Criminal Justice Essay Paper on Utilitarianism vs. Deontological Ethical Systems

Ideologies of Utilitarianism and Deontological Ethical Systems

Utilitarianism refers to the ethical system that believes in maximizing the society’s happiness. It is often attributed to popular philosophers including John Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Proponents of utilitarianism hold that every action has calculable outcomes. Further, it argues that the outcome of ethical choices result into happiness to the members of the society at large (West, 2003). The ethical system judges actions based on the outcomes. Therefore, it is possible to forecast the outcomes of actions. Philosophers attribute utilitarianism with the old adage that the end justifies the means. Deontology on the other hand is the ethical system largely attributed to Immanuel Kant, a traditional philosopher. Proponents of deontology ethical system holds that there are ethical truths and norms transcendent and universally applicable to everyone. Whereas utilitarianism concentrates on actions and their outcomes, deontology requires that the actions as well as the means be ethical. Deontology argues that irrespective of the outcomes, some actions are immoral. Kant describes such actions as imperatively wrong and calls for people to act morally all the time (Miller, 2010). Deontology is based on the belief that human beings draw conclusions about what is right or wrong on the basis of rational thought.

The two ethical systems are often in conflict because utilitarianism believes that the merits and demerits of actions are easier to calculate instead of relying on moral truths as the guiding factor. As such, proponents of utilitarianism argue that it is prudent to consider the concrete methods of determining ethics in a certain act (West, 2003). According to utilitarianism, people should focus on the ends instead of means in determining whether an action is ethically correct. Conversely, the ends are often illusory according to deontology. Thus, it is practically impossible to correctly predict the outcome of an action with certainty. Deontologists hold that one can only be held responsible for his own actions but not those of others. Deontology is against utilitarianism allowing people to justify their dreadful behavior on grounds of beneficial outcomes.

Ethical/Unethical Decisions/Actions of Law Enforcement Agents

Law enforcement agents face numerous ethical dilemmas in their service to the people. In some instances the law enforcers are unsure of the policies and laws governing a particular situation (Gaines, Kappeler & Vaughn, 1994). In other instances, they are uncertain about the principles to apply in certain situations as well as the consequences they could face as a result of making certain decisions. Due to these ethical dilemmas, law enforcement agents are victims of mistrust. The ethical dilemmas affect all ranks of law enforcement departments and include but not limited to; a situation where the law enforcement officer is unsure of the right course of action, a situation where the action taken by the law enforcement officer was extremely difficult as well as a situation whereby the wrong action taken by the law enforcement officer was very tempting. Whereas some decisions are dictated and mandated by the law, most decisions are left upon the discretion of the law enforcement agents. In determining whether the actions are ethical or unethical, it is imperative to examine the decisions taken by the law enforcement agents. It is however important to note that individual behavior plays a critical role in determining who crossed the ethical boundary and who did not (Gaines, Kappeler & Vaughn, 1994). Breech of ethical standards by the law enforcement agents leads to further indiscretions in the service to the people and the overall administration of justice.


Gaines, L. K., Kappeler, V. E. & Vaughn, J. B. (1994). Policing in America. Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Pub.

Miller, F. P. (2010). Ethics of care: Ethics, consequentialism, deontological ethics, relational ethics. S.l.: Alphascript Pub.

West, H. R. (2003). An introduction to Mill’s utilitarian ethics. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.