MORALLY RIGHT (KANT AND MILL) 1
Student no: 1004746670
The Superiority of the Utilitarian Principle as Compared to Kantianism
Student No: 1004746670
Date: November 9, 2018
PHL113H5F | Persons and Value
Professor. Sergio Tenenbaum
TA. Jessica Wright
Words: 1328
MORALLY RIGHT (KANT AND MILL) 2
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The Superiority of the Utilitarian Principle as Compared to Kantianism
Introduction
It is very difficult to decide what is morally right when it comes to the question of what
drives or motivates people’s actions. What one deems to be appropriate may not be well
received by another because they do not follow the same moral doctrines. Most of the people
peg morality on religion while a few like John Mill and Immanuel Kant have a unique view
of the same. In this paper, I would argue that Kantianism is inferior to Utilitarian principle in
case of rational beings to be morally right by showcasing that the universal adoption of
Kant’s rules would have consequences that no-one would choose to bring about. (Mills,3)
Both Kant and Mill elaborate morality using rationality. Kant proposes that one should
consider their limits as the biggest guide to their morals and rational being must consider
itself as giving universal law through all maxims of its will to judge itself and its actions.
(KANT, 51). Mill proposes that happiness should be paramount in deciding what is morally
right or wrong. The doctrine that the basis of morals is utility, or the greatest happiness
principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness and
wrong in proportion as they tend to produce reverse of happiness. (Mill, 5). It is undeniable
that Kant makes a very solid argument for his case. However, one cannot help but agree with
Mill that one person can be sacrificed for the greater good especially if it serves many. For
this paper, the focus will be on the universal principles of morality given by both Immanuel
Kant and John Mill.
Immanuel Kant proposed that rationality is the supreme principle of morality. This
rationality is referred to as categorical imperative. It is an unconditional principle that all
must follow regardless of any inclinations, influences or natural urges that may motivate
people to the contrary (Kant, 52). According to Kant Acting always in accordance with that
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maxim whose universality as law you can at the same time will is the single condition which
can never be in conflict itself and such an imperative is categorical. (Kant, 55). Morality
follows rationality meaning that all immoral actions can be deemed irrational. This ethical
theory argues that people are simply not just a means to an end but an end itself. This means
respecting an individual as opposed to just using them to attain personal gain especially when
it involves them doing stuff that they would not otherwise consent to. Morality is the
condition under which alone a rational being can be an end and is capable of morality and
humanity which has dignity. (Kant, 53).
John Mill’s philosophy was quite different from what Kant proposed. The main
principle, in this case, was the utility than one can derive from an activity. According to Mill,
morality entails doing what yields the maximum utility. Utilitarianism views happiness as the
only desirable thing. It is an egoist’s view that eventually, individuals’ desire is their
happiness above everything else. The utilitarian morality does recognize that human beings
can sacrifice their own greatest good for the good of others and it merely refuses to admit that
the sacrifice is itself a good. It also regards as wasted any sacrifice that doesn’t increase, or
tend to increase, the sum of total happiness. (Mill, 12). This doctrine proposes that right or
wrong should be determined by the extent to which they promote one’s happiness. (Stanford
Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2007).
A good example lies in the resolution of community conflicts. In the past where one
community was in constant war with another, they had to find a way to appease one another
and form an alliance. Both communities would go to a great extent to find peace even if it
meant making very big sacrifices. For instance, some would institute matrimony between two
of their members to form a lasting alliance. When it came to the issue of such marriages, the
couple had no say in the matter as long as their parents and elders could consent to it. This
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was truer especially for the girl than the boy. In some of these cases, the girl was even
married off as a second wife, to a widower or even a man the age of his father.
In other instances, the community had to offer one of their members such as a child as a
peace offering to another home in the other community. This would mean separating a young
innocent child from its parents. While a matrimonial alliance cannot be deemed immoral,
some people would agree that separation of such a child from its’ mother is immoral. An
example lies in the book; things fall apart. Chinua Achebe describes the unsettling situation
that the community found itself. According to the writer, there was discord among two
communities, Omuofia and Mbaino because a daughter of Omuofia was killed by members of
Mbaino. (ACHEBE, 1959)
To resolve the conflict the two communities agreed upon a young man, and a virgin girl
from Mbaino would be given to the community. According to Achebe, the young girl would
replace the murdered wife while the boy would belong to the whole community before his
fate was decided. (ACHEBE, 1959) The boy was later killed as a sacrifice, and the
community claimed that the gods had decided his fate. This is a case that Kant and Mill’s
philosophy would disagree as to how the matter should have been handled best.
By Kantian principle handing over the two children of Mbaino to Umuofia would
categorize as morally wrong action. This is because it did not respect the two as individuals.
The young girl and the boy were used as just a means to an end. They were a vessel used to
resolve a conflict between two communities, a conflict they did not participate. This goes
against Kant’s belief that human life is valuable because they bear the rationale of life.
(Sirotkin, 2014)
On the other hand, Mill would have agreed with most of the judgment calls made in this
case. According to the Utilitarian principle, this action was the option that bore the most
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utility. (Sirotkin, 2014) This action brought about the most direct utility that the two
communities would have hoped for. Mbaino could avert a war that they would have lost and
gained many more casualties. On the other hand, Umuofia became contented with the
replacement they got for the man who had lost his wife as well as the young boy they used to
make peace with their ancestors. Judging by this principle the actions of the villagers were
moral even if they did not consider the happiness of the two individuals who were merely
used to an end.
To that end, I agree with Mill that the actions taken were the best way in which the two
communities could have solved the conflict. According to their traditions, this was the
procedure for resolving such conflicts. Tradition’s aside, some cases call for limiting one’s
happiness to attain the overall good. This is a concept that all people can relate to even when
it comes to the issue of human rights. One is free to exercise their rights if they do not violate
another’s. In the same way, one’s happiness is important if it is not the hindrance to the
overall good.
Conclusion
What is morally right or wrong will differ from one person to the other in most cases.
One must find out their limits and decide which course of action they would best live with. I
believe it is easier to live in a world where one person’s happiness can be taken away for the
good of all rather than one person being viewed as a rational being while they cannot offer to
use their position to gain an overall advantage. This beats the whole rationality concept of the
said individual.
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References
Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, edited by Allen W. Wood,
Yale University press, 2002
Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, 2008
The Definition of Morality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). (2002, April 17).
Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/
Sirotkin, R. (2014, October 19). Kantianism ; Utilitarianism | PH115: Introduction to Ethics.
Retrieved from https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/millsonph115/2014/10/19/kantianismutilitarianism/
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2004, February 23). Kant’s Moral Philosophy
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Retrieved from
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (October 9). Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Retrieved from
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill-moral-political/
ACHEBE, C. H. (1959). THINGS FALL APART. S.l.: PENGUIN BOOKS.