Deontology – Concept, types, examples, codes and law

We explain what deontology in philosophy is, its types and application examples. In addition, the deontological codes and legal deontology.

Deontology is a branch of philosophy that can be applied to professional ethics.

What is deontology?

Deontology is understood to be the philosophical discipline that studies duties and ethical behavior, especially in relation to professional practice. It is a branch of philosophy, closely linked to normative ethics, whose name comes from the Greek voices deontos (“Obligation” or “duty”) and logos (“Knowledge”, “study”).

This word was used for the first time in history at the beginning of the 19th century, in the work Deontology or science of morality (1832) by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

It is convenient not to confuse deontology as a discipline of philosophical study, and the professional deontology with which the different professions are governed. The difference is that the first is a branch of ethics or moral philosophy, while the second is a form of applied ethics, that is, it points to a concrete problem in the real world. However, both have a common approach based on understanding obligations and duties.

Many important philosophers in the Western tradition engaged in deontological study, such as Bentham himself, or Immanuel Kant (1724-1832) and William David Ross (1877-1971), for example. Kant’s work was particularly important in the development of the discipline, especially in relation to its categorical imperative, as postulated in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).

On the other hand, at present the deontological code or ethical code is the set of moral norms and principles that govern the exercise of a profession determined, and that are normally promoted by professional collegiate bodies, and their professional license may be withdrawn from those who violate them.

Types of deontology

From the point of view of its objective, it is usually distinguished between two types of deontology, that is, of deontological studies:

  • Applied deontology. It is one that focuses on the moral or ethical evaluation of daily life, that is, on what is correct or not in a given situation, and is the basis for the construction of professional deontological codes.
  • Prescriptive deontology. It is one that studies moral behavior in the face of the human need to coexist peacefully, focusing on the norms or rules that are necessary for this. It could be thought of as a theoretical deontology, since it does not focus on judging specific problems.

Deontological codes

deontology deontological code
A code of ethics explains what is necessary to carry out a profession correctly.

Professional codes or codes of ethics They are documents in which the norms and values ​​that govern the ethical exercise of a profession are expressed.

They explain what is necessary to correctly carry out professional work, especially in areas and disciplines that involve a significant share of power over others, or that place the entire destiny of one person in the hands of another, as is the case. of medicine, psychology, law, journalism, and so on. The development of codes of ethics is a perfect example of the application of ethics to everyday life.

Deontological codes function as mechanisms through which a professional community regulates itself, a task usually carried out by professional associations. From there, it is controlled and supervised that the actions carried out by a collegiate professional are always appropriate so as not to discredit the profession and cause harm to the people who are supposed to be helping.

Legal ethics

Legal deontology can be understood as professional ethics applied to lawyers and professional law and justice servants. Legal deontology tries to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is reprehensible when it comes to imparting justice.

Their function is key to the proper functioning of any society: at the moment when justice bodies are considered corrupt or illegitimate, not only is faith in them lost, but also attempts are made to proceed through other, generally harmful means for society as a whole, such as violence or justice at one’s own hand.

Thus, legal deontology ensures the ethical behavior of the lawyer when accusing or defending, but also the behavior of judges and other public servants of justice, in charge of keeping the process as clean, objective and dignified as possible.

Examples of application of deontology

Examples of the application of deontology in everyday life are:

  • Complaints and penalties for medical malpractice or medical violence against certain patients.
  • The development of standards and bioethics codes to regulate scientific research in controversial fields such as cloning or genetic engineering.
  • The very formulation of professional codes of ethics.