Mill And Kants Theories Essay

Mill And Kant’s TheoriesJohn Stuart Mill (1808-73) believed in an ethical theory known as
utilitarianism. There are many formulation of this theory. One such is,
“Everyone should act in such a way to bring the largest possibly balance of
good over evil for everyone involved.” However, good is a relative term.

What is good? Utilitarians disagreed on this subject. Mill made a distinction
between happiness and sheer sensual pleasure. He defines happiness in terms of
higher order pleasure (i.e. social enjoyments, intellectual). In his
Utilitarianism (1861), Mill described this principle as follows:According to the
Greatest Happiness Principle … The ultimate end, end, with reference to and
for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering
our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible
from pain, and as rich as possible enjoyments.Therefore, based on this
statement, three ideas may be identified: (1) The goodness of an act may be
determined by the consequences of that act. (2) Consequences are determined by
the amount of happiness or unhappiness caused. (3) A “good” man is one
who considers the other man’s pleasure (or pain) as equally as his own. Each
person’s happiness is equally important.Mill believed that a free act is not an
undetermined act. It is determined by the unconstrained choice of the person
performing the act. Either external or internal forces compel an unfree act.

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Mill also determined that every situation depends on how you address the
situation and that you are only responsible for your feelings and actions. You
decide how you feel about what you think you saw.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) had
an interesting ethical system. It is based on a belief that the reason is the
final authority for morality. Actions of any sort, he believed, must be
undertaken from a sense of duty dictated by reason, and no action performed for
expediency or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral. A
moral act is an act done for the “right” reasons. Kant would argue
that to make a promise for the wrong reason is not moral – you might as well not
make the promise. You must have a duty code inside of you or it will not come
through in your actions otherwise. Our reasoning ability will always allow us to
know what our duty is.Kant described two types of common commands given by
reason: the hypothetical imperative, which dictates a given course of action to
reach a specific end; and the categorical imperative, which dictates a course of
action that must be followed because of its rightness and necessity. The
categorical imperative is the basis of morality and was stated by Kant in these
words: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will
and general natural law.” Therefore, before proceeding to act, you must
decide what rule you would be following if you were to act, whether you are
willing for that rule to be followed by everyone all over. If you are willing to
universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is morally
impermissible. Kant believed that the welfare of each individual should properly
be regarded as an end in itself, as stated in the Formula of the End in
Itself: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.Kant believes that moral rules are exceptionless. Therefore,
it is wrong to kill in all situations, even those of self-defense. This is
belief comes from the Universal Law theory. Since we would never want murder to
become a universal law, then it must be not moral in all situations.So which of
the two theories would make a better societal order? That is a difficult
question because both theories have “problems.” For Kant it is
described above, his rules are absolute. Killing could never be make universal,
therefore it is wrong in each and every situation. There are never any
extenuating circumstances, such as self-defense. The act is either wrong or
right, based on his universality law. Yet, Mill also has problems. If properly
followed, utilitarianism could lead to obviously wrong actions being considered
right because the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the net
consequences. Therefore, conceivably, it would morally okay for a very large and
powerful country that was desperately in need of food or else all of its 3
billion inhabitants would starve, to overpower an island of 1000 people who had
an overabundance of food and steal their food. In stealing all their food, the
larger nation is condemning all the inhabitants of this island to a very slow
and agonizing death. Is this right? Of course not. Yet under Mill’s theory of
consequences, since the greater good was served, then the act is morally okay.

Mill’s theories could also bring about unjust rules, if the rules served the
greater majority. Suppose handicapped people were not allowed to be seen in
public, ever, except in doctor’s offices. Is this benefiting to the small number
of hand!icapped? No it is not. However, the greater majority, throws up when
they see a handicapped individual, it is beneficial. So, perhaps the right
question to as, is, which of the two theories is the lessor of two evils? I
would have to argue for Mill (that is, unless I was one of the 1000 on the
island or handicapped) – on a limited basis. I if I, a Bill Gates type rich
person, gave a small amount of money to a stranger whom desperately needed it,
just to get him to leave me alone, Kant would judge it not moral because I did
it for the wrong reason. Mill would examine the consequences of my giving money
away. Did it hurt me? No. Did it help the stranger? Yes. Therefore, the net
consequence is good. Whether or not I truly felt the act in my heart does not
make it any less “good” than the person that gives all his money away
to charity because he feels so deeply about it. I also see cons to taking Mill’s
values on as societal ethics – they could conceivably give rise to the next
Hitler. But with Kant, people would be prosecuted for EVERYTHING since there are
no extenuating circumstances. Think of the court system – innocent men who had
to protect their family and home alongside hardened serial rapists, both
receiving the same sentence. In my personal opinion, Kant may go as far as to
say to the starving nation “Starve equally.” And then, the nation
slowly starves equally when they could have killed 1000 people to save
themselves. Therefore, in my humble and limited opinion, which is merely based
on the limited scope of my perception and that which I draw out of that limited
scope, Mill’s theories would make a better societal order.Discuss the
possibility of using concepts, either from Aristotle or Kant, to create
universal ethics. (I went a bit over the top on this one)Universal ethics is a
system of beliefs that all persons throughout the community (however large that
may be) readily accept and use to govern their lives. In modern society this
seems to be an oxymoron. Therefore, in the following essay, I will attempt to
prove through logical argument that universal ethics are not achievable using
the doctrines of either Immanuel Kant or Aristotle.Kant’s categorical imperative
is a tri-dynamic statement of philosophical thought:(1) “So act that the
maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle
establishing universal law.”(2) “Act so as to treat humanity, whether
in your own person in in that of another, always as an end and never as a means
only.'(3) “Act according to the maxims if a universally legislative member
of a merely potential kingdom of ends.”In other words, Kant argues that
particular action requires conscious thought or the rule governing the action,
whether that rule should be followed by everyone, and if the rule is acceptable
for universal action it should be adopted — if not, then rejected. Kant makes
these statements of theory in myriad books, articles, and lectures – each very
convincing as to the possibility of universalizability of the stated
“categorical imperative.” In order to understand whether or not an
action follows Kant’s “categorical imperative,” we must prescribe
those norms that we wish to be universal laws. These norms are created through
value judgements based on issues of justice between persons or groups (nations,
etc.) of persons. Kant’s theories discuss the ethical questions that determine
impartial consideration of conflicting interest in issues of justice. Kant’s
theories rest entirely, however, on the ability of competent social actors with
an intuitive grasp of normative social interaction – apparently he chooses to
ignore the crazies or supposes that the will be controlled by the more competent
of social actors! This statement obviously relates to domination of one person
over another, to which Kant suggests that “the faculty of cognition yields
knowledge about how this conflict can be avoided.” He further states that
through this cognitive development of peaceful interaction and building of
republics; we create a “community [as] a natural result of the unimpeded
development of human facilities.” Kant further states that because we must
believe that all things develop to their fullest capacity, then we can theorize
that, in summary, through cognitive processes we can create communities, based
on moral (ethical) action towards every person, thereby creating universal
ethics throughout the community or “republic” (depending on! scale).

With that in mind, it appears that Kant makes statements that assume all people
within like “republics” can achieve a level of cognition equal to one
another, for without that equanimity of cognition and judgement, then the
conflict issues cannot be rationalized through creation of universal law. That
all people can achieve a similar level of cognition seems preposterous in our
modern world cognition in the sense of like thought. Because we need the
principles of Kant’s categorically designed thought and action to have universal
acceptance, we must be willing to accept the undesirable psychological deviants
within the “republic.” I can think of no person that would (Ted Bundy,
Jeffery Dahmer, Zodiac Killer) a universal law. Yet, if we can’t accept that
Dahmer’s cognition is capable of universability, then we must dominate that
person by removing them from the republic. This goes against Kant’s theory
because in order to end domination, we must yield to and follow our cognitive
thought and this cannot be done because the deviant (Dahmer, Bundy, Zodiac
Killer) doesn’t achieve the same level of cognition as the rest of the republic.

This example seems to point out a flaw in the universability of achieving
similar or same ethical norms to follow. Furthermore, we can look at the
utilitarianism doctrine (of which Kant generally is not included within) for
some example of the impossibility of universal ethics. Kant, for many reasons to
lengthy to describe here, can be said to have some theory and thought completely
relevant to utilitarianism. As such we can look at universalistic utilitarianism
from the egotistic standpoint (Kant, I might point out argued that actions must
be done based on a maxim of what is good – good begets an understanding of
benevolence – thus egoistic tendencies to act toward others in a way that
ultimately benefits the original actor). In this light, we can state that
“what is best for me, is unlikely to be best for everyone.” Therefore,
we can negate Kant’s argument that universal ethics is possible, because we know
that there is a proverbial incompatibility between the theory and what people
actually think and do. Finally, we must make the judgement on whether or not
universal ethics is possible. I suggest that a bit of universability exists i n
certain social mores and norms throughout the world – don’t kill your neighbor,
be kind to animals, incest is wrong, etc. – yet, individual perception of the
world by people precludes the possibility of an all-encompassing universal code
of ethics. As has been argued by J.L. Mackie, we “project ethical
properties onto the world.” In other words, we see things as having ethical
properties when in fact (empirically proven) they do not. Based on this, we can
say that a conscious person will project what he interprets based on what he
thinks he “saw;” because each person will manifest a different
perception, then will necessarily project differing ethical properties. This
brings me to the possibility of the rational application these perceptions. We
have no way, empirically or otherwise, to prove that our principles based on
perception can be rationally applied. Because of this inability to prove
rational application of perception and thus moral principle based on that
perception, we are unable to demonstrate the rational justification of any
universal principle or ethic. Application of the principles is central to
creating universal ethics, yet it seems that we cannot prove rational
application of the principles and thus fall short of gaining universal consensus
on what those should be. To Kant, these principles can be made applicable
through his transcendental arguments, but there remains the fact that he agreed
sensory (and thus transcendental) experience cannot be accepted as empirical
givens. This leaves the sensory or transcendental experience open to
interpretation. Empirical evidence creates responses that can be repealed time
and again with identical or nearly identical results. Should sensation become
open to interpretation by accepting that they cannot be empirical observations
then we can say that the results cannot be universal even if all persons at
once, observed the same even. Kant’s thoughts in Prolegomena to Every Future
Metaphysics on the “transcendental aesthetics” that ultimate
principles can only be established by transcendental argument loses its effect
and basis in the application of the theories; unless, as has been argued by man
philosophers since Kant the problem of rational application fo Kant’s
categorical imperative can be overcome, then the idea of universal morality or
ethics is impossible. Rational application depends entirely on the ability of a
person to observe non-empirical action in the transcendental noumena exactly the
same as his neighbor, yet, as was stated earlier, that because the action or the
even! was seen in an non-empirical light then interpretation muddles the
rational application of what is seen by each observer. To put it simply, because
each person can see or perceive an event or situation differently, then the
responses to the event or situation will vary, thereby reducing the ability for
a “universal” response or ethic to the event. Kant does make arguments
for empirical thought in his, “The Postulates of Empirical Thought”
Section of the book Critique of Pure Reason, but his questions of an event –
“what became of that?” and “What brought that about?” – fail
to argue concisely about real and logical possibilities. Because of his lack of
definite statement, Kant fails to prove through his empirical thought arguments
that empirical thought or action can be universal. Theoretically, he suggests it
is, but without empirical observation to prove universality in any action or
ethic, or combination of ethics, then we can not say the universal ethic exists.

Kant followed his book, Critique of Pure Reason, with Groundwork of the
Metaphysics of Morals, in which he argues at length on moral judgement,
practical reason and the like. Without having read the book in its entirety, it
seems that Kant provides example upon example on the possibility of universal
ethics. Yet, in reading several critiques of the book, I found that Kant could
not disprove empirically my earlier statement on the universal response to an
event or situation. And without the empirical evident that he himself relies on
so heavily in other arguments, then he cannot prove the universality of ethics.

In modest contrast, or as an alternative to Kant, Aristotle’s classical humanism
requires that all persons can achieve moral perfectibility by teaching and
learning proper ethics to and from one another. He explains this theory by
stating that all persons have an ability to reach a certain level or natural
ability, equal opportunity, etc. Reaching these states is possible through what
may be called “the habituation process:” teaching by example, teach/reteach,
monitor through rewards and punishment. Based on the most basic of premises,
Aristotle further states that ethics and morality need to be a prescriptive
element for society: rules of conduct that must be followed by all persons
within that society if the humanistic properties are to be achieved. Aristotle
presents multiple arguments as to appropriate moral action (see his son’s book
of notes, entitled Nicomachean Ethics) on ways to achieve them. I believe
however that he falls short when he uses and describes the term,
“good.” Aristotle maintains that proper moral motivation involves
“appropriate desires and emotions in addition to correct judgement.”
The appropriate desires are based on the aim of all thought achieving
“good.” According to Nicomachean Ethics therefore, “Good is well
defined as that which all things aim.” The circular reasoning here is
similar to the definition of ethics and morality – one describes the other and
no clear picture of each is forthcoming. So, we attempt to describe good based
on virtuous thought. Virtuous thought supposes that a virtuous persons has a
fairly explicit conception of what Aristotle calls, “eudaimonia” or
happiness. Therefore, he argues that a person (we suppose by the habituation
process) understands eudaimonia and can use that to create virtuous thought and
thus virtuous action to produce a “good.”The problem here, however, is
pointed out in the above discussion on Kant: perception skews the person’s
thought because each person perceives and event (whatever an event can be)
differently. It is this difference in what people perceive that creates opposing
viewpoints on “good” whether virtuous or not. The obstacles to
overcome in Aristotelian thought emerge like icebergs on the horizon – as we
draw closer, the berg grows until we are halted in front of it, attempts to
understand and get beyond it can only be made by passing beneath it. There, when
diving below the surface of the water, we find an immense volume of surface to
chip away at. Aristotle had his basis on humanism in that all people can learn
or teach virtuous thought, but as I have shown in the Kantian argument above and
here in this essay, we cannot expect all persons to do so. Therefore, any
attempt to provide a universal ethic to the community is thwarted by the
community itself. The two philosophers discussed above both attempt to relate
possible ways to achieve some sort of universal ethical thought throughout the
community, “republic” and world. Hopefully, my arguments prove that
not only was it an impossible task in Aristotle’s time, and in Kant’s time, but
it is still impossible today. If I had to choose one doctrine over another in a
vain attempt to impose a universal system of ethical thought, I would choose
Kant, but in the end, I really think nihilism is the best way to go.


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