Saturday, May 3, 2008

Aha: teleology & deontology

There is a new - or, more correctly, a modified to fit sign language interpreting - theory which tosses around the words "deontology" and "telelogy" like everyone just knows what they mean and can distinguish between the two.

I finally had them explained in a way which made sense to me and I think, finally, I get it! I know this new understanding is just the rudiments of what they represent - but it makes some sense now. The theory for interpreting is ... well, let me back up and explain why I'm talking about them here, on my writing blog, which is not about interpreting.

As writers, these are the dilemmas we write about and explore in everything we do. We look at what happens when these two views collide and places where they overlap or where our characters are forced to think outside of their own box.

And I wonder how these two types of ethical reasoning play out in the business and the process of writing.

These two approaches look at *how* ethical situations are evaluated and decisions are made. The resultant action (which may be inaction) is not determined by the type of ethical reasoning used. In my training this weekend, we were shown an example where the decision made by one of the parties was exactly the same, although she used a teleological approach one time and a deontological approach the other.

At the most basic form, teleology is determining the course of action by primarily considering the consequences of the actions, while deontology is determining the course of action by primarily considering the rules and principles involved. Hmmm, very interesting. I found an expanded version of this explanation on for deontological ethics and for teleological ethics.

What if we are writing a story with a teleologically oriented protagonist who works for a large corporation with a boss prone to deontological reasoning? Could a little of that creative tension we want be in that dynamic? Or if we are a writer who writes from intuition with a protagonist who bends expectations and morals a little in the name of justice - yet the market we are aiming for carries around a rule book? Can we let each other follow his or her own process, knowing that the end results would be the same if the process were different? Does this mean we are all striving for the same answers and it's the road we're following to get there which is different?

photograph by Serena Davidson

Not a new idea, I know, and not that this is an either/or nor value-laden system. But somehow the discovery of definitions which make sense shed new light on the possibilities. A window was opened and I felt a breeze of creativity blow through, thick with the possibility of teleological and deontological perspectives in delicious vibrant conflict.

And the telelogical and deontological discussions seem to be very strongly related to language, another "big duh," I know, *smile*. But I have witnessed times where a disagreement is really an argument based on a different semantic understanding - and now I will watch for a consequences versus rules understanding. Which weaves this discussion back to sign language interpreting - my other profession, based on linguistics and concepts, rather than the form.

It will be interesting to see where further consideration of this idea leads.