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Immanuel Kant's Ethics of Pure Duty

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Immanuel Kant's Ethics Of Pure Duty

In Comparison To

John Stuart Mill's Utilitarian Ethics Of Justice

Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill are philosophers who addressed the issues of morality in terms of how moral traditions are formed. Immanuel Kant has presented one viewpoint in The Grounding For The Metaphysics of Morals that is founded on his belief that the worth of man is inherent in his ability to reason. John Stuart Mill holds another opinion as presented in the book, Utilitarianism that is seemingly in contention with the thoughts of Kant. What is most distinctive about the ethics of morality is the idea of responsibilities to particular individuals. According to Kant and Mill, moral obligations are not fundamentally particularistic in this way because they are rooted in universal moral principles. Mill and Kant are both philosophers whom have made great impact on their particular fields of philosophy and a critique of their theories in relation to each other may help develop a better understanding to them and their theories individually.

Mill's utilitarianism theory is a version of the ideal judgment theory. So is Kant's, but there are differences. Mill holds an empiricist theory while Kant holds a rationalist theory. Kant grounds morality in forms that he believes, are necessary to free and rational practical judgment, namely his deontological ethics. Mill's utilitarian theory is a form of consequentialism because the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined by the consequences. Thus, deontologicalism and consequentialism are the main criticisms for both these theories. Kant's ethics of pure duty is the basis for his categorical imperative, which provides the basis for his universalist duty based theory. Mill's theory of utilitarianism is a primary form of consequentialism. Both deontologicalism and consequentialism are valid points of argument to the ethics of an action but they are also argumentative towards each other. Mill, in his later work, On Liberty, adds deontologicalism to correct his consequentialist view.

John Stuart Mill, who made utilitarianism the subject of one of his philosophical treatise Utilitarianism (1863), is the most proficient defender of this doctrine after Jeremy Bentham. His contribution to the theory consists in his recognition of distinctions of quality, in addition to those of intensity, among pleasures. Thus, whereas Bentham maintained that the "quality of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry," Mill contended that "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied," that is, human discontent is better than animal fulfillment. Or more clearer stated as "better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied", as the fool would only be of a different opinion because he did not know both sides of the question. By this statement, Mill seems to have rejected the identification of the concept "happiness" with "pleasure and the absence of pain" and the concept "unhappiness" with "pain and the absence of pleasure," as found in Bentham's works. Although his position was based on the maximization of happiness, he distinguished between pleasures that are higher and lower in quality.

Mill's 'principle of utility' or 'the greatest happiness principle' seeks for the logical rationality of ethics through the consequences of actions as the consideration determining their morality, thus the acquisition of happiness as opposed to the avoidance of pain. Utilitarianism may be viewed as an instance of a more general theory of right consequentialism, which holds that right and wrong can only be assessed by the goodness of consequences. This general kind of theory can perhaps be most easily understood by considering the form of consequentialism. Consequentialism is that an act is right if, of those available to the agent at the time, it would produce the greatest overall net value in the end. Utilitarian views are based around the concept of attaining happiness and Mill maintains hedonism; happiness or pleasure is the only intrinsic good for persons. Mill believes, that a hedonist should, maintain that pleasures involving cultivated intellectual, emotional, and imaginative faculties are intrinsically better. In Mill's utilitarian theory, he holds that there are qualitative pleasures as well as quantitative. Hedonism shows that the intellectual pleasures are better pleasures because they are in better quality than those of purely extrinsic value. Kant sees this distinction and goes on to explain that a numerical value cannot be placed on something that has intrinsic value.

His ethical theory has been more influential than his work in epistemology and metaphysics. Most of Kant's work on ethics is presented in two works, The Grounding For The Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and The Critique of Practical Reason (1787). Kantian theory on morality is stated in terms of his ethics of pure duty. What is the duty that motivates our actions and gives them moral value? Kant distinguishes two kinds of law produced by reason. Kant believes that rational agents are moral agents, that every moral agent has the same ability as any other and therefore must be given consideration and respect. Hence, moral agents cannot be instrumentalized to reach an end but are ends in themselves. Given some end we wish to achieve, reason provides a hypothetical imperative, or rule of action for achieving that end. A hypothetical imperative says that if you wish to buy a new house, then you must determine what sort of houses are available for purchase. Deriving a means to achieve some desired end is the most common use of reason.

However, Kant shows that the acceptable formation of the moral law cannot be merely hypothetical because our actions cannot be moral on the ground of some conditional purpose or goal. Morality requires an unconditional statement of one's duty and reason produces that absolute statement for moral action. Kant believes that reason dictates a categorical imperative for moral action. To be moral one cannot have the condition of "if I want to achieve some end, then do X", but simply "do X". The moral or categorical imperative is unconditional whereas the hypothetical imperative is not.

Kant's theory of the categorical imperative states that humanity is the ultimate value and should be regarded as an end in itself. Categorical imperatives say what, under certain circumstances, one ought to do. Unlike a hypothetical imperative, one can conclude that, if the circumstances obtain, one really ought to act. A hypothetical imperative is not simply

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