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Kant and Mill's Theories

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In July of 1994, Paul J. Hill, a former Presbyterian minister and later a pro-life activist, was prosecuted for killing Dr. John Britton, an abortion performing doctor, and James Barrett, a volunteer, outside a clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Prior to this, Hill commented on the murder of Dr. David Gunn, another abortion performing doctor, stating that it was a "biblically justified homicide (P. 215)." This statement shows how strong Hill's beliefs were and leads one to assume that he did not regret killing Britton and Barrett. This paper will address the Hill case and determine the ethical parameter in which Paul Hill should have acted. The two philosophical approaches that will be examined and contrasted are the Kantian and Utilitarian perspectives. Kant and Mill's point of view on the actions of Paul J. Hill will be presented based on their theories. Lastly, I will explain why I believe that Kant's theory provides a more plausible account of morality.

Kantianism and Utilitarianism are two theories that attempt to answer the moral nature of human beings. Immanuel Kant's moral system is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality. John Stuart Mill's moral system is based on the theory known as utilitarianism, which is based upon utility, or doing what produces the greatest happiness.

One of Kant's lasting contributions to moral philosophy was his emphasis on the notion of respect for persons. He considers respect for persons (a.k.a the Kantian respect) to be the fundamental moral principle of ethical philosophy. His Kantianism premise is a deontological (rights and duties) moral theory which claims that the right action in any given situation is determined by the categorical imperative, which he calls the Supreme Principle. This imperative is a command that applies to all rational beings independent of their desires. It is a command that reason tells us to follow no matter what (P.31)." Kant considers this an objective law of reason and because it applies to all of us, he calls it a universal practical law for all rational beings. The hypothetical vital, on the contrary, is a conditional command, which "we have reason to follow if (it) serve(s) some desire of ours (P.31)." For example, if you want X, then you will do Y, whereas with the categorical imperative, X has nothing to do with why you do Y.

Kant's categorical imperative is a tri-dynamic statement of philosophical thought. In order to determine the morality of the Hill case from Kant's perspective, it is vital to understand the formulations that accompany the categorical imperative. Kant upheld systematic laws as the model of rational principles. A characteristic of systematic laws is that they are universal, such as the law that when heated, gas will expand. Kant thought that moral laws or principles must have universality to be rational. He derives the categorical imperative out of the notion that we should be willing to adopt those moral principle that can be universalized, that is, those which we can imagine that everyone could act upon or adopt as their principle. Thus, the first formulation of the categorical imperative is, "Never act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should be a universal law (P.31)." By maxim, he means the rule or principle on which you act. Consider the example Kant gives of giving a false promise. Making false promises is wrong and therefore could not be a universal law, because every rational being would not adopt this as a principle of action. In the Hill case, if Paul Hill kills the doctor than it is morally permissible for everyone else to kill someone they disagree with. Therefore, Hill's actions were not justified, because killing cannot be a universal law.

Kant also believes that human beings have "unconditional worth." In his passage of, "The Ultimate worth of Persons," he says:

Now, I say, man and, in general, every rational being exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In all his actions, whether they are directed to himself or to other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end. What we treat as having "only a relative value as a means . . . are consequently called things. Rational beings, on the other hand, are called persons because their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves, that is, as something which ought not to be used merely as a means. Such a being is thus an object of respect and, so far, restricts all (arbitrary) choice.

The practical imperative will therefore be as follows: "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own or in that of another, as an end and never as a means only (P. 32)." According to Kant, as rational beings, we are self-directed beings. We experience ourselves and others as essentially valuable, as valuable as an end and not merely instrumentally valuable or valuable as a means to obtaining something. According to this second formulation of the categorical imperative, we should treat people with fundamental dignity and respect. For instance, it would be wrong to make false promises because we would be treating others as merely a means and not respecting them as persons with intrinsic value.

In order to avoid misunderstanding Kant, it is crucial to distinguish between treating someone as a means to an end and treating them just as a means to an end. In a complex network of social relationships, we use other people all the time as means to our ends without dehumanizing them. For instance, we use the services of certain people to deliver our newspapers, groceries, and mail. Students use professors as tools to become educated and earn degrees. By contrast, when you use someone merely as a means only, it is abusive and lacks respect for that person. The abuse of that person shows that you do not believe they have value apart from his or her immediate use.

Kant believed that human beings occupy a special place in creation. Human beings have dignity, because they are rational agents, capable of making their own decisions and guiding their conduct by reason. Therefore, we have the duty of being good to all persons. In the Hill case, Paul cannot kill the doctor, because according to Kant, in virtue of being a person the doctor had rights, dignity, and intrinsic moral worth, as well as value. Hence, killing the doctor would be the wrong thing to do and through Kant that action is not morally justified, since the moral law demands that we treat others as ends in themselves, and never as mere means to other ends. In other words, you should always treat other rational beings (persons) as having absolute moral worth, or as the ultimate ends of action.

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