The writings of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant present very different ideas concerning the Ethical Problem. Mill’s ideas are referred to as Utilitarianism. In this system of thought, the basic belief is that happiness is the greatest goal and actions should be judged by their ability to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Kant, the Deontologist, believed that it is not the result of the action that is important, but the action itself. He advocated a moral rule based on reason.
The basic ideas found in these philosophers’ writings lead me to see Mill’s argument as the more plausible solution to the ethical problem. He believed that morality is associated with happiness and his idea that greater happiness for the greatest number of people should be the ultimate goal appears to be a worthy ambition. This would contribute to social order and supports our accepted ideas that actions such as murder are wrong. There are two definitions included in his writing which explained his ideas more clearly to me.
The first was “The Greatest Happiness Principle, which was defined as actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” ( ) Happiness is defined as “ pleasure and the absence of pain”( )Based on my own experience it is plausible to believe most of us are seeking pleasure and attempting to avoid pain; if these attempts are designed to provide the most happiness to the most people, it would appear we are attempting to be moral.
This also seems to be common sense, pleasure is good and pain is bad; regardless of other beliefs most people do accept this. The effects on a society, where people are attempting to provide the most pleasure for the most people, cannot be overlooked. This type of society would be more fair and peaceful since everyone must consider the needs of others equal to their own. This idea that morality of an action is based on the amount of happiness it produces for the most people can be understood and possibly studied.
It appears that if sociologists or psychologists could determine what makes people happy, we might be able to design social policies that would benefit society by increasing the happiness of a larger number of people. Mill recognizes that “some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others” ( 37 text) and feels it would be ridiculous to think that pleasure should only be measured by quantity and that his pleasure principal would turn humans into unhappy irrational animals only interested in less valuable pleasure.
( text ) The deontological moral theory of Kant is very different from the Utilitarian theory of Mill, and in my opinion much more difficult to read and understand. He believes that whether or not an action is right or wrong, moral or immoral “does not depend on the consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty. ” (3) This was based on his belief that there was a supreme principle of morality that he referred to as the Categorical Imperative. (4) This philosophy also required that two questions be asked before any action is taken. They are:” Can I rationally will that everyone act as I purpose to act?
“There is only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. ” (Text) I believe he is arguing . if you don’t think everyone should take this action, you should not. “Does my action respect the goals of human beings rather than merely using them for my own purposes? (5) He also felt that the motivation for your actions determined if you were acting as a good and moral person. It is the motivation based on morality which is important not the consequences of the action.
To Kant giving money to charity because it is deductable on your income tax is not a moral action; Mill would consider it moral because the happiness of some people is increased. Kant believed duty was more important than happiness and unhappiness should not affect your willingness to do your duty. The things he believed and the questions he asked were based on the idea that moral rules are based on reason. I also have difficulty accepting his idea that if two people reasoning logically they will arrive at the same conclusion, if we don’t arrive at the same conclusion who is moral?
These ideas led him to create a very ridged view of morality. Things `that violate the categorical imperative are always wrong, no acceptations, and things that are good are always good. I cannot accept the idea that we become moral as the result of reasoning particularly when he indicates that at some point we stop any type of reasoning and accept absolutes. It is difficult not to realize that much of what we view as moral is the result of what we have been taught by our parents and institutions in our society. He gives no consideration to any differences in societies.
When I compared the ideas of Kant and Mill, I find Mill’s work more plausible. I find Kant’s the idea that we become moral through reason very hard to accept particularly when you consider how differently societies define morality. Mill bases his ideas on the very simple idea human seek pleasure and attempt to avoid pain; therefore if your actions contribute to providing the most pleasure to the greatest number of people you are moral. Kant claimed not to be against happiness, but saw it as of much less importance than duty.