Deontology and Teleology are competing ideas in the world of ethics. Deontology suggests that the consequences of actions are not important, its the action themselves that decide if an action is right or wrong, and the Teleology theory says its the results or consequence that will decide if an action is good or bad. This article will explain the differences further and give an Islamic perspective to this important topic.
Another way to understand these ideas, is this, Does the ends justify the means?
From a Deontological perspective, the results never matter, the actions the person does matter. So in order to judge a person from a Deontological perspective, we would have to examine their actions. Did they do good actions, did they lie or cheat?
As soon as a person considers the results of an action to decide if the action is good or bad, then they adopt a Teleological perspective. Lets examine an example to help show the difference between the two theories. Imagine a person is in their home with their family, and a mad man knocks on the door. The mad man says "Im a murderer, and if you tell me where your family is, I will kill them". Now a Deontologist would say, the man must tell the truth, as telling the truth is always right and the outcome of telling the truth has no bearing on whether the action is good or bad. The Teleologist would say, you should lie to the mad man so to have a better outcome. A Teleologist may even go one step further and say, one should kill this particular mad man to prevent any further harm, and the murder of this one mad man is justified as the outcome of a world without him is better than one with him in killing innocent people.
So from the above example, how can we understand "right" and "wrong" ? Is lying always wrong, or does it simply depend on its outcome? The reality is that lying almost always leads to a negative outcome, so its almost always wrong, to the point where some people, deontologists for example, would say it must be wrong in itself. There is also a rational arguement that the deontologists put forward, namely Kant, and say that an act can not be good unless it would be good if we all did it. For example, telling a lie, if we all told lies, the civilised world would simply stop functioning. This arugment only makes sense beceause lying so often leads to a negative outcome.
These issues give rise to profound realities, for example, the law, whether it is a religious law or secular law, we must try to create a legal system that creates good outcomes. When a person is harmed, in secualr law, the context must be examed, its not just the action itself, eg a punch to the face, or a slap on the cheek. So in this instance, if a person has been punched, the judge will examine why, why is self defence? was it justified, what was the outcome of the punch? If the victim suffers no injuries, the punishment is less, if the person dies, the punishment is more, and this is despite the action being the same. So certainly secular and Islamic law is teleological in its application. It is the outcome itself that is sacred, not the law.
This brings us to the issue of religions. The understanding within the Abrahamic faiths is that religion started with Prophet Adam AS, and God revealed to Prophets the reality of the true religion to teach the people around them. However the religions differ, even within the same faith, how can this be resolved? If one takes a Deontological approach, the issue simply can not be resolved. As what is correct should be correct for all time and never change, so there would only be one true religion, one set of rules and that would be it. However, this is not the case, we can see, plan as day, there are multiple religions with different rulings, and this is taking things from the Islamic perspective and ignoring any differences around the nature of God. One way to understand this, is that each authentic religion was the best for having the best outcomes within the time. So it can be seen that there is one true religion, with the perfect priniciples, which have been applied at different times, and therefore generated different rulings in order to establish the same result of a perfect just society.