• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

In both Immanuel Kants Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and John Stuart Mills Utilitarianism, the authors give several strong, well structured arguments on the composition of ethics.

Extracts from this document...


On Kant and Mill?s Ethics In both Immanuel Kant?s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and John Stuart Mill?s Utilitarianism, the authors give several strong, well structured arguments on the composition of ethics. Largely, their works help to draw focus to two different explanations of what makes an action morally just as opposed to morally unjust through essentially opposite viewpoints. Despite a key difference between their philosophies, Kant and Mill contribute to an overall picture of the historical ethical argument. Chronologically, the first major philosopher, Immanuel Kant, presents an argument that is based upon solely ?a priori? knowledge, or rather knowledge that does not come from experience. Kant explains that because we are all rational beings, we are able to separate ourselves from our current human condition and use our own ability to reason to see a broad picture of what is morally acceptable to others. Similarly, Kant finds that the only thing which is good without limitation is a good will; that is, it is the intention of an action that determines the moral validity of any claim, not the effects both foreseen and actual. Kant connects this idea of morality to the claim that humans should act out of duty instead of just what is according to duty. The difference between these two ideas, Kant argues, is that ?according to duty? is acting in the right way only because of the negative consequences associated with not performing a morally correct action whereas ?from duty? refers to the concept of doing something solely because it is the right choice to make in a given situation. ...read more.


Kant?s views are that all moral choices are equal as long as the intention is good. Yet, dreading doing something good and still doing it generally appears to be less morally worthy than doing something good because it is the right thing to do. However, the opposite could easily be said because it takes more maturity to do the dreaded action than doing something that you take pleasure in, so the verdict is still out on which is more worthy, or if there is even a difference in worth (Lecture, 1/32, 2/07). On the opposite side of the moral theory spectrum, John Stuart Mill?s concepts work on the basis of ?a posteriori? knowledge, which is knowledge that comes solely from experience ? a direct opposite of Kant?s line of thinking. Mill believes strongly in judging an action based upon its effects (commonly referred to as consequentialism). Through this line of thinking, Mill came upon a major contribution to the field of ethics, which is often simplified into the idea of utilitarianism, which is the concept of doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Mill also uses an idea called the greatest happiness principle; this rule ties the idea of doing good things for people to being equal to bringing happiness to people. Simply put, by doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, you are in turn also creating the greatest amount of happiness through your good actions (Lecture, 1/30 ? 2/01). ...read more.


One last criticism of Mill comes from a point raised by Bernard Williams: our own personal values often will supersede those standards of morality put in place by Mill?s theories. Williams? example is that you have the choice of killing one person to save several other lives, or not doing anything and all of the people will be killed. Williams? argues that our internal values are often stronger; a person may be extremely opposed to killing any people, even for the sake of the other people who will die without intervention. This sense of values is similar to Kant?s theory about using a person as a means to an end; in this case, Kant would be opposed to Mill?s philosophy in this example. While this is true, because of the variability of values from person to person, a person may opt to kill one person to save the many because he or she personally finds it more respectable to use a utilitarian approach to the situation (Lecture, 2/06 ? 2/08). Overall, both Kant and Mill have strong arguments which have greatly impacted the discussion of ethics through the generations. Despite the many claims that both viewpoints have certain weak points, these theories have many strengths as well. It is in that light that both theories can be considered roughly equal ? where one philosophy drops off, the other generally picks up. Where there is a conflict, it is ultimately up to the person in a particular situation to use their ability to reason to choose the optimal choice between the competing ideas as no one idea can be totally wrong or totally right. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Philosophy and Theology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Philosophy and Theology essays

  1. Kant's Philosophy

    What we know directly is the action of knowing (phenomenon). A series of these actions, even if extended ad infinitum, will never give us knowledge of a reality such as the personal ego, which must lie beyond this series. Moreover, for Kant, substance is a category of the intellect that

  2. Critically compare Act Utilitarianism with Rule Utilitarianism.

    In some situations it may be impractical to analyse all the possible outcomes of an action, but here it should be clear to most that returning a weapon to a now violent person is not the best for society. In a case such as this, act-utilitarianism appears to be a

  1. Does John Stuart Mill's On Liberty make a well thought out argument for unlimited ...

    Although Mill argues that opinions should not be silenced even if they are wrong, he goes further to say that those who suppress such speech are assuming that they are infallible. When writing on those that censor speech Mill writes, 'To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are

  2. Knowing what ethics is and what makes up the study of ethics centers around ...

    The category of descriptive ethics is simply involves describing how people behave and what sorts of moral standards they claim to follow while the category of normative ethics involves creating or evaluating moral standards. Thus, it is an attempt to figure out what people should do or whether their current moral behavior is reasonable.

  1. Kant and the Categorical Imperative

    then the imperative is categorical." A categorical imperative differs from a hypothetical imperative, which doesn't demand any action. Hypothetical imperatives are viewed as conditional: 'If I want something, I must do this'. For example if I want to do well in my exams, I ought to study.

  2. Feeding Children Lies Makes Them Grow Big and Strong- Lying to children from a ...

    (Kant, 1871) Although Kant makes compelling points, every philosopher has his own unique views on the subject of lying; such is the claim of Plato?s ?Noble Lie.? Plato believed that a lie could be deemed proper if it was for that person?s own good.

  1. Abortion Ethics

    to present to a woman privatized rights that narrow down the scope of morality, allowing the mother to have a more personal domestic decision. Pro-choice philosophers find the argument of personhood to be offensive since the approach somehow portrays the fetus to be the equivalent of a conscious human being.

  2. Title: What did Immanuel Kant think Enlightenment was? Was he right to think this?

    ?Who has given the state, or its ruler and his hired professors the right to tell others how to live?? (Berlin et al. 2000, ch.4). This critique of Kant is from J.G Hamann who also argues that ?the Aufklarung is nothing but aurora borealis- cold and illusory, he sees no good in the ?chatter? of those emancipated children (the philosophers)

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work