An action's morality is determined by its adherence to the categorical imperative
In this theory, known as deontology, the morality of a given action is determined by its adherence to a list of moral rules or categorical imperative. Since these rules are unchanging, morality is as well.
For many people, morality is full of gray areas, serving to provide only a hazy definition of right and wrong. For a deontologist, however, the opposite is true. According to this school of thought, morality is absolute. More importantly, the goodness or badness of an action is not determined by intentions or consequences. Instead, the act is good or bad in and of itself. Though some deontologists rely on their faith in a higher power to give them their moral “rules,” a larger group, known as Kantian deontologists, believe that we can use logic to arrive at them ourselves. German philosopher Immanuel Kant, the leading thinker behind this theory, maintained that the morality of an action can be determined by whether or not it follows a strict set of rules, known as the categorical imperative. () The first of these rules states that you should treat people the same way you want to be treated; the second, that no human being should be treated as a means to an end; the third, that you should behave as though you are the moral authority of the whole of humanity. According to Kant and his followers, these rules apply to all actions, for all people, in all cultures, in any time period. In other words, morality is absolute. Regardless of the context, the basic rules of moral engagement never change. Murder is always bad, giving to the poor is always good, and the categorical imperative will always speak to the moral questions that arise in our day-to-day lives.
Although this theory sounds good on paper, it crumbles when one attempts to put it into practice because it clashes with the average person’s moral intuition. For example, Kant would say that lying is always wrong, but what if you had to lie to save someone’s life? Most people would say that in this situation, lying is permissible, but a Kantian would disagree. Needless to say, such discrepancies between Kantian beliefs and a typical person’s “gut instinct” abound. These disagreements are enough to discount the unyielding nature of deontology. Our world is not as black-and-white as Kant would like to suggest, and ignoring its many gray areas will only cause harm.