Utilitarianism vs kantianism essay

Utilitarianism vs kantianism essay

Utilitarianism vs Kantianism Essay

Get custom essay sample written according to your requirements

Urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website!

The two sources of moral guidance are the rivaling theories of Kantianism and Utilitarianism, both normative moral theories, meaning they deal with how we know what is right or wrong. Kantianism is a deontological theory developed by Immanuel Kant. This means that the theory holds the importance of duty and motives of an act in higher prestige than the consequences of said act. Kant argued, what came with is religiosity, that we, humans are rational, moral beings. This meant that we understand intrinsically what our moral duty is; this means that our motives that we act on will be based on what we feel it is our duty to do and then equally important goodwill. Goodwill is what, Kant believed to be good without question, for example murder and lying. This is where Kant introduces the idea of maxims. Maxims are rules that are formulated as rules to follow as moral law similar to a divine commandment e. g. do not murder, do not lie.

Kant claimed that in order for a maxim to be used as a moral law it must pass the test that is Categorical Imperative (CI). The CI consists of 3 formulations, the Universal Law, this is the test of the logical possibility of universalizability – “Act only on that maxim which you can at the same time will should become a universal law” which claims that if a maxim is universalizable then if every person were to follow the same maxim then the world would be a more moral place. Secondly was the End in itself which claimed that it is fine to use people to achieve goals as long as that is not all you use them for and lastly the Kingdom of Ends which was Kant’s logical combination of the two. Kant held two things on equal as Universalizable maxims and these were to never lie and to never murder, so in this case then Kant would agree on never murdering because he would argue that murdering is not part of a moral duty or a goodwill motive.

We will write a custom essay sample on Utilitarianism vs Kantianism specifically for you
For only $16.38 $13.9/page

We will write a custom essay sample on Utilitarianism vs Kantianism specifically for you
FOR ONLY $16.38 $13.9 /page

We will write a custom essay sample on Utilitarianism vs Kantianism specifically for you
FOR ONLY $16.38 $13.9 /page

Kant’s theory sounds all well and good but it lacks massive ecological validity because it is not applicable to real life. This is because, when formulating a maxim a few fatal things may happen. First of all it is slightly time-wasting for small moral dilemmas but more important are the contradictions in conception and in the will when formulating a maxim. In Kant’s philosophy conception is a contradiction which some impermissible maxims are guilty of because they attempt to will a logically impossibly state of affairs. Also a contradiction is in the will which some impermissible maxims are guilty of because although they are possible to conceive, they are inconsistent with other maxims which any rational person would wish to assent to at some point. Kant’s deontology is his downfall, completely ignoring consequences reduces the ecological validity because it’s human nature to take consequences into account when valuing a moral action, in addition, when formulating a maxim, universalization suggests taking consequences into account.

The rivaling theory is that founded by Jeremy Bentham, Utilitarianism, which is a teleological, consequentialist moral theory. This would then make it the theory that idolizes consequences as opposed to duty or motive when valuing moral worth of an act. Utilitarianism claims that an act that produces a pleasurable consequence (increase of happiness and decrease in pain) is a moral act and a bad act (decrease of happiness and increase in pain) is an immoral act. Bentham’s first decree was to declare that the GHP (Greatest Happiness Principle) which is based on 3 principles: Principle of Equity, that everyone’s individual happiness is as important as everyone else’s. The Hedonistic Principle, that the main goal is the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain. Consequentialist, if the consequences are good, the act is good. The GHP aims for the greatest quantity of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Bentham focused mainly then on the quantity of happiness of people and from this hedonism he formed the hedonistic calculus. The hedonistic calculus consisted of 7 variables of pleasure to be values quantitatively to value the total pleasure of an act, the 7 values were: Intensity, Duration, Certainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity and Extent. John Stuart Mill was the next proponent of Utilitarianism. Mill went a few steps further for the theory and made the claim that quality of the pleasure was also as important as the quantity. Mill decided that higher pleasures were those of the intellect and included things like reading poetry and lower pleasures were those of the body and included eating sweets. Higher pleasure is then valued as higher quality pleasure than the lower pleasures “It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”.

He also added that people that have experienced both forms of pleasures and prefer the higher are then competent judges and should be consulted for qualitative moral guidance. Utilitarianism is then refined into Act or Rule Utilitarianism. Rule Utilitarianism is all about maximizing the Utility in a situation by sticking to rules like “Do not cheat”, “Do not lie”, “Obey the law” and so would focus on the moral acts that would comply with these rules and produce the GHP. Alternatively, Act Utilitarianism accepts relative and situational morality therefore would be able to adapt their decision on what would produce the GHP. Therefore in the situation of never to murder a Rule Utilitarian would always agree because it is illegal to murder and to maximize Utility the law must be upheld. An Act Utilitarian may agree with the Rule Utilitarian although, may disagree also because they may argue a situation in which to kill would be a justifiable action based on the consequences.

It must lead then, that a consequential, teleological theory is more ecological theory, although it does not escape its flaws. With a purely consequentialist theory it is next to impossible to determine the consequences of an act because we only have perceived consequences, this is especially problematic in a situation that has not been experienced before as well as needing to determine the long term or short term consequences or the global or local consequences. Bentham’s Hedonistic Calculus suffers the criticism of being inevitably inaccurate because having to value an emotion is also extremely difficult. Mill’s competent judge theory of higher and lower pleasures can be seen as a very elitist theory as a lot of people may prefer lower pleasures or maybe value lower and higher pleasures equally.

Live and love life

Utilitarianism vs. Kantian Ethics

06 Wednesday Feb 2013


Last semester, I was assigned to write a final paper on Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics for my Philosophy class. I had to study and evaluate the work of two philosophers named Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant. These two philosophers examined the nature of morality a long time ago and they formed two different theories of moral philosophy.

Bentham formed the consequentialist utilitarian theory which evaluates the moral rightness of a decision based on its outcome, while Kant formed the deontological moral duty theory which evaluates the moral rightness of an action no matter what the consequence. (Wolff)

Jeremy Bentham is primarily known today for his principle of utilitarianism, which evaluates actions based on their consequences. He believes that an act is considered “just” if it generates the most happiness and the least pain for the greatest number of people affected directly or indirectly by that action. Bentham defines utility as the property in any object that tends to produce benefit, good, pleasure or happiness or averts the happenings of pain and unhappiness to the party where interest is considered. Hence, utilitarianism bases its understanding of right action based on consequences. (Wolff)

The three principal characteristics that constitute the basis of Bentham’s moral and political philosophy are the greatest happiness principle, universal egoism and the artificial identification of one’s interests against others. Bentham reminds us that it is crucial to move from the total pleasure and pain experienced by one person to the total pleasure or pain experienced by all members of the community taken together. (Wolff)

On the other hand, Kant proposes that only duty and rules should govern our actions, as consequences are beyond our control. Kant‘s theory of ethics is known as Kantian ethics and it is considered deontological because deontology is the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule. (Wolff) His theory holds that an action is either “just” or “unjust” without any regard to the consequences of that same action. To Kant, the only good thing in the universe is good will. If we are able to comprehend the term ‘good will’, then we can understand the main idea behind his ethical theory. The question I have is, how do we know what it means to be good, and how do we encourage a good will?

Kant’s ethics is guided by the fundamental principle called Categorical Imperative. Kant’s famous statement of this duty is: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (McCormick)

Consider the following situation: There are ten dying patients in a small clinic in a village who have a rare blood disease and they urgently need blood transfusions from a healthy individual with blood type O. Coincidentally, a healthy individual with no friends or family walks into the clinic for a routine check-up and the doctor finds out that the healthy individual’s blood type is O. Now, the doctor is faced with two options; he can either kill the healthy individual to save the other ten dying patients, or allow the ten dying patients to die and let the healthy individual live. In this situation, what is the doctor morally obliged to do?

Broadly speaking, Bentham would first consider the outcomes of both actions and evaluate how much pleasure or pain either action will cause, while Kant would consider the action of killing someone and evaluate if the action is morally “right” or “wrong.

Bentham’s system of ethics takes no account of intentions of our actions, and as a result, the unethical intention of killing the healthy individual can be justified. Bentham believes that an action is “right” only if it produces the most happiness and the least pain for the greatest number of people affected directly or indirectly by that action, he would say that the doctor is justified in killing the healthy individual because it maximizes utility of the ten dying patients, their families and friends.

Conversely, before Kant decides if killing the healthy individual is moral or immoral, he would consider if killing the healthy individual will respect the goals of humanity. He would want us to act in such a way that we treat humanity, whether in our own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never just as a means. Kant’s theory suggests that the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences; even in in cases where the action would bring about more happiness than the alternative. Therefore, the doctor would not be morally justified in killing the patient.

In the example above, it can be said that the Kantian response seems intuitively right as killing the healthy individual just because he can save ten other lives violates the goals of humanity. Furthermore, in real life, no doctor would want to take on the responsibility of killing an innocent person, regardless of whether they would save the lives of ten other patients. The law will ensure the doctor gets arrested for murder and it is not the doctor’s legal duty or responsibility to kill the healthy individual.

Consider another example – imagine if you were living in Singapore during the World War II. Your very close family friend and neighbor, Mr. Tan, who is Chinese, has lost his home due to a bombing and he and his family have come to ask if they can stay with you for a week. You agreed to house him for a week and all seems to be going well until one day you find out that the Japanese soldiers have a clue that there is a slight chance that Mr. Tan and his family might be living with you. They have come to your home to look for Mr. Tan and his family.

If the soldiers find out that Mr. Tan is living with you, they will arrest him and possibly separate him from his family forever. They might even cause potential harm to his family. The question then is, what are you morally obliged to do? In this situation, you have two options; you can either lie to the Japanese soldiers saying you have no idea where Mr. Tan and his family are residing, or you can admit that indeed – they are living with you.

Bentham would say that you should not tell the Japanese soldiers that Mr. Tan and his family are living with you because that action does not produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Additionally, by lying, you will save Mr. Tan and his family’s life, and as a result, Bentham would say that in this case, lying will maximize utility. Hence, Bentham’s theory indirectly implies that the only outcome of an act fixes its moral value.

Conversely, as Kant views the ethical value of an act based on the cause behind the action, rather than the result that is achieved by the action, Kant would say that lying to the Japanese soldiers in any circumstance is wrong, even if it means jeopardizing Mr. Tan and his family’s life. In other words, the consequence of your action does not matter, all that matters is that the act of lying is wrong, and therefore you should not lie.

In the example above, it can be said that the utilitarianism answer seems intuitively right because there is no reason why you should be honest to the Japanese soldiers, as their only motive is to harm Mr. Tan and his family.

My opinion is that lying is acceptable when protects yourself or others from potential harm. If someone was holding a knife to your neck, asking you if your favorite color was red, and if you know for a fact that saying yes would save your life, even though your favorite color is purple, would you tell the truth? I would lie, because I value my life more. While lying is generally immoral, as with any other general concept, there are always exceptions.

I think that the Greatest Happiness principle that forms part of Bentham’s idea of utility is to some extent flawed because I do not think happiness can be measured. The definition of happiness is subjective and different for everyone. We have contrasting methods of measuring the achievement of happiness. Moreover, if unanticipated considerations cause all of our actions to not go as planned, even though we were endeavoring to act according to Bentham’s theory, wouldn’t all of us be considered immoral, since the consequence would be great pain?

Additionally, the Greatest Happiness principle permits us to cause pain to others, as long as the majority of a community becomes happier. Slavery, abuse, bullying, rape, and murder can be justified under utilitarianism. Murderers could justify their action by simply killing all of those who opposed them.

Also, if you think about it, his principle makes it acceptable for America to steal hundred million gallons of oil from the Middle East. Let’s imagine that the government has shared with all Americans that they will no longer have to pay for income tax because of the extra income that has been earned from oil. This maximizes the greatest happiness and utility for all Americans, and thus this makes the act of stealing tolerable.

Moreover, because Bentham’s theory only takes into account the most happiness possible caused by a moral action, it neglects minorities. For example, in Singapore, the Sikhs are a substantial minority in a population of mainly Chinese and Muslims. If someone were to annihilate all the Sikhs for the happiness of the Chinese and Muslims, then according to Bentham’s theory, the majority of the people would be happy. In this sense, this theory is flawed because although a certain action may cause the greatest happiness for the greatest number of the people (Chinese and Muslims), the Sikhs will be unhappy.

Similarly, for Kant, fully ignoring the consequence of a moral action is not a worthy idea, because sometimes, in situations, we may have more than one duty or obligation to perform, and his theory doesn’t explain what we should do in a situation when we can only fulfil one duty. Moreover, what if we are not capable of reasoning well? Are we going to depend on someone else to help us determine the action we are going to take?

To decide what is right or wrong in our lives, I think that we should first define the scope of our dilemma, take into account the advantages and disadvantages in both course of actions, and only then we should apply the appropriate theory to justify ourselves.

McCormick, Matt. Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics. 2001. Internet Encyclopedia of PhilosophyWeb. 10 Dec 2012.

Utilitarianism VS Kantian Deontological Ethics

Extracts from this document.

Utilitarianism VS Kantian Deontological Ethics Utilitarianism is a theory of metaethics. This means that it is grounds for what we mean when we say something is good, bad, right or wrong. This differs from normative ethics, which addresses which things that we encounter in real life are good or bad. Utilitarian ethics is based on quantitative maximisation of some good for society or humanity and its main advocate was Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). It is a form of consequentialism, thus focusing on the outcomes of actions and placing emphasis on the ends over that of the means. The good that is required to be maximised is often happiness or pleasure, though some utilitarian theories might seek to maximise other consequences. Utilitarianism is sometimes summarised as «The greatest happiness for the greatest number.» As a form of consequentialism, utilitarianism states that we must first consider the consequences of our actions, and from that, make an appropriate choice about our action that would generate the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people (or in some forms of utilitarianism, people and animals). In modern times this is, perhaps wrongly, interpreted as stating that an action is judged entirely by its consequences, and so can be morally good even though the intentions of the action may have been villainous or wicked. Thus, this interpretation implies that someone may perform a moral action consistent with utilitarianism without even meaning to. However, more refined forms of utilitarianism exist, such as those proposing maximised ‘benefit’, which seems broader and less physical. This seems a more promising metaethical theory because it does not define pleasure as the only morally good thing. Rule utilitarianism goes further in refining the theory, stating that we must consider the consequences of a rule instead of an action, and then follow the rule which would best yield the most happiness for the most amount of people involved. . read more.

However, this can be countered by claiming that someone with genuinely good intentions would consider the potential indirect consequences of their action before acting; the well meaning fool is said to be ‘wearing blinkers’ which in itself is ill-intentioned. Kant suggests that good intentions imply attaining an education in order that you can assess situations better, a form of intellectualism also backed by the mighty Socrates. Relative maxims are also problematic. The principle for exactly the same action can be described in dramatically different ways by different people. An example of this would be a terrorist freedom fighter, who might claim he is acting under the maxim ‘always do your best to prevent your family and friends from suffering oppression from others’, which is clearly drastically different to the interpretation of the action by his victims’ families who might see it as ‘murder innocent people when you feel like it’. Kant would claim that there is an inherent maxim to every action according to all its details which could simply be worked out due to negotiation to obtain an absolute correct maxim for the action. However, the correct maxim of an action must be at least partly relative due to the different situations the two different parties are occupy. Indeed, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Furthermore, some argue that following maxims leads to silly universalisations and blind rationality which impede certain situations. An example of this objection to Kant’s ethics in action is in the case of a large car crash which five people encounter and every one of them impliments the maxim ‘always ring the ambulance if you think someone could be injured’. In doing so, none of them try to help smaller injuries or inform any of the other emergency services because as narrow-minded individuals, they are all competing to get through to the same service. This challenge can however be refuted by Kant with the question «what if everybody did that?». . read more.

Whilst utilitarians would argue that justification of either slavery, torture or murder would require improbably large benefits to outweigh the direct and extreme suffering of the victims, it still appeals to me that these three things (and others) are inherently wrong no matter what the consequences; in other words, they are absolutely immoral. Whilst it is true of Kant’s theory that relative maxims can lead to warped universal laws, unlike utilitarianism, it requires the person holding the intention to be rational, as well as to be accepting of the affect that the universal law might have on them. Also, the motivation behind utilitarianism seems weaker than that of Kant’s deontological ethics, which is contained in the ‘good will’. The sole motivation for utilitarianism is the pursuit of increased net happiness or pleasure, and the theory appears to set the bar far too high for a moral action: there appears no upper boundary to the happiness potential. In conclusion, there are pros and cons to both Kantian deontological ethics and utilitarianism. Utilitarianism promotes paternalistic democracy, where as the democracy implied by Kant’s moral theory would be more liberal with emphasis on individual freedom. Both appear to advocate a cold and almost robotic inclination to follow your duty. Kant’s deontology has many universal laws, placing reason above all else, but utilitarianism has just one which others can be deduced from according to situations. The lack of any desire to perpetuate happiness in Kantian deontological ethics could be disconcerting to some, favouring statements such as ‘If I am unhappy or in pain, following my duty would probably be slightly lower down my list of priorities.’ However, the theory does have a great strength in that it offers the possibility of criticising evil cultures, even the one in which you yourself are living. A combination of the two theories in which duty, happiness, intentions and consequences all played a role would be the ultimate. However, constructing a coherent theory as such is a grand and daunting task. ?? ?? ?? ?? Richard Fenton 12EO 1 . read more.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Practical Questions section.