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Law, Economics, and Morality$
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Eyal Zamir and Barak Medina

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195372168

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195372168.001.0001

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Threshold Deontology and Its Critique

Threshold Deontology and Its Critique

(p.41) two Threshold Deontology and Its Critique
Law, Economics, and Morality



Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses moderate (or threshold) deontology, its critique, and possible responses. Deontological theories prioritize values such as autonomy, human dignity, and keeping one's promises over the promotion of good outcomes. In prohibiting the infliction of harm on other people, they resort to distinctions such as that between actively doing harm and merely allowing it, and between intending to do harm and merely foreseeing it. Moderate deontology holds that constraints (and options) have thresholds. A constraint may be overridden for the sake of furthering good outcomes or avoiding bad ones if enough good (or bad) is at stake; and an option not to promote the good may be overridden for the sake of attaining enough good or avoiding enough bad. The chapter analyzes the main critiques leveled against deontology in general and moderate deontology in particular. It concludes that threshold constraints (and options) are an indispensable part of any acceptable factoral moral theory, but that threshold deontology suffers from a lack of methodological rigor and precision.

Keywords:   constraints, threshold deontology, intending harm, foreseeing harm, doing harm, allowing harm, trolley problem, paradox of deontology, pareto, options

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