There are many philosophers who have speculated on the account of ethics and morality. Their views are mostly similar, agreeing on the concept that morality is a necessary part of human life and it should be guiding the actions and thoughts of every person. Immanuel Kant was one of such philosophers who greatly valued morality and the reasons for it.
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He contemplated why people do things that are ethically and morally right or wrong, considering human emotions and thoughts. John Stuart Mill has also devoted a lot of time to ethics and how it can be defined but has taken a somewhat different approach through utilitarianism. Kant’s ethics are more acceptable, as they are universal and stable while Mill’s utilitarianism is dependent on perspective and individuality.
People often, find themselves in situations where they must determine what the best thing to do is. As every individual is different, their view of morality is somewhat different. There are many issues that arise when analyzing the relationship between necessity and ethics. Kant wrote about the person’s responsibility towards others as the highest good. He established that there are universal laws which guide people to be morally correct using the rational thinking.
Their reasons might be related to the reward of “a good feeling” after they commit a good deed. Or they might feel a moral obligation to help someone because they have the ability and ways to accomplish that. For some people, it becomes a lifelong quality and it is part of their character, so that in time, a situation when someone needs help presents itself, they help without thinking and on an instinct (Ward, 145).
Comparing necessity to morality, Kant’s view is that a rational and universal law makes it a must for one person to help another or commit an act that will be moral by the highest standards. Kant also talks about innate good that people have and the feeling of kindness towards the fellow human being. The ethical and moral codes set out by the government in a form of laws, reflect the general concepts of goodness and ethical attitude and behavior.
The duties and responsibilities are based on the moral codes which require respectful and equal treatment to all. These ethics reflect the qualities that every person possesses. But, the unfortunate fact is that there are circumstances when it is hard for people to be ethical or morally correct. This is why it is important to create a system that bases its laws and regulations on highest moral standards of ethics and equality.
John Stuart Mill’s ethics are based on the principle of morality being defined by the promotion of happiness. It is the foundation that all people must hold as a setting point. Also, the absence of pain or creation of conditions that will not make others suffer is the necessary duty of every individual. An important condition is that a person must not look towards own ethics and amount of happiness but must direct efforts to make others happy as much as possible.
One of the key aspects of utilitarianism is that people have a sort of feeling that is directed towards the achievement of happiness. If people can feel their own desire to feel pleasure, they must understand that others want the same feeling. Happiness thus, becomes the center focus of any person and all they do is look for ways to achieve even greater happiness (Mill, 8). John Mill draws a line between society, the laws that people make for the order and happiness.
The laws are a sort of utility that is necessary for enforcement of rules and policies. These regulations are meant to keep a fair society, so that people are not treated negatively, thus living a happy life. One of the important criticisms is that the principle of greatest happiness describes the process of a person taking everything that is pleasurable and giving the money saved from own limitations to others.
But then, the person who gives away the pleasure of being in a band, tennis lessons and the pursuit of skilled professions through extra education becomes poor and unhappy themselves. Even though it is possible to see that all people want to be happy and enjoy life, sometimes there are moments that require sacrifice and happiness becomes secondary because morality is more necessary.
According to Kant’s Categorical Imperative and the views on ethics, people must do what is necessary in relation to the greater good (Guyer, 31). This is very similar to the view of John Mill, as his utilitarian ethics are based on the greatest amount of happiness.
The major differences between the two philosophers’ concepts are the limitations that each has. Immanuel Kant’s theory is that a deed is proper and morally correct by the highest standards of morality and ethics. An example would be to never lie. This means that even a lie to make someone feel good, such as a comment about their outfit, would not be acceptable.
From one perspective, it can be seen as true because it is better to tell the person that they look ridiculous, so that people around will not be laughing at the person behind their back. This, in a way, circles back to the utilitarian question of whether a person becomes unhappy or receives any negativity when they do not know what someone says behind their back. This is where the two theories unite, as talking negatively behind someone’s back is ethically incorrect, immoral and lying is immoral as well.
So, it is possible to conclude that morality is universal for both philosophers. But, in utilitarianism, morality or the highest truth is not the criterion, it is happiness. This is the set back of utilitarianism because happiness cannot be measured from one person to the other, as the degree of it varies and so, it cannot be universal. Something that makes one person happy can make another indifferent or completely appalled.
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Whereas morality is universal, cannot be denied and is the same for all people. Of course, there are times when people cannot consciously choose what the morally right thing to do is because they are physically or mentally incapable. In this case, the standard of greatest happiness would still apply, as people will be limited by the situation and choose what is best. Whereas highest moral principles will stay unchanged, even if people are unable to follow them.
It is a set truth that the principle of greater good and necessities has many more positive outcomes from any perspective (Johnson, 12). This is common to both theorists Kant and Mill but Kant’s ethics of highest morals are universal for all while utilitarianism has some limitations. The neutral and impersonal truth and correctness are the standard that must be adhered to.
Guyer, Paul. Kant. New York, United States: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Johnson, Oliver. Ethics: Selections from Classical and Contemporary Writers. Boston, United States: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Mill, John. Utilitarianism. London, England: Parker, Son and Bourn, 1863. Print.
Ward, Andrew. Kant: The Three Critiques. Cambridge, United States: Polity, 2006. Print.