The Ethical Systems of Kant and Mill

Topics: Ethics, Immanuel Kant, Philosophy Pages: 5 (2194 words) Published: July 20, 2013
The ethical systems of Kant and Mill: A comparison and contrast Ricardo Renta

What part does happiness play in determining the morality of an act in a situation? Can a concept that ties morality to the search of happiness truly be rational? What of the opposite? Is it possible to view every situation with objectivity, never taking into account an emotion (like happiness)? The questions above concern themselves with the part of the central tenets of the ethical views of two very important philosophers, respectfully: John Mill and Immanuel Kant. The ethical theories that these two philosophers laid out clash with each other in fundamental ways, from how reason was defined, to the role that “happiness” played in determining the ethical choice in a moral dilemma. In the following pages, I will attempt to present and discuss the theories of Kant and Mill, pointing out what I perceive as weakness in said theories, as well as the possible strengths of each system. Before I go about pitting these two systems against each other, however, it would be best to first give you a (hopefully) sufficient understanding of what composes each respective ethical theory, so that you can better follow the comparison ant critique of the theories later on. First, let us take a look at Kant's system of ethics, which is based on the notion of duty. For Kant, this duty was something that had to be motivated from something that was larger than yourself and your emotion; it had to be drawn from an objective place, and with the right intentions in mind. Have you ever heard the adage that goes “doing the right thing for the wrong reason”? That would apply perfectly to Kant's theory. The result's of one's actions mean nothing if the intentions are selfish in nature. To Kant, intention was perhaps even more important than the results of your actions, due to the fact that one can not always have full control over the ends of their intentions (intentions that, in order to be in accordance to good will, must be for the sake of duty itself). Now, where does this duty come from? As I mentioned previously, Kant was very much in favor of using rationality in lieu of feelings to determine the morality of an act. To help aid in deciding of an ethical choice, Kant devised a system that was absolute in nature: the Categorical Imperative. The categorical imperative is non-relativistic, meaning that it should be followed under ALL circumstances. There are two formulations of the categorical imperative:the first being the formula of Universal Law (which I will discuss first), and the second being humanity as an end in itself. test contains 3 to four steps, depending on the situation at hand. The first step of the test is to formulate what Kant called the maxim. The maxim would be any particular particular action that you would take, and it is the subject of the test (the test checks to see whether the maxim that you have proposed it ethical). When you formulate the maxim, it must be stated by itself, with no additional conditional statements attached to it (e.g., “I will steal from someone” as opposed to “I will steal from someone only if they have wronged me”.). The next step is to generalize the maxim you proposed, applying it to the whole population. For the example above, the generalization would go like this: “Everyone will steal from someone”. After you make your generalization, you must first check if the maxim becomes a contradiction. If the maxim proves to be a contradiction, then acting on that maxim would be wrong. For example, you could have a generalized maxim that states “All pregnant women are going to have an abortion”. This proves to be a contradiction because if every pregnant woman were to get an abortion, then there would eventually be no more women to have abortions. In shorter words, the generalized maxim must be able to be perpetuated. For the final step, you now have to reverse the maxim you formulated, and imagine living in a world where...
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