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Deontological Vs Utilitarian Ethics Essay

Kant believed that morality is dependent upon reason, that to act rationally was the same as acting morally. He placed a high value upon duty in determining the moral worth of an action. Kant’s deontological ethics is essentially an ethics of duty or obligation. As such, he claims that the moral worth of an action depends solely on whether or not it was done exclusively from a sense of duty. If an act is done simply because one is so inclined, the act has no moral value. This principle holds true even if inclination happens to be in agreement with duty. To illustrate this point, he uses the example of a truly beneficent person.

He says that while kindness to all man is a duty, there are some who are naturally inclined to be kind. He asserts “But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations…” (Gregory and Giancola, 82). When these spread kindness while motivated by their own inclination to be kind, their kind acts have no moral value, because in his view in order for an act to be moral, it must be done for the sake of duty alone. Essentially, deontological ethics says the less inclined one is to perform an act that duty calls one to, the more moral worth the act has.

While deontological ethics is completely independent of inclination, utilitarian ethics is in many was based upon it. Utilitarianism is built on hedonism, which is the claim that pleasure is the supreme good for man. The main idea of utilitarianism is that man is naturally inclined to seek pleasure and avoid pain and this natural inclination is to be embraced as it will lead man to the supreme end, which is happiness. Utilitarian ethics says that moral acts are those that promote pleasure and avoid pain while immoral acts do the opposite. In is definition of utilitarianism, John Mills says that as far as possible, pleasure in its highest quantity and quality should be promoted and this for the greatest number of people possible. He says, “…that standard is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether…” (Gregory and Giancola, 92). In my view this means that according to utilitarian ethics, the moral act is the one that brings pleasure to the greatest amount of people.


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