How to Distinguish between Duty-Based and Results-Oriented Ethics

Distinguishing between duty-based ethics and results-based ethics requires careful studying.

Results-based ethics and duty-based ethics are inherently different philosophies, each with its own support system. Duty-based ethics, most commonly associated with the views of Immanuel Kant, use a sense of moral duty, responsibility and justness to determine whether or not a behavior is ethical. Results-based ethics, on the other hand, are most commonly associated with the beliefs of John Stuart Mill, which focus on the idea that a behavior is only ethical if the results of the behavior are more helpful than harmful to society as a whole.

Understand the reasoning behind the ethical principle or behavior. Duty-based ethics are based on the idea that a behavior is right because of the feeling of responsibility to do the right thing, no matter what the cost -- doing the right thing because it is the "right thing to do." Results-based ethics, on the other hand, are based on the belief that a behavior should be executed based upon the consequences of the act. For example, an act that produces more harm than good should be avoided, even if it is considered "the right thing to do."

Consider whether or not the behavior is the result of a specific belief. Duty-based ethics follow the rules of Deontologist morals, whereas results-based ethics do not. These morals include ideas like the wrongness of killing the innocent, stealing and telling lies. If you identify any of these behaviors, it will help point you toward defining the behavior as duty-based ethics.

Determine whether or not the person is acting of their own will and belief that something is inherently right or wrong, which would identify the behavior as being associated with duty-based ethics. If not, then the action can be perceived as results-based ethics, in which the person is focused on the results of his actions.

Kate Taylor is a professional writer based in Lafayette, Ind. She has served as an online copywriter in areas such as pet care, education and landscaping. Taylor is working toward her M.B.A. at Loyola University Chicago.