KANT’S DEONTOLOGY VERSUS MILL’S UTILITARIANISM
~Are ethical actions to be judged by a good will or a good outcome?
Several theorists have risen to explain and give an account of what guides morality among individuals. Morality has it that individuals are guided by morality to ascertain that which is right or wrong. Moreover, it guides individuals to do what is best for their conscience. It is within the discretion of a person to decide the school of thought to follow regarding shaping up their morality (Suikkanen, 2004). Among the schools of thought, the present is the systems of utilitarianism and deontology that shape up how individuals judge ethical actions. In the paper, I will argue that their result or consequences should judge moral actions.”
Immanuel Kant’s deontology theory on ethics or morality depends heavily on scriptures. These may refer to the rules, intuition as well as the moral laws that guide an individual (Kant, 1785). The theory is based on Greek words “done” and “logos” that simply mean the study of duty (Brook, 2007). It advocates that both the actions and the outcomes that follow ought to be ethical. It goes further to point out that the morality of the actions has greater weight, and the consequence of a wrong action does not necessarily make the outcome the same. Deontology identifies that the line between good and evil is very thin, but it all depends on the universally accepted approach to morality (Brook, 2007). Therefore, at determining morality, the individual should consider the situation from both angles without compromising the outcomes.
Kant asserted that the highest good must be one that is intrinsically good and at the same time has no form of qualification. He concluded that the one thing that is truly good was good will of an individual that may be chosen out of the feeling of moral duty (Brook, 2007). It is this that led to Kant’s development of the concept of Categorical imperative. He defined imperative as any proposition that declares a particular action or lack of action to be necessary (Kant, 1785). According to the categorical imperative in deontology theory, an action is absolute and, therefore, is an unconditional requirement that exerts its power in every circumstance. It is this that further reinforced the taking of the theory as one that follows duty. Therefore, the categorical imperative is a principle that is good in it, and it is mandatory to obey it in all situations reinforcing the necessity of following the moral laws set in place (Kant, 1785). Additionally, Kant insisted that if an action despite its outcomes is not done with the sole motive of duty, then it loses its moral value and, therefore, losses its meaning. It is this that makes the categorical imperative principle the fundamental rational principle of moral reasoning.
Utilitarianism is recognized for being one of the most influential and persuasive approaches to ethics in the general history of philosophy. It was articulated from proto-utilitarian positions and developed further by John Stuart Mill (1863). It is the idea that the moral worth of a given action is determined by its contribution to the overall utility in maximizing pleasure or happiness as is summed among all individuals. Therefore, the total utility of all people is the one that is important according to this theory. The greater happiness and pleasure of the most significant number of individuals is the paramount concern. It is named after the utility doctrine that is a measure in economics of the relative satisfaction from, or even the desirability of the utilization of goods. It is this that makes Unitarianism more of a quantitative and reductionist approach to the issue of ethics (Mill, 1863). It starts right from the basis that pleasure and also happiness are internally valuable and that pain or even suffering are intrinsically non-valuable and that anything that affects the life of an individual only acquires its value if it results in the happiness of preventing the suffering of a person. Therefore, such acts are the means to an end. The vast focus on pleasure and reduction of suffering as the ultimate goals of moral decisions makes the theory a form of Hedonism and, therefore, is sometimes referred to as Hedonistic Utilitarianism.
The theory also believes in that the outcomes of a given action have greater value as compared to the action itself. They are on the premise that the end justifies the means. It also further asserts that it is within an individual’s moral compass to take advantage of any situation to maximize pleasure or reduce the suffering of the majority of the people. Therefore, utilitarianism is very much reliant on consequentiality (Mill, 1863).
The theory asserts that pleasure and pain can be quantified and, therefore, measured and as a result, utilitarianism uses a form of utilitarian calculus to calculate the intensity and extent of pleasures and or pains that an action would lead to if one is to take it up. In measuring pleasure and pain, Bentham, a major proponent of the theory, would consider the intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty as well as the farness or nearness of the pain or pleasure. It is this that utilitarianism would use to reason before taking an action (Crisp, 1997).
To determine the pleasures that have the biggest utility or result to the most pleasure to the majority of the people, Mill suggested a form of competent judge test. It was an experimental test whereby an individual that has gone through both pleasures are the only ones that are competent judges to tell whether one pleasure is better than the other (Mill, 1863). If the majority of the competent judges prefer one pleasure, then it is that pleasure that would be taken. Pleasure ranks higher in utility, and there is a need to be preferred in all cases. The intellectual pleasures are not taken into the account of the competent judges and Mill left them from hedonism. According to Mill, intellectual pleasures rank higher in the quality of pleasures as compared to the physical pleasures.
Deontology fails to allow some acts that may lead to greater good since it argues that the end never justifies the means. It does not permeate any harm on any individual as the law states since it works under the principle of categorical imperative where there is unconditional following or submission to duty. It means that some actions would not be allowed despite the positive or better outcome that they may result (Suikkanen, 2004). For example in a case where a private plane experiences mechanical problems with a just the pilot in it and is dropping towards a football stadium if not shot out of the sky. The deontology theory would refute the morality of shooting down the plane killing the pilot even if it would lead to saving of hundreds or even thousands of lives that may be lost if the plane crash-lands on the fully packed stadium. The utilitarianism theory by Mill would recommend that if sacrificing one life would lead to the saving of thousands of others then the end would justify the means meaning that it would allow for the shooting down of the plane.
Utilitarian theorists accuse the Deontology theory because it is an exaggerated version of what is popular and that it brings a form of inflexibility ion moral reasoning of individuals. Furthermore, the deontology theory cannot offer complete moral guidance due to its reliance on objective and unchanging principles that may result to conflicts in some cases (Crisp, 1997). The rights and duties of an individual may conflict due to the obsolete nature of some moral laws since they do not change with the fast changing times resulting in inconsistencies. It is an indication that in some cases an individual may have to revise their moral compass depending on whether the action taken provides more pleasure or prevents pain for more people and regardless of the actions, the consequences supersedes the action taken.
The biggest challenge presented by adopting utilitarianism as the basis of moral principle is that in some cases, measuring happiness and also comparing it may be difficult due to the diverse nature of individuals. Pleasure is also difficult to ascertain among people and, therefore, some actions may result in consequences that some may perceive as being right while others refute them firmly (Williams, 1973). Some results or consequences that may be sued to gauge the ethicality of certain actions may be difficult to draw out the desires and the intentions of the individual. Some people are motivated by desires or intentions that may not be right but if the consequences turn out to be right then they are judged as having acted in the same was like an action that had good intentions. Moreover, it may take too much time in trying to weigh out the options and the possible consequences of action (Williams, 1973). Furthermore, at times, the knowledge of the possible outcomes may be difficult to arrive at and, therefore, one may have to work with estimates that do not necessarily mean that they are correct further leaving room for the subjectivity of the approach to ethical actions.
In conclusion, despite the various challenges that critics may out to, judging ethical actions from the results or consequences is the most viable manner. It is because human beings are more inclined to making life easier and also it is natural to act in a way that results in minimization or elimination of suffering or pain (Williams, 1973). Furthermore, considering the results or consequences ion the majority of the people is a comfortable and classic manner to enhance equality and also to promote the equal consideration of interests. It also supports a form of thinking whereby one has to consider what is morally right or wrong as a result of the impact that it may cause. Moreover, it offers a form of flexibility in judging ethical actions because differing conditions may present different circumstances. Therefore, moral actions should be judged by their result or consequences.
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