Compare Mill and Kant\'s ethical theories; which makes a better societal order?
John Stuart Mill (1808-73) believed in an ethical theory known as utilitarianism . There are many
formulation of this theory. One such 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. What is good?
Utilitarians disagreed on this subject. Mill made a distinction between happiness and sheer sensual
pleasure. He defines happiness in terms of higher order pleasure (i.e. social enjoyments, intellectual). In his
Utilitarianism (1861), Mill described this principle as follows:
According to the Greatest Happiness Principle … The ultimate end, end, with reference to and for the sake
of which all other things 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 as rich as possible 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 the 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 all over. If you are willing to universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is
morally impermissible. Kant believed that the welfare of each individual should properly be regarded as an
end in itself, as stated in the Formula of the End in Itself:
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any
other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.
Kant believes that moral rules are exceptionless. Therefore, it is wrong to kill in all situations, even those of
self-defense. This is belief comes from the Universal Law theory. Since we would never want murder to
become a universal law, then it must be not moral in all situations.
So which of the two theories would make a better societal order? That is a difficult question because both
theories have "problems." For Kant it is described above, his rules are absolute. Killing could never be
make universal, therefore it is wrong in each and every situation. There are never any extenuating
circumstances, such as self-defense. The act is either wrong or right, based on his