We know that Islamic Ethics are not purely Deontological, but how does it compare to other Teleological ethical schools of thought?
Firstly, if you are not familiar with the terms or ideas of Deontology or Teleology, read this earlier article. Lets address the issue which has challenged philosophers for centuries, is Islam Deontological or Teleological?
Teleological Ethics from the Quran
5|32|Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel: that whoever kills a person—unless it is for murder or corruption on earth—it is as if he killed the whole of mankind; and whoever saves it, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind. Our messengers came to them with clarifications, but even after that, many of them continue to commit excesses in the land.
16|106|Whoever renounces faith in God after having believed—except for someone who is compelled, while his heart rests securely in faith—but whoever willingly opens up his heart to disbelief—upon them falls wrath from God, and for them is a tremendous torment.
2|225|God does not hold you responsible for your unintentional oaths, but He holds you responsible for your intentions. God is Forgiving and Forbearing.
Deontological Ethics from the Quran
4|135|O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God takes care of both. So do not follow your desires, lest you swerve. If you deviate, or turn away—then God is Aware of what you do.
Islam is Teleological. The argument that there is some evidence for deontology is down to the fact that most Deontological principles almost always lead to a negative outcome and therefore from a teleological perspective also a bad action. There is potentially considerable overlap, but the moment one considers the outcome of an action as deciding if its the right thing to do, then that moment you move from deontology to teleology. So in regards the Quran statement about the starving person, being able to eat non halal food in order to survive, shows that the value of life is greater than the value of halal meat. Therefore the preservation of life is greater than sticking to a halal diet. As for the evidence given above of being just, even if it is against yourself, this is where Islamic Teleology differs from the standard notion of Teleology. The standard model may use the agent as the point of reference, eg the person doing the action, so from a Teleological perspective, if I lie and it beings me some good, then its fine. However Islam does not say this. Islam is saying, you must be just, regardless of its impact on you or people you care about. So how do we understand this in relation to our previous position on Islam being Teleological? The issue is the reference point.
When we say Islam is Teleological, we really mean this, does the act bring us closer to God? Or does it distance us from Him? This is the critical difference.
So to recap, a standard teleologist may think, does this act have a good outcome for me? a Deontologist would say “is this act good in itself?” and a Muslim would say, “Does this act’s outcome bring me closer or further from God?”
I hope to explore this issues further in future articles.