The deontological nature of “universally preferable behavior” can most easily be seen in the fact that Molyneux essentially ignores what he calls “the argument from effect”, which is to say the consideration of consequences. Apparently consequences and circumstances don’t really matter – principles are thought of as being self-evident and absolute without regard for consequences and circumstances. Bringing consequences and circumstances into the question is apparently supposed to be invalidated on the grounds that it flies in the face of universality. Yet principles that are held without regard for any context would seem to be what Rand liked to call “floating abstractions” – they are not grounded in anything.
As soon as we do try to ground principles in something, deontology implodes, for the principles are no longer valuable “in themselves” so much as valuable relative to other principles and other things. The principles, strictly speaking, are no longer treated as being “self-evident”, for one has to provide an actual reason for them. But a strict deontology will have none of this – the principles must be valuable “in themselves” irrespective of context. Hence, viewed deontologically, the principles are divorced from self-interest. They are supposed to be valid without regard for relationality and usage. They are supposed to have the character of the eternal, the unchanging, the transcendant, the unhuman.
Even in secular deontology, the essence of the divine command theory does not seem to be overcome. Instead of “god”, “nature” is supposed to do the commanding. In place of “god’s law” we put “nature’s law”. While the notion of “natural law” has certainly come a long way since its more religious beginnings, the reliance on the concept of “man’s nature” may still be questionable. A deontological “natural law” theory would seem to propose that we have a “duty to nature” or a “duty to man’s nature”. Whether the emphasis is placed on “god” or “man”, we are still told that we have an intrinsic duty. Such a duty apparently does not need justification, since it is concieved of as being intrinsic. Such a duty, strictly speaking, is not towards a thing but to the principle itself, to the concept. We must live for the sake of the concept, while the concept needs no justification – for it is treated as a given.
But what is such “intrinsic duty” but a spectre? Perhaps I may very well except a duty – but it must be explained to me precisely why I should have such a duty. Concepts do not have value to me intrisically, “in themselves”, but in their relation to other concepts and to things that I can grasp – and, at base, to my self-interest. If you cannot explain to me precisely why I should favor your principle and insist that I must accept it “in itself”, if you cannot explain what relevance it has to me (even indirectly), then I will probably dismiss it – and for good reason. For the deontologist has no positive case for their principles, since their principles are treated as a self-evident starting point. Yet even the deontologist has motivations and reasons, despite the fact that their philosophical methodology ignores them.
One of the major problems with deontology is its inability to connect morality to self-interest. The individual is expected to become an automaton that serves principles in a purely disinterested way – as if it were possible to be so disinterested or indifferent. And while the utilitarians, in their own way, do seem to connect morality to self-interest, they have such a superficial and simplified conception of self-interest as to make a self-aware egoist laugh. “The greatest good for the greatest number” – that is the utilitarian’s deontology, their contextless and unsubstantiated principle that floats in the sky. Our utilitarian friends aren’t much better than the deontologists, and in some cases they may very well be worse.
If in discussion and debate someone claims that their principles are self-evident and absolute truths that cannot be denied without being affirmed, without putting foreward any reason for why such principles are true and why they should be favored, then people probably aren’t very likely to accept such principles, and the deontologist in the scenario will probably be thought of as an asshole. The communist says, “private property is invalid!”, and our deontological libertarian friend need not actually disprove them, they can merely proclaim “you have just proved the validity of private property by argueing with me” or “private property is valid because it must be presupposed in order for us to debate”, and any substantive debate on the question henceforth becomes nullified.
Perhaps some people might be seduced by such arbitrary proclaimations, but most people will continue believing what they believe anyways, and the rest of us will view it as rhetorical trickery. More self-concious and intellectually subtle libertarians will see the problem with this approach, for it effectively reduces to the notion that “libertarianism is valid because libertarianism is valid”, “because because” or “because I said so”. What circular and question-begging nonsense this is. It’s enough to cause one to bang one’s head against the wall, or by the very least, it could lead to epic facepalming. But take your palms off of your faces, you self-concious libertarians, and use them (or your fingers, that is) to write for the purpose of clearing such confusion up. It is one thing for libertarianism to not be the norm – it’s another thing for libertarians to undermine libertarianism.