May 19, 2015
Kant vs. Mill - A Battle of Ethics
Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill were two philosophers who impacted modern ethics and morality forever. They each have two very different explanations for what they believe to be morally right or wrong. Kant’s view, simply put, is all people should not adjust what their “duty” is to mankind, no matter what may happen in the end, because it is morally just. Mill’s approach is that the consequences of one’s actions should be the determining factor in what you do. Like in most debates, both arguments have valid and strong points, however, the utilitarian view that Mill argues proves to be more superior to that of Kant.
Immanuel Kant’s argument is based entirely on reason. His theory was that reason determines entirely how a person should act. He also argued that to be morally right, one should always seek out to do what is good and their actions should possess “good will”. Kant also based his argument on “a priori” knowledge, which is knowledge which does not come from experience. Kant presents in his theory that the only “good” that exists comes from good will, and that good will cannot be determined by an ordinary person's motives; therefore, someone who makes decisions or acts based not on what they believe to be the best is a “good” person. That is because they did not determine the outcome based on their own moral cause but rather they just acted without anticipating an outcome.
Kant also explains that society should act out of duty rather than what is according to duty. For example, Kant believed a person should make a right choice simply because it is the right choice to make. Nobody should or should not do something or make a decision because of what they think the result will be, because that result could end up being harmful or wrong for the other(s) involved. To support this, Kant has said “In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.” (http://resources.r9paul.org)
These acts could also be called the categorical imperative, which is unconditional in its actions, and the hypothetical imperative, which has certain conditions that must be met or completed in order for the action to be initiated. There are two different types of categorical imperative which are as follows; the first is that a person must act only accordingly to what they believe to be a universal law, the second is that other people and things should be treated as an end, not a means to an end.
Applying Kant’s practices in everyday life can easily be done, but there are some situations where his practices and theories run into moral conflict. Here is an example; a doctor is running late for work and he has an important surgery to perform where timing is critical. He then gets stopped at a red light that is known to take a long time to turn, and there are no other cars around on the road that he can see. Should the doctor break the law? He could run the red light to make it on time to the surgery so that person may live. Or does he wait for the red light to turn back to green since there is a chance that if he broke this rule, he could have a car accident injuring or killing him and someone else driving on the road? According to Kant, the doctor should not run the light and he should not do something based off of his experience at the stop light. However, this decision could potentially cause a death to the patient since timing is crucial.
Another example of a problem in Kant’s theory is moral worth of an action done with wrong or right feelings. Kant’s view proves that he believed all moral choices are the same as long as they are performed with good intentions. However, if someone does not want to or dislikes doing the good thing, is it morally better than if someone thought and outweighed the consequences of their actions and only did it because it is the