Utilitarianism vs. Kantianism
Ethics can be defined as "the conscious reflection on our moral beliefs with the aim of improving, extending or refining those beliefs in some way." (Dodds, Lecture 2) Kantian moral theory and Utilitarianism are two theories that attempt to answer the ethical nature of human beings. This paper will attempt to explain how and why Kantian moral theory and Utilitarianism differ as well as discuss why I believe Kant's theory provides a more plausible account of ethics.
Immanuel Kant's deonotological ethical theory assesses if actions are moral based on the person's will or intention of acting. Kant's theory can be categorized as a deonotological because "actions are not assessed to be morally permissible on the basis of consequences they produce, but rather on the form of the agent's will in acting," (Dodds, Lecture 7) therefore his actions are based on duty and not consequential. Kantianism is based on three principles: maxims, willing, and the categorical imperative. Kant states that a maxim is a "general rule or principle which will explain what a person takes himself to be doing and the circumstances in which he takes himself to be doing it" (Feldman, 1999, 201). It is important that this principle be universalisable and that the maxim can be applied consistently to everyone that encounters similar situations, therefore willed as a universal law. The second aspect of Kant's theory is willing. This involves the agent consistently committing oneself to make an action occur. He states that, "In general, we can say that a person wills inconsistently if he wills that p be the case and he wills that q be the case and its impossible for p and q to be the case together" (Feldman, 1999, 203). The last aspect of Kant's theory is the categorical imperative. The importance of the categorical imperative is that one must act in such a way that they can will that the maxim behind one's actions can be conceived as part of the universal law. The maxim has to be consistent and able to be applied to every situation, for every person. The other main point of Kantian moral theories are the differences between imperfect and perfect duties. Perfect duties are those duties that one must always perform in a particular situation, whereas imperfect duties are those that one must perform only when the situation arises.
Utilitarianism is another theory in which its main objective is to explain the nature of ethics and morality. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory which is based upon utility, or doing that which produces the greatest happiness. According to a utilitarian the morality of act is found just if the consequence produces the greatest overall utility for everyone. However, if the greatest possible utility is not produced, the action is then morally wrong. This view says that a person should act as to produce the greatest overall happiness and pleasure for everyone who may be directly or indirectly affected by...