What Is Duty Based Ethics?

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Duty-based, or deontological, ethics hold that only actions performed out of (or from) duty have moral or ethical worth. Such actions are contrasted with those performed merely in accordance with duty.

In other words, ethical actions should not be performed out of one’s personal inclination, but out of one’s duty. This is called “goodwill,” and means to act from duty to do good in itself.

The theory was developed by Immanuel Kant, who proposed the following three criteria for testing the moral worth of an action:

  • Universalizability: can it be performed by all?
  • Human dignity: does it treat each person as an end and not simply a means?
  • Moral legislation: could it be adopted by all rational people as law?