Kant vs. Mill
Philosophers Emmanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill both have different views on moral worth and Utilitarianism, which states that an action is morally right if it produces more good for all people affected or suffering from the action. Mainly, the question is how much of the morality of an action is predicted by its outcome. Both men have moral theories that differ on this topic.
Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism relates moral actions to those that result in the greatest happiness. This explains Mill’s theory on morality. When happiness is reached, there is pleasure and the absence of pain. Pleasure results from the actions higher in utility. Mill believes there’s a difference between higher and lower qualities of pleasure verses quantity of them. If a pleasure were high, a person would choose it over another pleasure that may come with suffering. Saying this he means a person will choose the higher good. He also speaks about the confusion of happiness with satisfaction. The only way to judge a pleasure is to fully understand the quality of pleasure. Mill’s book of Utilitarianism is based on standard of morality. Every human has the ability to be happy, this results in being virtuous and the most virtuous have sacrificed. Utilitarian’s sacrifice good for others good but only for the happiness. This results in moral worth. The moral worth is determined by the result of an action. Therefore, Mill is a consequentialist. An example of consequentialism would be lying. Mill would say lying is bad but lying could have a good consequence. A person may lie they won a competition fairly when they were bribing voters for they’re favor in order to win which satisfies them bringing happiness.
Kant, however, is a non-consequentialist; he believes only motives and intentions have moral worth. In consequentialism he sees there is moral luck because something we intend to be good is not always good as a situation may change. An example of non-consequentialism would be donating to a homeless person. By performing the acting it is helping someone claiming they have no money no food etc. But whether or not the money is used for a good thing, it was still donated for a good cause in itself with good intentions. Kant does not support moral luck he believes intentions of a person matter not the outcome. Concluding, the moral worth depends on the right motive.
Humanity is important to Kant’s ethics. Humans have both natural inclinations and rational inclination. Natural inclination is reason used to form some type of good will. He defines three types of reason, practical, theoretical, and instrumental. Practical reason subjects an individual to the categorical imperative, the motivation for an action. By the categorical imperative, a rational individual acts independent of personal motives. Humans rest in between the rational and natural inclinations. Every individual has desires and impulses just as they have feelings and reason. The maxims of the individual will result in a moral law, which should be practiced as morality for its own sake. When an individual acts morally it is always categorical because desires and interests don’t matter it’s the duty to do so. Whereas, hypothetical imperative results to serve a certain end. To be moral it is not acceptable to perform duties without reasoning.
A good will is done out of duty alone. By having interests in satisfying a feeling with sympathy, allowing the principle to prove its moral worth, and acting out of duty alone. Reason helps to understand this. For a good will there are three ways to act. An individual can be against the moral law, according to the moral law and inclinations, and by the moral law opposing to inclinations.
Aristotle focuses on virtue in the moral law. Aristotle believes in virtue, which brings about the good and happiness. These virtues are taught through experience and actions. Actions control the state of happiness we acquire. Unlike Mill and Kant, Aristotle defines happiness including both actions and motives because the good life consists of what brings happiness. For example, he believes happiness is the goal in life so a person might do many things in life but it is all for the result of happiness. In other words, every action has purpose and goal. Virtue is the golden mean between extreme means.
Among all three philosophers, I think Aristotle has the most reasonable view. He states both actions and motives have moral worth and I agree. Aristotle says that doing the right thing is important but also equally important is wanting to, or trying to do the right thing. Aristotle says that when one continuously does good things and makes good decisions they get closer to personal happiness. This feeling of happiness is attained through practice. Aristotle says that one must practice virtue until it becomes a habit. It is something that one must continually practice. Once we practice being virtuous it becomes part of who we are, part of our definable character. If one wants to lead a virtuous life and be happy, one must keep making good decisions that promote virtuous living. Sometimes this is harder than it seems. An example would be finding a wallet full of money. That wallet full of money also has the person’s identification in it. Now it would be hard to return that wallet with the money still in it but it would be the right thing to do. It is not being returned because you think that you will get a reward, because virtue should be its own reward. By making this thorough decision one is already on the path toward a more virtuous life. I would like to believe that if I found the wallet I would do the right thing and return it. Unfortunately, I don’t feel in our society today my wallet would be returned with all of the contents intact. Virtue is the “golden mean”. It is that space between deficiency and excess. It’s a hard place to live without practice. One doesn’t want to lead a deficient life because that will be full of struggles and unhappiness but on the other hand a life of excess, while it may seem like a happy life, can be unhealthy and also unhappy. Aristotle says that to exist in that “golden mean” one must learn to balance their lives through good acts and good choices. I hope that someday I can learn to achieve this balance not just for myself but also for everyone around me.