Kantian Ethics vs. Utilitarianism

Topics: Immanuel Kant, Morality, Ethics Pages: 4 (1714 words) Published: December 20, 2012
Teleology, an explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than postulated causes, has found its place in the construction of many systems of morality such as John Stuart Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism. In teleological approaches to morality, questions of right and wrong, or the notion what an individual ought to do, are determined by the consequences of a given action. One thinker to reject this idea of consequentialism was Immanuel Kant. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant endeavors to establish a system of ethics that has no trace of the empirical nature of utilitarianism. To him, “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it and so too does not lie in any principle of action that needs to borrow its motive from this expected effect” (Groundwork, 56). Rather than determine moral worth based on cause and effect, Kant seeks to establish a supreme moral principle that is universal in nature, lacking any inkling of desires or inclinations that are subjective to the experiences of the individual. This principle must precede any sort of empirical knowledge, and must therefore be based upon a priori intuitions of our reason. Mill, on the other hand, refutes the idea of this a priori basis of ethics. In his work, Utilitarianism, Mill argues that moral worth must be determined on the bases of a fundamental principle based upon learned experience, namely the Principle of Utility. Under said principle, actions are to be judged on the nature of their outcome, not on their relation to a supreme imperative. In this paper I will reconstruct Kant’s critique of teleology in moral matters, followed by a response to said critique based on the principles that Mill lays out in Utilitarianism. Ultimately, I will show that, while Mill’s defense is valid, Kant’s minimal and universal system of morality provides a far more sensible approach to examining how humans ought to act. Kant begins his Groundwork with a...
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