"The Good of the Many Outweighs the Good of the Few"

Okay, it's a clichéd line from Star Trek, but it neatly sums up the essence of Moral Deontism.

In one sense, Moral Deontism can be seen as the opposite of Moral Absolutism - the doctrine that an individual must not commit an immoral act regardless of the situation. A Moral Deontist would be prepared to take the life of another human being if it meant saving the lives of many others, whereas a Moral Absolutist would take the approach "It is wrong for me to kill a person. It is not my fault if others die as a result - I am not prepared to commit an immoral act."

The problem of Moral Absolutism is, in this example, that although the people who die would not have been killed by the Moral Absolutist, it was within the power of the Moral Absolutist to have prevented the deaths of others by comitting an act of immorality. The Moral Deontist would be prepared to commit this act of immorality in order to further the "greater good".

The problem with this "sacrifices for the greater good" stance is, of course, that it can be used to justify just about anything, especially if the ostensible good aim is somewhat removed in the future. For example, Josef Stalin used this tactic to justify the gulags as well as various genocides and mass starvations. He claimed that these were necessary sacrifices to build the communist Paradise On Earth, but in truth, it was just a convenient excuse to increase his personal power and destroy all opposition.

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