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Teleological vs. Deontological: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 27, 2024
Teleological ethics focus on the consequences of actions to determine right or wrong, while deontological ethics judge actions based on rules and duties.

Key Differences

Teleological ethics, also known as consequentialism, base moral judgment on the outcomes or consequences of actions. In this view, actions are right if they lead to desirable outcomes. Deontological ethics, on the other hand, argue that morality is determined by duty or adherence to given rules, regardless of the consequences.
Teleological thinking is closely associated with philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, who advocated utilitarianism, a form of teleological ethics focusing on the greatest good for the greatest number. Contrastingly, deontological ethics are most famously linked to Immanuel Kant, who emphasized that actions are morally right based on their adherence to duty and not on their consequences.
In teleological ethics, decision-making involves weighing the potential outcomes of different actions to choose the one with the best overall consequences. In deontological ethics, decision-making is guided by rules or principles; if an action aligns with these principles, it is considered morally right, irrespective of its outcomes.
In practical scenarios, teleological ethics might justify an action if it leads to a greater overall benefit, even if it involves harm. Deontological ethics would forbid actions that break moral rules, like lying or stealing, even if doing so could have beneficial outcomes.
Teleological ethics are often criticized for justifying harmful actions if they result in good outcomes, leading to potential moral dilemmas. Deontological ethics, while praised for upholding consistent moral standards, are criticized for being too rigid and not considering the context or outcomes of actions.

Comparison Chart

Basis of Morality

Outcomes of actions
Adherence to rules and duties

Philosophical Association

Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill
Immanuel Kant


Weighing outcomes
Following moral rules

Approach to Ethical Dilemmas

Justifies actions based on good outcomes
Focuses on duty, regardless of outcomes

Common Criticism

Can justify harmful actions
Too rigid, ignores consequences

Teleological and Deontological Definitions


It emphasizes the end results over the means.
In a teleological view, breaking a rule is acceptable if it results in a positive outcome.


It emphasizes duty and principle over results.
In deontological ethics, keeping a promise is mandatory, even if breaking it has benefits.


Teleological theories often include utilitarianism.
From a teleological perspective, saving more lives at the expense of one is justifiable.


Deontological ethics focus on the righteousness of actions themselves.
Deontological ethics would forbid harm to an individual, even if it could help others.


Teleological ethics focus on the consequences of actions.
A teleological approach might justify a lie if it leads to greater happiness.


Deontological ethics judge actions based on moral rules.
A deontological perspective considers lying wrong, regardless of the outcome.


It's about the 'greatest good for the greatest number.'
A teleological decision would prioritize actions that benefit the majority.


Associated with Kant's moral philosophy.
A deontological approach aligns with Kant's principle of treating people as ends, not means.


Teleological ethics measure rightness by the end good achieved.
In teleological ethics, the moral value of charity is determined by its impact on poverty.


It considers some actions intrinsically right or wrong.
From a deontological view, theft is always immoral, irrespective of the reason.


The philosophical interpretation of natural phenomena as exhibiting purpose or design.


Ethical or moral theory concerned with duties and rights.


The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.


The doctrine that ethical status of an action lies in its adherence to a set of rules.


Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in history.


Of or relating to deontology.


Of or pertaining to teleology; showing evidence of design or purpose.


Pertaining to deontology.


Of or pertaining to teleology, or the doctrine of design.


Showing evidence of design or purpose, especially in natural phenomena.


Of or relating to teleology


What is teleological ethics?

Teleological ethics judge actions by their consequences or outcomes.

Can teleological ethics justify harmful actions?

Yes, if the outcomes are considered overall positive.

Which is more outcome-focused, teleological or deontological ethics?

Teleological ethics are more outcome-focused.

What's a key criticism of deontological ethics?

They can be too inflexible, ignoring practical consequences.

What is deontological ethics?

Deontological ethics determine morality based on rules and duties.

Does deontological ethics consider consequences?

No, deontological ethics focus on adherence to moral rules, not outcomes.

Are deontological ethics flexible in approach?

No, they are generally rigid, focusing on duty.

Can deontological ethics ever justify lying?

Typically no, as it would violate moral rules.

Is utilitarianism a form of teleological ethics?

Yes, utilitarianism is a type of teleological ethics.

Do teleological ethics have a key philosophical figure?

Yes, philosophers like Bentham and Mill are key figures in teleological ethics.

What's a key criticism of teleological ethics?

They can justify morally questionable actions for good outcomes.

Are teleological ethics more pragmatic?

They can be seen as more pragmatic due to their focus on outcomes.

Do teleological ethics align with consequentialism?

Yes, teleological ethics is another term for consequentialism.

Are deontological ethics consistent across situations?

They aim to be consistent by upholding the same moral rules.

Who is a major proponent of deontological ethics?

Immanuel Kant is a major proponent of deontological ethics.

Do deontological ethics prioritize individual rights?

Yes, they often prioritize rights and duties over consequences.

What is a key virtue in deontological ethics?

Integrity and adherence to moral duty are key virtues.

How do teleological ethics view charity?

As morally good if it leads to positive outcomes.

How do deontological ethics view breaking promises?

As morally wrong, regardless of the consequences.

Can teleological ethics change with situations?

Yes, as they are based on assessing different outcomes.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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