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Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics

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Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics

Ethics is one part of philosophy that will always be studied, and like most subjects in philosophy, will never be viewed the same by everyone. There are so many cultures that have so many different beliefs about the way a person's life should be lived out. Things like religion, poverty, and mental health all contribute to our beliefs in ethics. Some people believe that the mental state of a person or the motive for that person committing a crime should be factors when sentencing time comes. Others think that no matter the situation, a crime is a crime, and no compassion should be felt for the guilty. In the studies of philosophy these beliefs are put into two categories: utilitarian, witch would give leeway to the guilty depending on the circumstances, and Kantian, were a crime is a crime, no matter the motives involved.

John Stuart Mill (1808-73) believed in an ethical theory known as utilitarianism. There are many formulations of this theory. One which is, "Everyone should act in such a way to bring the largest possibly balance of good over evil for everyone involved." However, good is a relative term. Utilitarians disagreed on what good really is. Mill made a distinction between happiness and sheer sensual pleasure. He defines happiness in terms of higher order pleasure (i.e. social enjoyments). In his Utilitarianism (1861), Mill described this principle as follows: According to the Greatest Happiness Principle ... The ultimate end, end, in reference to and for the sake of all other things that are desirable, (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and is rich in enjoyments. Therefore, based on this statement, three ideas may be identified: (1) The goodness of an act may be determined by the consequences of that act. (2) Consequences are determined by the amount of happiness or unhappiness caused. (3) A "good" man is one who considers the other man's pleasure (or pain) as equally as his own. Each person's happiness is equally important. Mill believed that a free act is not an undetermined act. It is determined by the unconstrained choice of the person performing the act. Either external or internal forces compel an unfree act. Mill also determined that every situation depends on how you address the situation and that you are only responsible for your feelings and actions. You decide how you feel about what you think you saw.

.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) had an interesting ethical system. It is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality. Actions of any sort, he believed, must be undertaken from a sense of duty dictated by reason, and no action performed for expediency or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral. A moral act is an act done for the "right" reasons. Kant would argue that to make a promise for the wrong reason is not moral - you might as well not make the promise. You must have a duty code inside of you or it will not come through in your actions otherwise. Our reasoning ability will always allow us to know what our duty is. Kant described two types of common commands given by reason: the hypothetical imperative, which dictates a given course of action to reach a specific end; and the categorical imperative, which dictates a course of action that must be followed because of its rightness and necessity. The categorical imperative is the basis of morality and was stated by Kant in these words: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will and general natural law." Therefore, before proceeding to act, you must decide what rule you would be following if you were to act, whether you are willing for that rule to be followed by everyone everywhere. If you are willing to universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is morally impermissible.

The differences in the Utilitarianism and the Kantian views are as different as night and day. Utilitarianism philosophy is that any act can be morally justified if the motive is intended to be for the greater good, but the Kantian theory states that the morality of an act is based on the consequences of that action.



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