The Ethical Systems of Kant and Mill Essay

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Pages: 9

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
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According to Mill, there was no amount of low pleasure that could have precedence over any amount of high pleasure, no matter how disproportionate the “distance” between the two seemed. Another facet of Mill's ethical system was that it was results based. Mill argued placing the emphasis on the intention of ones actions, rather than the results, was wrong due to the fact that it is nearly impossible to know where one's intentions truly lie. So, with Mill's ethical theory, you really have to think about what you do long and hard before you do it, and you are responsible for foreseeing the results of your actions, because it is the results that will ultimately decide your character (thus, society is the judge, and the system is NOT meta-societal).
Now that you have some understanding of what the ethical systems of both Kant and Mill entail, we can put these theories side-by-side and offer up some criticisms. Firsts, by looking at the basics of these theories, one could say that a similarity between the two is that a key factor in deciding the morality of an action is the societal response to said action (societal meaning those outside of your own being). Kant's system uses the two formulations of the categorical imperative to place importance upon society, while Mill uses the concept of “the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people”. In my eyes, this is pretty much where the similarities stop, though. Kant's system is based around pure reason that is