The following is an ethics essay that compares the Kant’s, Mill’s and Nietzsche’s ethical significance of telling truth or promise keeping. The term ethics is derived from a Greek word ‘ethikos’ which implies a habit or a behavior. The main reason why society emphasizes on adopting an institution of ethics is because its own existence as a good society requires so.
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Society requires ethics to regulate the conduct of its members.Indeed; no human society can survive without ethics. Even when we have laws, ethics is still essential because unlike laws, it regulates every aspect of our activities. It has been said that people can only live together if they regulate their conduct in relation to one another.
Truth telling or the obligation to keep promises is supported by the deontological theory. According to this theory, everyone has the moral duty of telling the truth and keeping promises. The truth thus should be overriding principle irrespective of the consequences that may arise as a result of telling the truth. According to deontologists, the act of telling truth and keeping promise is essential since it allows people to act in the same way they wish to be treated by others.
However, the utilitarians adopt a different approach with regards to telling truth and keeping promises. According to them, the moral appropriateness of a behavior or an action requires to be evaluated by determining the consequences that are expected form a behavior or an action.
According to Utilitarianism theory, human beings are under the sovereign of two masters i.e. pleasure and pain. Pain and pleasure determines everything that a human being does and in most instances, people acts to seek pleasure and at the same time, avoid pain (Bass, and Bass, 2008, P.201).
Comparison of Kant, Mill and Nietzsche on the ethical significance of truth telling or promise keeping
Immanuel Kant is one of the most prominent deontologists in the history of philosophy and he argued that morality cannot be based on emotions or feelings but instead, it should be based on reasons. According to Kant, every person is rational and therefore, he or she is capable of arriving at correct decisions without necessarily having to make any reference to external authority. Karl held the view that through human reasons, people can arrive at universal moral principles and laws i.e. maxims.
According to him, every human being who is rational can develop such maxims. Immanuel was on the view that an action can only be deemed to be right or wrong as a result of the maxim or principle and not because of its end results. According to him, the motive behind an action is the one that makes the action to be deemed as right or wrong.Thus, an action is moral if it has good intentions behind it. Having a good intention implies that one acts in accordance with the maxims.
One therefore does his duties for their own sake and not for his or her personal gains.Thus, telling lies or failure to keep promises is wrong. According to Kant, one should refrain from keeping promises if there is no intention to keep it. Kant believes that it is possible for people to live in a society in which everybody tells the truth. According to him, the society will run into chaos if everyone who makes promises fails to honor them (Morgan, 2005, P.891-933).
John Stuart Mill is regarded as one of the foremost Philosophers of early 19th century .His philosophical works were based on Utilitarianism theory which was founded by Jeremy Benthan.Mill developed this theory to argue that pain whether in people or in other creatures is not good. He argued that whoever who promotes pleasure and happiness is moral and on the other hand, a person who promotes pain or suffering is immoral.
According to this theory, an action is right if it is intended to bring happiness to a large number of people. According to Mill, an action is moral if it meets the following conditions i.e. its consequences results to the greatest happiness or benefits possible and the number of beneficiaries is large.Thus, telling lies or failure to keep promises may be deemed right if its consequences bring about greatest happiness to a large number of people (Morgan, 2005, P.934).
Friedrich Nietzsche is another theorist who based his philosophical works on the concept that human beings are valuable by virtue of reason or intellect. According to him, intellect or reason does not imply a special capacity.
Intellect or reason comes and then varnishes just like any other natural ability. He further argued that morality, knowledge and truth as tools of nature are no exceptional. Nietzsche wrote the ‘Genealogy of Morals’ which was argued by ethical scholars as his best known book. The book is mainly concerned with the history of ethics.
The book specifically aims at discrediting the values of Judeo-Christian ethics which are based on principles of equality, justice and compassion.Also, the book was intended to discredit the scientific values by Utilitarian thinkers. Nietzsche in his argument states that the Judeo-Christian ethics are as a result of historical struggle between two main forms of morality. With regards to challenging the scientific values, he argues that there is no recognized force that is responsible for producing them.
The genealogy of morality not only challenges the researches historical truths but also the concept of truth itself. According to Nietzsche, the value of truth rests in the moral values. He argued that moral value usually establishes themselves as truths. According to him, truth fall into two broad categories .The first category states that a thing might be either false or true depending on the increasing will to power and the second category states that many people are denied access to truth.
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According to Nietzsche, failure to keep promises may arise from ignorance or misunderstandings .Just like Kant, Nietzsche ironically states that keeping promises and refraining from telling lies is the basis of morality .However, Nietzsche concluded by stating that people are not promise keeping creatures by nature as they are bound to forget once and again(Morgan,2005,P.1140).
The source and relative strength of this obligation in these three thinkers
The relative strength of the duty to tell truth or to keep promise in these three great thinkers is based on the teleological and deontological theories. These theories plays an important role by providing people with a criterion which they use to determine if a policy, decision, action or law is morally right or wrong. They act as a standard of ethical judgment as they enable people to know what is right and what is wrong (Bass, and Bass, 2008, P.201).
The reason why Kant regard promise keeping as an absolute duty
According to Kant, keeping promises or failure to tell lies is an absolute duty. This is because the promise keeping acts as a powerful principle which enhances the principle of confidentiality. Keeping promise oblige recipients of privacy information not to use it for purposes it which it was not intended to.
Kant argues that the way we treat one another plays an important role in molding our characters. Commitments that a person make usually marks him or her out form others. In keeping promises, a person expresses himself or herself in the world. It enables people to regard themselves as well as others impartially (Morgan, 2005, P.891-933).
The reason why Mill regard it as important (but not all important) on utilitarian grounds
According to Mill, promise should be kept only if they increase social utility. It is for this reason that Mill regard it as important but not all important on utilitarian grounds. Mill based his argument on rule utilitarianism which assumes that, even though there are already established moral rules in every society, breaking a promise in an effort to bring happiness to the greatest number of people is right.
Mill also used the act utilitarianism rule to regard the act of promise keeping as less important. According to this rule, the rational way of deciding what requires to be done is by performing the alternative actions that are open to us. This includes doing nothing in order to maximize happiness for all. The utilitarian rules usually regard the act of promise keeping as a mere rules of thumb and therefore, a utilitarian will keep promise when has limited time of considering probable outcomes(Morgan,2005,P.936-1080).
The reason why Nietzsche regard the ability to make promise a remarkable (and rare) achievement
Nietzsche argues that regard the ability to make promise a remarkable and rare achievement because promising requires one to have mastery over nature, circumstances and over all the unreliable creatures. He agues that those who make promises are superior due to t6he fact that they can honor their promises under extreme circumstances such as in the face of fate or accidents.
Making a promise is a remarkable achievement because one is deemed to maintain it no matter what befalls in the future. According to Nietzsche, a person who makes promises does not consider his or her actions as choices.Usually, different people have different meaning with regards to choice.Therefore, and a promise implies a declaration of what a person is and of which one is responsible for.
Friedrich Nietzsche in his second essay on the Genealogy of Morals stated that keeping promise is only possible to a person who has the capacity to recall what he once promised. According to Nietzsche, forgetfulness is more or less like a force without which people can achieve no hope, pride, happiness or even cheerfulness.
Nietzsche held the view that making a promise requires one to have a will to accomplish what he or she promised and a real memory to discharge what he promised.Thus, people should learn to distinguish important events from less important ones.Also, they must learn to think in a causal manner, have the ability to anticipate future eventualities and have a clear goal of fulfilling their promises (Morgan, 2005, P.1140-1200).
Bass, Bernard and Bass, Ruth.The Bass handbook of leadership: theory, research, and managerial applications. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008.
Morgan, Micheal.Classics of moral and political theory.4th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2005.