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Utilitarianism VS Kantian Deontological Ethics

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Introduction

Utilitarianism VS Kantian Deontological Ethics Utilitarianism is a theory of metaethics. This means that it is grounds for what we mean when we say something is good, bad, right or wrong. This differs from normative ethics, which addresses which things that we encounter in real life are good or bad. Utilitarian ethics is based on quantitative maximisation of some good for society or humanity and its main advocate was Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). It is a form of consequentialism, thus focusing on the outcomes of actions and placing emphasis on the ends over that of the means. The good that is required to be maximised is often happiness or pleasure, though some utilitarian theories might seek to maximise other consequences. Utilitarianism is sometimes summarised as "The greatest happiness for the greatest number." As a form of consequentialism, utilitarianism states that we must first consider the consequences of our actions, and from that, make an appropriate choice about our action that would generate the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people (or in some forms of utilitarianism, people and animals). In modern times this is, perhaps wrongly, interpreted as stating that an action is judged entirely by its consequences, and so can be morally good even though the intentions of the action may have been villainous or wicked. Thus, this interpretation implies that someone may perform a moral action consistent with utilitarianism without even meaning to. However, more refined forms of utilitarianism exist, such as those proposing maximised 'benefit', which seems broader and less physical. This seems a more promising metaethical theory because it does not define pleasure as the only morally good thing. Rule utilitarianism goes further in refining the theory, stating that we must consider the consequences of a rule instead of an action, and then follow the rule which would best yield the most happiness for the most amount of people involved. ...read more.

Middle

However, this can be countered by claiming that someone with genuinely good intentions would consider the potential indirect consequences of their action before acting; the well meaning fool is said to be 'wearing blinkers' which in itself is ill-intentioned. Kant suggests that good intentions imply attaining an education in order that you can assess situations better, a form of intellectualism also backed by the mighty Socrates. Relative maxims are also problematic. The principle for exactly the same action can be described in dramatically different ways by different people. An example of this would be a terrorist freedom fighter, who might claim he is acting under the maxim 'always do your best to prevent your family and friends from suffering oppression from others', which is clearly drastically different to the interpretation of the action by his victims' families who might see it as 'murder innocent people when you feel like it'. Kant would claim that there is an inherent maxim to every action according to all its details which could simply be worked out due to negotiation to obtain an absolute correct maxim for the action. However, the correct maxim of an action must be at least partly relative due to the different situations the two different parties are occupy. Indeed, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Furthermore, some argue that following maxims leads to silly universalisations and blind rationality which impede certain situations. An example of this objection to Kant's ethics in action is in the case of a large car crash which five people encounter and every one of them impliments the maxim 'always ring the ambulance if you think someone could be injured'. In doing so, none of them try to help smaller injuries or inform any of the other emergency services because as narrow-minded individuals, they are all competing to get through to the same service. This challenge can however be refuted by Kant with the question "what if everybody did that?". ...read more.

Conclusion

Whilst utilitarians would argue that justification of either slavery, torture or murder would require improbably large benefits to outweigh the direct and extreme suffering of the victims, it still appeals to me that these three things (and others) are inherently wrong no matter what the consequences; in other words, they are absolutely immoral. Whilst it is true of Kant's theory that relative maxims can lead to warped universal laws, unlike utilitarianism, it requires the person holding the intention to be rational, as well as to be accepting of the affect that the universal law might have on them. Also, the motivation behind utilitarianism seems weaker than that of Kant's deontological ethics, which is contained in the 'good will'. The sole motivation for utilitarianism is the pursuit of increased net happiness or pleasure, and the theory appears to set the bar far too high for a moral action: there appears no upper boundary to the happiness potential. In conclusion, there are pros and cons to both Kantian deontological ethics and utilitarianism. Utilitarianism promotes paternalistic democracy, where as the democracy implied by Kant's moral theory would be more liberal with emphasis on individual freedom. Both appear to advocate a cold and almost robotic inclination to follow your duty. Kant's deontology has many universal laws, placing reason above all else, but utilitarianism has just one which others can be deduced from according to situations. The lack of any desire to perpetuate happiness in Kantian deontological ethics could be disconcerting to some, favouring statements such as 'If I am unhappy or in pain, following my duty would probably be slightly lower down my list of priorities.' However, the theory does have a great strength in that it offers the possibility of criticising evil cultures, even the one in which you yourself are living. A combination of the two theories in which duty, happiness, intentions and consequences all played a role would be the ultimate. However, constructing a coherent theory as such is a grand and daunting task. ?? ?? ?? ?? Richard Fenton 12EO 1 ...read more.

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