There is little doubt that Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics are by far the two most important ethical theories throughout contemporary philosophy. Though both attempt to answer questions about morality and behavior, the two theories have many fundamental differences: one evaluates actions in terms of the utility they produce whereas the other considers whether actions fulfill duty; one emphasizes consequence where the other highlights intentions; one sees desire as essential while the other precludes it and values reason. For years, philosophers have raised many objections towards each of the two theories, some of which are very compelling. In this paper, I will introduce and explain two famous objections to Classical Utilitarianism and anticipate how a non-utilitarian Consequentialist might try to avoid these problems. I will also describe the basic idea of Kantian Ethics and explain why Kant’s theory is less vulnerable to the harsh criticisms faced by Utilitarianism.
2. Two Objections to Classical Utilitarianism
Classical Utilitarianism is the doctrine that an act is morally right if and only if it maximizes overall utility , and that each person’s utility is counted impartially in the calculation. Specifically, Classical Utilitarianism entails three important elements: (1) Consequence is the only criterion in judging whether an action is right or wrong; (2) the net utility (the outcome after precluding total pain from total happiness) is the only thing that matters in assessing an action’s consequence; (3) everyone’s utility is equally counted in the calculation. Many objections have been raised against (1) and (2) because of the absolute impartiality demanded by Classical Utilitarianism as described in (3). The fact that every one’s interest counts the same implies that each person is valued the same---an idea that is counterintuitive. Some also suggest that the theory calls for too much personal sacrifice.
(1) The Charge that Classical Utilitarianism is Too-Demanding
One popular objection to Classical Utilitarianism is that it is too demanding (Rachels, p.). Suppose Person A has two choices in spending her weekend: she can either watch movies at home, or work at an NGO to save disadvantaged people from suffering. According to Classical Utilitarianism, Person A is morally obligated, not simply encouraged, to take the latter choice and to work as many hours as possible so that she can help alleviate the pain of those suffering and contribute to a higher overall utility. Similarly, if Person B’s resignation from his job will result in someone else’s happiness, person B is morally required to resign no matter how well he currently fits his job. Moral philosopher Peter Singer, in his article “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, also raises a case that is consistent with CU’s doctrine. He argues that instead of spending money on luxuries (or anything that are purchased not for the purpose of basic needs), the rich are morally...