Ethics (or moral philosophy) can be defined as something that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into three general subject areas: meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Meta-ethics, investigates our judgement, ethics and what we base our practical moral decisions around.
When I think of ethical behavior or concepts of right or wrong, one of my favorite quotes from the song Go with the Flow comes to mind. “I want something good to die for to make it beautiful to live.” I believe this to mean that a life is only worth living, if something in that life is worth dying for. If you don’t care about anything deeply enough to give your life for it, then there’s not much meaning to the life you’ve got. While this is a statement worthy of philosophy, I consider it a representation of ethical code and morality as well.
Kant would’ve probably agreed with this notion based off of his Categorical Imperative. “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In this paper I will explain the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and contrast it to utilitarian philosophy. Firstly, to expound on the philosophy of Kant, I have to explain how his philosophy came about. Immanuel Kant, born April 22, 1724, in Prussia, was essential to what we refer to as modern philosophy. At age 46, Kant was already a credited philosopher and scholar in his own right.
In 1770 he was appointed as professor of logic and metaphysics. Kant credits David Hume for “awakening him from dogmatic slumber.” 1 David Hume was a Scottish philosopher who was well known for his skepticism of religion and metaphysics. David Hume, is widely considered to be one of the greatest Philosophers. But his philosophy amongst the philosophical community is thought to be extremely idiotic.
Although, his followers believe it is factual, it can also be argued that it is not. David Hume basically states that everything that you think is possible is also impossible. Hume believed anything that science has proven, can also be disproven; because of this nothing is true.
Hume granted that the external world exists and that one can rationally understand it. Though a skeptic, in a slight sense, because he was first to show the “problem of induction.” (I.E. Any conclusion which cannot be logically deduced and which therefore requires inductive reasoning–making one or more ultimately non-provable assumptions about uniformity in the natural world–cannot be regarded as truth-preserving.
Incidentally much of our knowledge consists in inductive conclusions. However, for Hume, this did not require outright skepticism with regard to knowledge. In Kant’s journey to explain how humanity fused it’s knowledge and reasoned knowledge, he did not publish any work in philosophy for 11 years. A period known as his “silent decade.” Kant argues in his Critique, that “the human mind creates the structure of human experience, that reason is the source of morality, that aesthetics arises from a faculty of disinterested judgment, that space and time are forms of human sensibility, and that the world as it is “in-itself” is independent of humanity’s concepts of it.
“Kant’s philosophy is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality. He believed that any action must take place from a rationalized standpoint, so anything done for one’s own means or out of some sort of compliance as moral. To be moral the behavior must be carried out for honorable reasons. By Kant’s philosophy if one does not have a code it will be shown in his/her actions, and our ability to reason is what shows us what our duty is. Kant defined this reasoning as the hypothetical imperative, meaning “by this that it is a command of reason that applies only if one desires the goal in question;” and the aforementioned categorical imperative, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Kant based his categorical imperative on morality and stated: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will and general natural law.” In layman’s terms, a person must determine what rules they are following, and if that rule should be followed by everyone before taking any action.
“If you are willing to universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is morally impermissible.” For this to occur the “maxim” has to possess the ability to consistently be applied to any or every situation, and for everyone alike. Another key point of the Kantian moral philosophy are the distinctions of perfect and imperfect obligations. A perfect duty is a duty that “one must always perform in a particular situation,” and an imperfect duty is one that a person “must perform only when the situation arises. “Next, I will demonstrate how Kantian and Utilitarian philosophies contrast.
Kantian and Utilitarianism are both concepts and philosophies that question the ethical nature of human beings. The differences between Kantianism and Utilitarianism are that Kant’s deontological philosophy, evaluates whether a person’s decisions are based on desire or intent. Whereas, Utilitarianism is based upon “utility.” Which means doing what will produce “the greatest happiness”. In the utilitarian philosophy morality is judged by if the result of an action produces the greatest overall utility for all.
But if the action doesn’t produce the greatest overall utility for all, the action is deemed morally wrong. Therefore, by utilitarian standards a person would be required to gauge every action against the needs of everyone before committing to it. This approach is extremely harder to follow because the “overall utilities,” is entirely subjective. Whereas Kantian philosophy is more absolute and determines morality in otherwise unclear situation. For instance, Kantians could easily decide if a person is being used as a mere means, even if the impact on human happiness is ambiguous. Kantians “consider only the proposals for an action that occur to them and check that these proposals use no other as mere means” (O’Neill 413). This is more efficient than utilitarianism which would have to compare, any and all actions to determine which action has would result in the most happiness for everyone.
In this right, utilitarianism would require an abundance of time to consider your actions, which is a direct contradiction to it’s main goal of happiness. How can one carry out an action resulting in happiness for all, when they spend all of their time agonizing over every decision. So, if a person was caught in the instance of one of my favorite song quotes “I want something good to die for to make it beautiful to live.
” Utilitarian’s would adversely spend all of their time pondering what is good to die for instead of carrying out an action that would make it beautiful to live.