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The utilitarianism theory and Emmanuel Kant’s views on morality from the basics of philosophy are the most widely studied concepts in attaining an excellent understanding of philosophy. The theory of utilitarianism on normative ethics requires individuals to uphold actions that maximize utility while reducing harm. Utilitarianism is the most plausible ethical theory based on the belief that the greatest percentage of people benefit from morally upright actions (Rachels 43). Consequences from immoral and unethical actions clearly explain the morally right actions that individuals should adopt for their benefit as well as the benefit of others.
On the other hand, Emmanuel Kant’s views on morality are clear in his moral law and his propositions on ethics. In his book, ‘The groundwork for the metaphysics of morals,’ Kant expands his philosophical research to cover morality (Allison 111). Unlike utilitarianism concepts, Kant claims that morality goes beyond outward vices and virtues. Therefore, the theory of utilitarianism is not correct in holding that individuals only maximize utility and minimize harms. Although the two approaches on ethics differ, they have a similar objective, which explains ethics. This paper compares Emmanuel Kant’s views with utilitarianism as the most potent approaches to ethics.
Kant’s view of Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism, as explained by Stuart, differs from Kant’s view on the issue of consequences. According to Stuart, consequences for various actions have a significant impact. Utilitarianism focuses on explaining that every choice undertaken has a consequence. Ethical decisions yield positive results, thus maximizing benefits while reducing harms. The utilitarianism approach explains that the decisions made by individuals rely on the consequences yielded to determine their ethical nature. The motives and reasons for carrying out any action play an insignificant role in determining if a decision is ethical or not. This claim is in opposition to Kant’s view that consequences do not entirely matter.
Kant explains that only the reason and motive behind every action can determine whether a decision made is ethical. He states that individuals should undertake actions based on their motives regardless of the consequences such actions bring. Kant states that the actions should be free from any human desires and emotions because the motives for all actions are vital regardless of the consequences (Kant 67).
Teleological and deontological ethics in philosophy clearly illustrate this difference between utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. Deontological ethics emphasizes the motives and intentions of conducting an action despite the outcome of such actions. This theory is in line with Kant’s views on morality, where human reasoning plays a crucial role in performing different actions. On the other hand, the teleological ethical perspective states that the results for all actions matter in determining the nature of the undertaken decisions. The theory does not consider those individuals who honestly undertake good actions but fail in the results because of unavoidable factors. Therefore, this theory explains utilitarianism as developed by Stuart by showing how it differs in consequences with Kantian ethics.
Utilitarianism theory also emphasizes the relationship between morality and human pleasures and desires. It explains that individuals can undertake actions that make them happy, regardless of whether they will cause harm to others. Utilitarianism sees the efficient attainment of one’s desires as the only role of human reason because of the belief that intentions for various actions by individuals do not matter. However, with Kantian ethics, the motives for various actions are of great significance. This claim is clear from how reason forms the basis for morality according to Kantian ethics. According to Kant, trusting human desires and emotions may lead to dire consequences as opposed to the unchanging reason. He states that reason is solid and independent of factors that may prevail to change it. Thus, individuals should undertake correct actions based on their pure reason.
Utilitarianism explains morality as an empirical issue based on experiences while Kantian ethics explain it as a rational matter. While explaining his views, Kant is a rationalist who believes that individuals must have prior knowledge other than only through experiences. He states that morality is a rational concept and that knowledge can be derived from various sources. Kant also explains that morality has definite rules that demand consideration. Absolute rules exist that govern morality by requiring the consideration of all motives because the intentions for various actions are vital irrespective of whether they yield pleasure or not.
On the other hand, utilitarianism emphasizes morality as an empirical matter that depends on prior experiences. Also, the theory explains that morality lacks absolute rules and acts. The utilitarianism explained by Stuart focuses mainly on acts that yield maximum benefits. It suggests that individuals can do any acts based on experiences if the acts yield excellent results. Thus, utilitarianism is incorrect in requiring that we only maximize utility and reduce harm because some actions are impermissible even though they yield good consequences. Unlike Kantian ethics, utilitarianism raises moral issues because of the failure to consider the various intentions and actions despite their good results.
Kant emphasizes the importance of pure intentions and goodwill in his ethical philosophy. The morality of which is understood to all rational beings from the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative has three formulations that mainly emphasize people acting in ways they would be pleased if they became universal laws (Kant 32). Kant explains the significance of respecting others’ duties as well as the universality of morality. Thus, he explains his moral theory based on universalizing the truism according to his categorical imperative that forms his principles. This plan explains why individuals have intrinsic worth according to Kantian ethics.
However, critics claim that the motives behind various actions require little desire to enable individuals to partake them. However, pro-utilitarianism claims that the intentions of various decisions and actions should be inclined towards obtaining pleasure and desires because many people view utilitarianism as a generally accepted principle of utility that derives its principles from sensible experience and maximization of benefits. Utilitarianism further depicts how individuals are not intrinsically valued. The opponents of utilitarianism say that simple rules such as telling the truth can change easily to suit the goal for achieving maximum pleasure (Rachels and Rachels 29). Also, it is too time-consuming and attracts injustices because unjust acts can be justified by the principle of deriving maximum benefits.
Despite the differences between utilitarianism with Emmanuel Kant’s views, they all aim at explaining the morality theory. These philosophical theories form a firm foundation for understanding morality. In my opinion, utilitarianism is incorrect in terms of requiring that individuals should only maximize benefits and minimize harms. It raises moral questions for lack of consideration of the motives behind actions. However, Kantian ethical perspectives require people to act out of goodwill and think of themselves as free to reason rightfully. Kant believes that there are no evil actions because all actions are undertaken for the right reason (Kant 36). The comparison of the theories, as depicted in their differences, portrays the different perspectives of the two philosophers. The significance or criticism of both theories makes them the most widely studied philosophies on morality.
Allison, Henry. Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Kant, Immanuel. Kant: Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Minnesota: Wilder Publishers, 2008. Print.
Rachels, James. The Legacy of Socrates: Essays in Moral Philosophy, New York: Columbia University press, 2007. Print.
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Rachels, James, and Stuart Rachels. Problems from philosophy, New York: McGraw-Hill Education Publishers, 2011. Print.