Kant vs mill essay

Kant vs mill essay

Kant vs mill essay

Essays > Deontology and Teleology

One of the preeminent dilemmas of contemporary philosophy for the everyday person is the emphasis on a teleological theory or a deontological theory of ethics. They contravene each other thusly: the teleological theory prioritizes the ends of an action and thereby judges its moral nature while the deontological theory assigns priority to the obligation of one to act in a morally satisfactory fashion. The former can be said to be primarily concerned with human welfare and general societal well being, while the latter applies on a universal level to all without the ends being a factor for moral judgment. In this paper, I will illustrate the arguments pertaining to John Stuart Mill’s teleological utilitarianism and Immanuel Kant’s deontological categorical imperative.

In Utilitarianism, Mill generated an encompassing code of ethics by the same name (utilitarianism). In doing so, he articulated several key principles to the role one’s morality should play and the manner in which it must do so. The first is that actions will be right as much as they promote the general happiness, and conversely, as wrong as they promote unhappiness. Ergo, actions are evaluated morally based upon their consequences, not the actual act itself. Moreover, since happiness is the quantifiable justification for moral actions, Mill elucidates the struggle to measure moral good by declaring that each person’s happiness is equal to another’s.

However, Mill concedes that Utilitarians who have «cultivated their moral feelings but not their sympathies» will be prey for the trap of mistaking character and the morality of actions for irrelevant. Apparently, they have some small significance worth noting. Indeed, he goes on to also cedes that the ethics can be very rigid, as one makes it, or very lax, as one deems.

Considering Mill’s own concessions, one sees objections clearly: do not intentions have a role in morality? How can you apply morality to an agent that does not understand morality? At what cost do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one? Utilitarianism seems to put happiness into a business ledger. Sacrifices are okay if a greater profit can be gained.

On the other hand, Kant’s deontological approach arrives at different conclusions. That is because in «The Categorical Imperative,» he places emphasis exclusively upon the will of actions, the Good Will, not the consequences of the actions. Kant believes that the good will is a condition for happiness. As such, Kant considers that even if the good will lacks any means by which to accomplish something good, the good will remains a suitable end in itself. Three propositions follow this, according to Kant:

( i ) One’s will to actions of duty, prescribed by what is morally good, is a condition for being morally good. Not to act «as duty requires,» but to act «because duty requires» (Kant 550).
( ii ) Consequences are irrelevant because action through good will according to duty becomes its own moral worth.
( iii ) As a consequence of the first two propositions, duty becomes the necessity of acting with respect for the law. It’s another matter where respect must be present versus inclination.

With duty subsisting as central to Kant’s approach, the categorical imperative becomes clear. When deciding what is morally good or not, one must inquire: would I will that the rule I am following for my action (or «maxim») be a universal law? If it is, then the maxim will be on sound moral ground.

It seems that Kant describes a rather rigorous code of ethics. For example, Kant does not believe that under any circumstances it is morally permissible to lie. To lie would make a person a means to an end, which is not good, but also to apply a maxim that would enable people to lie all the time. If people did that because it was morally all right, then civilization would surely ground to a halt. The objection becomes clear: what if all one had to do was say he sees six lights instead of five lights, which is the truth, in order to save the universe?

It’s quite a quandary. If one were to follow the utilitarian approach to the light dilemma, then the universe would easily be saved. If one were to follow the categorical imperative, the universe would be destroyed — along with the good will of the person who told the truth. Though many, including myself, operate somewhere in between these two poles of ethical theory, it is no doubt because of compromise between the two, and a sacrifice of some value to make it so. At the very least, Kant and Mill still stand as consistent, moral ideals that people can continue to ascribe to.

Work Cited
Kant, Immanuel. «The Categorical Imperative.» In Questioning Matters, ed. Daniel Kolak, 547-555. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000.

Comparison of Kant and Mill


The following similarities were noted by Dr. Hitchcock:

Both propose to base morality on a single first principle (for Kant the categorical imperative in its three supposedly equivalent formulations, for Mill the principle of utility).

Both incorporate in their proposed first principle of morality a kind of universality, in Kant’s case that of restricting one’s rules of action to those that one can will to be a universal law of nature, in Mill’s case considering the consequences of a kind of action for all humans and sentient creatures.

Both recognize intermediate moral rules, called by Kant «duties» and by Mill «subordinate principles».

Thus both have a two-stage conception of moral thinking, a «critical stage» in which one tests proposed intermediate moral rules against the first principle of morality and an «application stage» in which one makes a decision in a particular case on the basis of the relevant moral rules.

The duties to others recognized by Kant correspond to the subordinate principles recognized by Mill: not to lie, to be beneficent, not to steal, not to deprive others of liberty.

Both postulate a responsibility to contribute to the happiness of all other human beings, Kant in taking treating humanity as an end in itself to mean contributing positively to the ends of other persons (cf. his 4th example) and in taking legislation for a realm of ends as making everyone else’s ends one’s own (combined with his claim that every human being by nature desires their own happiness) and Mill directly in his principle of utility.

Both appeal to consequences in the application of their first principle to the derivation of duties, Kant in considering the consequences of a maxim’s becoming a universal law of nature and Mill in considering the consequences of a certain kind of action (e. g. lying).

The following similarities were noted by members of the class:

Both appeal to rationality to evaluate morality, in the sense that they reason from a fundamental principle about what is morally right or wrong.

Both recognize the existing of a «moral sense», although neither regards it as the basis of morality (unlike the 18th century Scottish moral sense theorists).

Both extend the scope of moral agency (who has moral responsibilities) to all rational beings (although Mill does not explicitly refer to any beings other than humans as moral agents).

Kant vs Mill Essay

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In the Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals, the author, Immanuel Kant, tries to form a base by rejecting all ethical theories that are connected to consequences, and then focusing on our ethical motivations and actions. Kant wants to derive good characters out of contingently right actions. He believes that everything is contingent (everything can have good or bad worth, depending on how it is used). So he is trying to find the supreme principal of morality in all his reasoning. Kant also believes that an action is right or wrong based solely on the reason by which it was performed.

However, a Utilitarian, like John Mill, would reject Kant’s reasoning of originating good characters out of actions alone, and instead argue that if an action has bad consequences, then the action was morally wrong. Kant believes that an action has moral worth only if it is done out of respect for our moral code. He names this moral action a? duty. ‘ Kant also believes that in determining the moral worth of an action, we need to look at the maxim by which it was performed. So, we need to look at one’s reason for doing an action to determine if it is a duty. If the reason for performing the action is justified, then the action is a duty.

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However, Kant says there are two different types of reasons for performing an action. Kant calls these reasons? imperatives. ‘ The first reason for performing an action, the hypothetical imperative, is based on consequences and on our personal preferences. They are also contingent, meaning that they can be good or bad depending on how they are used. People choose to perform a given action because of the hypothetical imperative. The second reason for performing an action according to Kant is called the categorical imperative. These are not based on our preferences, don’t deal with consequences of an action, and are derived a priori.

They are completely separate from hypothetical imperatives. We all have knowledge of categorical imperatives before experiencing them first. They are kind of a second nature for us, which needs to be recognized according to Kant. These are the most important reason for performing an action. These imperatives also have the characteristics that Kant needs in order to make his point that all of our moral principals are categorical, have absolute authority, and are independent of different situations. These categorical imperatives have three different formulations. The second formulation of the categorical imperative deserves the most attention.

The second formulation states that all rational beings should be treated as ends, because they are ends in themselves. So in making a decision, we must choose the action which respects the ends of others and of ourselves. This would be respecting an individual’s autonomy. Autonomy is commanding yourself to do what you think is a good idea to do. Since your self-identity comes from the autonomy principal, it is making choices based on your values. Each person has an idea of how they want to live their life, and with interfering with that idea, we are showing that person a lack of respect for their whole person.

A good example of interfering with a person’s autonomy is making false promises to somebody. When we lie to someone, we take away their choice by exploiting them. So when we take away their choices, we take away their autonomy. This is because it distracts the person’s perception on what is the case. If they can’t see everything clearly and make a good, moral choice, that is because they don’t know what they should. So we rob them of the ability to control themselves and their future. If everybody made choices and acted on their autonomy, would this world be a safe place to live?

It wouldn’t, because some people have no morals, and their autonomy tells them it is on their best interest to kill somebody. However, if each person respected the ends of themselves and of others, while acting on their autonomy, it would be a very safe place to live. In fact, it would be a perfect community. Kant calls this idea the? Kingdom of Ends. ‘ In the Kingdom of Ends, only those moral laws which respect and further the establishment of this perfect community are adopted. This perfect community is impossible to achieve, Kant says. But he says it is our best interest to try to reach it.

As I mentioned before, a Utilitarian, like John Mill, would argue against Kant by saying that an action has moral worth based on its consequences alone. Mill would argue against Kant by saying that making false promises are good or bad, based on the outcome, not on making the false promise. Mill would argue that if lying to somebody saved them some misery, or even their life, then lying to them would be the right action to do. For example, if you knew that somebody was going to get the crap kicked out of them tomorrow in class, and this person happened to be your friend, then you would tell them that your instructor called and class was cancelled.

This would be making a false promise to your friend, and will most likely have good consequences because your friend did not go to class and get beat up. Mill says this is the right action to take in this situation, because there were good consequences in the end of things. However, Kant would completely reject this idea of performing actions based on consequences. He does this based solely on unforeseen consequences. We cannot hope to predict the outcome of any given situation.

It is impossible; there is no such thing as seeing the future. So by making a false promise to your friend, you have still done the morally wrong action, even though it will most likely save them some suffering. It did indeed take away their choices, so they can’t act in a way they want to act (going to class). I happen to agree with Kant’s idea here. I think that no matter what the consequences are, performing the right action is always the right thing to do. Overall I think that Kant has better arguments because they are directed at the individual, not at society in whole.

I also agree that the moral worth of actions is determined by the motivating principal of the action, not by the consequences, like John Mill. So I am a deontologist, for the most part. However, I also agree with some of the things that Mill has to say. So is there a way that we can combine the ideas of Mill and Kant together in order to form a perfect society in which everybody is happy? I don’t know the answer to this question, but we should all strive to do so, and we should start by respecting each other’s autonomy and treating others as ends.