least some deontic logicians realize that lack of knowledge does play a
role in moral decisions, and that the 'accessibility of the set of best
possible worlds' should be thought of in more
doxastic terms. When one of them
concludes that the accessibility for a moral agent at a certain moment
should be looked upon as an 'epistemic datum'
datum"-- it is the distinction between purely
'e is implicitly referring to.
In a 'logic of cues' for the moral agent the procedure is to be a
rational one 'with cues defined in terms of best alternatives':
this is one of the things the deontic logician regards as
essential, besides a 'subjective-accessibility requirement'.
Since the nature of traditional deontic logics seems to be very
much, if not entirely, deontological, such points reemphasize
that the requirements of an adequate normative system are little
different from each other in deontology and consequentialism
where the need of a normative decision-theory is concerned.
What the deontological theorist claims as distinct from the
consequence-theorist is that keeping one's promise is right in itself,
and that murder is wrong in itself, or --if 'e is
smarter-- that certain kinds of killing are wrong
in themselves, or that all killing is wrong in itself.
Keeping a promise and abstaining from murder (or killing) are said to have
characteristics which make them right independently of the good or bad
consequences with respect to some
performatory value, other than the
moral value of keeping a promise or abstaining from murder in itself.
It has been argued by others that it is, strictly
speaking, not promises themselves but a so-called 'principle of
fidelity' which binds people to their promises. Yet, if this is
correct, breaking a promise is wrong because it violates the
principle of fidelity, and this violation always corresponds to
an action which has bad noncausal, simultaneous 'effects' with
respect to a performatory value of fidelity. (Note firstly, that
these 'effects' are not consequences, for they are not causal
and do not follow afterwards. Note secondly, that the value of
fidelity may be considered to be performatory if a person can
break a promise without having the intention to do so, altho 'e
may not be blamed for not doing what 'e promised in case of a
misunderstanding or something of the sort.)
A deontologist is bound to rejoin now that fidelity or
faithfulness can only be defined in terms of promises and
duties like in firmness in adherence to promises or in
observance of duty. This is not only a vicious circle; every
separate ultimate duty, or deontic rule, in general seems to
have its own little vicious circle. Consider, for example, the
duty or rule that one should not lie, that one should keep
agreements, that one should not steal, or perhaps more specific
duties and rules such as that one ought not to cross a lawn or
that one ought to vote. All these ad hoc duties tend to make
deontology excessively pluralistic with all the consequent
dilemmas (such as the classical deontological one), unless they can
all be reduced to one or a small number of ultimate duties, or
deontic rules, in which the actions to be done or abstained from
are described in purely denotative terms. An uninterpreted
'principle of justice' or 'axiom of equity' will, then, not
provide a foundation for such an ultimate duty. (These ad hoc
duties and interpretations arouse suspicion, particularly
because, with one or a few exceptions, ethical theorists just
seem to be, or to have been, running behind the social norms of
their own subcultures, or of their own eras and countries.)