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It is natural for human beings to subscribe to particular moral ideologies and to apply them in their day-to-day lives. Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill have formulated frameworks upon which moral considerations can be made. This paper uses the moral theories of Mill and Kant in solving an ethical dilemma.
John Stuart Mill begins his ethical theorization by asserting that ethical statements are neither scientifically nor mathematically provable. Mill’s utilitarianism is the moral standpoint that views actions as right or wrong in proportion to how they maximize happiness to the most significant number of people possible (Mill 121).
Mill urges moral actors to consider the quality of the expected happiness rather than just focusing on the quantity of pleasure. To distinguish between primal desires experienced by animals and those of rational human beings, Mill distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures (Mill 117). He proposes experienced judges to differentiate between different pleasure categories. Utilitarianism can, therefore, be seen as a form of social hedonism where the best action is that which generates the most enormous amount of happiness to the most significant number of people (Mill 119). This highest pleasure principle applies irrespective of whether the action makes the performer happy or not.
In deciding the morality of John’s choices using the utilitarian approach, we first need to specify the options available to him. We need to evaluate the consequences of each action and estimate the probability of each of the expected values. We should also assess the utility of each result and pinpoint the best prospect.
Using the money to support his family would only create happiness for four people. Going by the highest happiness principle, utilitarianism would propose creating happiness for the veterans. John is also likely to create lower pleasures of food and entertainment to his family compared to the higher preferences that can be offered to the veterans. Mill’s utilitarianism would probably suggest that John donates the money to the vets.
Kant’s Moral Theory
Unlike Mill, Kant postulates that certain types of actions such as theft, rape, lying, and murder ought to be explicitly prohibited irrespective of whether they are likely to generate happiness. The Kantian ethical consideration requires that John contemplates whether his actions respect other human beings and whether he can will that other person in his position, should act similarly.
The Kantian moral theory is an example of a deontological ethical theory where the moral worth of an action is determined by a dedication to moral duty (Kant 112). In choosing whether to use the money to support his family or to donate it to a veteran’s association, John needs to consider his duty to society as well as a commitment to family.
Kant proposes the categorical imperative as a command that ascertains moral duties irrespective of the consequences of the action (Kant 113). In John’s case, the categorical imperative would be, ‘you ought to support your family.’ Kant distinguishes the categorical imperative from the hypothetical imperative by introducing the concept of ends. The hypothetical imperative commands an action to fulfill particular desires. For instance, if you John wants his family to be happy, then he should use the money for family subsistence.
Kant’s morality is founded on the categorical imperative in the sense that one cannot opt-out of a moral claim. According to the categorical imperative, one needs to act according to the maxim that he can wish to become a universal law. In choosing his action, John needs to decide whether he would like his choice to be made universal. Kant might probably suggest that John should use the money to support his family.
Of the two options, I prefer the Kantian model since it implores the actor to use rationality in choosing a line of action. Kant’s model ensures that John can be held accountable for his choice based on duty rather than a consequence. Consistent with Kant’s theorization, the compulsion to assist the needy falls under an imperfect duty. However, John must fend for his family.
Kant, Immanuel. “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.” Voices of Wisdom: A Multicultural Philosophy Reader. Ed. Kessler, Gary E. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007. 109-114. Print.
Mill, John S. “What Utilitarianism Is.” Voices of Wisdom: A Multicultural Philosophy Reader. Ed. Kessler, Gary E. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007. 115-122 Print.