A False promise means “a promise that is made with no intention of carrying it out and esp. that is made with intent to deceive or defraud”. Nowadays, making false promises has become ubiquitous in our daily life. Is it a right action or not? Based on Kantian ethic and Utilitarianism, there are different views in making a false promise.
Utilitarians’ view in making a false promise For Utilitarianism, it looks at the consequence of an action for all those people affected by the action. If the overall balance of happiness over unhappiness is its consequence, the action is right; unhappiness over happiness, it is wrong.(Chan Chun Fai’ s notes, Moral Theories, p.2) Also, the principle of utility applied to it is generally expressed as “Always act to produce greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. “ (Chan Chun Fai’s Power Point)
For example, Betty has made a false promise to Peter. She borrowed some money from Tom as to travel to Taiwan with her friends and promised him that she would return money to him after one week. So, Tom was glad to lean her money. Betty made a false promise to have enough money travelling with their friends and her friends were so thrilled about that although Tom would feel depressed about it. However, this action produces greatest happiness for the greatest number of people that Betty and her friends felt happy while only Tom felt unhappy. Therefore, it is considered as a right thing to do.
But for rule-utilitarianism (RU), it is treated as a wrong action because RU looks at the consequence of a rule and the principle of utility is applied to a rule. Also, if everyone following the rule could produce good consequence, then we should abide by that rule—a right rule. (Chan Chun Fai’s Power Point) In this situation, if everyone made false promises, people would stop believing promises and each other. As this action result in bad consequence, it is not a right action in the concept of rule- utilitarianism. Kantians’ view in making a false promise
Kant’s deontology is not about consequence and happiness. It is about to act with a good will (which is an absolute good) is to act out of duty; to act out of duty is to act with moral law. (Chan Chun Fai’s notes, Moral Theories—Kant’s deontology P.1) If we do things just for our desires or feelings, it is not considered as a truly moral action. For example, Peter does some social services only because it benefits him to get into university. In this case, as his social services are based on his desires, they are not done out of duty. So, these actions are not treated as moral actions.
Of course, in Betty’s case, she made a false promise to Tom and she acted without a good will. Also, she made a false promise to get what she wants has indicated that she did this only for her desires. Therefore, making a false promise is not a moral action in Kantians’ view.
Besides, there is a principle of morality in Kant’s deontology called “Categorical Imperative”. It is the cardinal principle of morality. “A categorical imperative is unconditional and independent of any circumstances, goals, or desires.” (Chan Chun Fai’s notes, Moral Theories—Kant’s deontology, P.2) Kant expressed this idea in two formulations called “universal law” and “the end in itself”. Base on this two formulas, we can judge an action whether it is right.
Refer to the formula of universal law, we need to act only on that maxim whereby we can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. In general, if it is right for you to do something, then it is right for anyone in similar situation to do the same thing and you are required to be consistent—do not make exceptions for anyone, including yourself. Obviously, making a false promise cannot be a universal law as it is impossible for everyone to do the same or for you to will that everyone acts as you do. In fact, most of people must be unwilling to be made a false promise. As making false promises has exception that no one is willing for everyone to follow this rule, it cannot be a universal law. Due to this, it is not a right action.
According to “the end in itself”, it is stated “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.” (Chan Chun Fai’s notes, Moral Theories, P.4) That means, we need to treat all rational humans as ends, never merely as a means to an end. Additionally, Kant stated that “Every man is to be respected as an absolute end in itself; and it is a crime against the dignity that belongs to him as a human being to use him as a mere means for some external purpose.”Hence, it is morally wrong for Betty to make a false promise to him that uses Tom merely as a means to achieve her ends because Tom also has ends of his own. Therefore, making false promises is a wrong action in Kantian’s view as performing this action doesn’t not respect others and use others merely as a means. My point of view over Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics
In my opinion, Kantian ethics is better than Utilitarianism as doing things with Kant’s Deontology can enhance harmony in our community. Say, if we do social services out of duty, not of desires or feelings, such kind of behaviors can last longer. If we do social work base on the concept of utilitarianism in order to get some benefits or to satisfy ourselves, we will stop doing social services sooner or later once we have been satisfied. In addition, Kant’s deontology advocates respect of others while utilitarianism is more aggressive and selfish. If everyone does things with the concept of utilitarianism, it can be harmful to our society as all of us only think about ourselves instead of being considerate to others.
Conclusion In an aspect of utilitarianism, if making a false promise can produce greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, it is a right action while it is a wrong thing to do in rule-utilitarianism as it result in bad consequence.
Moreover, making false promises is with a bad will and for people’s desires that it is not a right thing to do in Kantians’ view as it uses others merely as a means and it will not be a universal law. Personally, I think Kantian’s ethics is more ideal than utilitarianism because of social harmony.
Courtney from Study Moose
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