A police officer is always in a dilemma during massive and uncontrolled protest of people on any sensitive issue whether to use hard force for maintaining law and order, which is his prime duty, or to consider and gauge the consequences before taking any measure to restore law and order.
• In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on rules. It is sometimes described as “duty-” or “obligation-” or “rule-” based ethics, because rules “bind you to your duty”. In deontology, action is more important than the consequences.
• Whereas Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.
• Thus if a protesting crowd turns aggressive, unrelenting and violent, a police officer needs to resort to force to establish law and order and secure life and property of the innocent citizens. This may call for using tear gas, water guns, pellet guns, rubber cannons or even real bullets— but in such cases the limit to the use of force is set by permissible harm or minimum deterrence to miscreants and anti-social elements.
• This lead to question ‘what should come first— duty or consequences’.
• It is always a matter of dilemma for a police officer to select his philosophy and rationale of acting soft or hard against the protesters. Policing is a real time act and decisions have to be taken in the spur of the moment in emergent situations.
• The first duty of the police officers is to establish law and order and save life and property. Deontology generally reigns supreme in police and defense.
• Consequences, however, cannot be easily set aside while doing their duties. If a police action leads to huge social and human cost even if s/he does her or his assigned duty, consequentialism needs to be used as a guide before the action.
• Nevertheless, if police acts in anger, retribution and revenge and brutally attacks the protestors or perpetrators of violence- it is neither justified by neither deontology nor consequentialism.
• Thus, in variety of situations just relying on normative criteria, viz., deontology or consequences of an act would never prove to be a complete guide to a police officer. Ethical pragmatism can be a better guide. Ethical pragmatists acknowledge that it can be appropriate to practice a variety of other normative approaches (e.g. consequentialism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics), yet acknowledge the need for mechanisms which allow society to advance beyond such approaches, a freedom for discourse and action which does not take any such theory as assumed.
Consequentialism focuses on the consequences or results of an action. One of the most well known form of consequentialism is utilitarianism which was first proposed by Jeremy Bentham and his mentee J.S. Mill. This is about comparing the utility of the consequences of an action. J.S. Mill proposes this as ”the greatest happiness for the greatest number” as the guiding principle within utilitarianism.
Some have argued that this is flawed as it does not allow for one to be able to follow certain moral rules and it concentrates too much on the ends rather than the means.
Deontological ethics focuses on how actions follow certain moral rules. So, the action is judged rather than the consequences of the action. The biggest proponent of deontological ethics was Immanuel Kant who said that moral rules should be adhered to if universalising the opposite would make an impossible world. So, “Do not steal” is a rule because if everyone stole as a rule, there would be no concept of private property.
Some have argued that deontological ethics is flawed as it is too absolutist – it says that some actions are always good or always bad without any judgement of the context of the action.