Ethical theories can be seen as attempts to track what is worth caring about. This thought may naturally seem to support consequentialism, and especially utilitarianism. After all, the utilitarian can simply say, "I care about people! I want everyone to be as well-off as possible." And that seems a pretty attractive goal! There seems no doubt that people's welfare (and, more broadly, the welfare of sentient beings) is worth caring about. Is anything else comparably important, or worth caring about?
Take promises. People sometimes criticize utilitarianism on the grounds that it affords no intrinsic significance to promise-keeping, so utilitarians may be expected to break promises (at least when it's sufficiently clear that it really would be for the best). But does it really make sense to care about promises more than people? That sounds terribly perverse! Promises can be a useful tool for coordination, and hence serving our collective interests. But when promise-keeping and human welfare diverge, surely it's the latter that really matters.
Or consider objections based on "justice" and "fairness". Of course, I'm opposed to injustice as I understand it, which generally involves people suffering harms for no good reason. But if you think of justice and fairness as something opposed to the general welfare -- e.g., giving intrinsic weight to equality, or disproportionately weighting the interests of the worst-off -- then this seems harder to justify in terms of what's worth caring about. "I care about justice and equality rather than people" sounds like a kind of weird moral fetishism. Even prioritarianism: "I care about people, and the worst-off most of all" just seems kind of perverse -- doesn't it make more sense to care about all people equally (at least if they're not people you have any special relationship to)?
Various attempts at deontological distinctions -- doing/allowing, intended/foreseen, harming/failing to benefit, etc. -- seem similarly unmotivated when looked at through the lens of what's worth caring about. "I care about not myself performing such-and-such act types" sounds like a narcissistic concern for one's own moral purity, not an accurate perception of what really matters.
One might reasonably expand consequentialism beyond narrowly welfarist concerns: "I care about people, but also cultural flourishing, natural beauty, and philosophical understanding," sounds pretty reasonable to me. Likewise, putting an agent-relative twist on one's welfarism: "I care about people, but my wife and kids most of all." No problem. But the sorts of thoroughly non-consequentialist concerns discussed above just don't seem much worth caring about. Do you disagree?
I guess deontologists would want to say that they, too, "care about people", but just have a different understand of what this involves. They may say that caring about people in the ethically appropriate sense entails respecting their rights to be left alone, rather than promoting their welfare. But I have trouble understanding why anyone would care about rights independently of welfare. After all, a person's welfare just is what we should want insofar as we care about them. Whereas rights are either generally reliable rules or else constitute objectionable status quo bias. While the former are at least worth attending to, neither are plausibly of fundamental importance.
So, that's how things look from my (admittedly thoroughly consequentialist) perspective. What do others think? Can you offer a more sympathetic and compelling story about what deontologists care about? Or would you instead object to framing ethical debate in terms of what's worth caring about?