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Mill vs. Kant


What are the differences between Kant and Mills’ views on morality? Many philosophers have explored various ways through which morality can be justified, and among multiple examples, Kant and Mill’s positions stand out. Kant, through the categorical imperative and its formulations, believed that one’s morality ultimately depends on whether they fulfill their duty. Mainly, the rightness or wrongness of one’s actions (morality) depends on whether they help us fulfill our duties, and not on the consequences they create. Kant believed that the categorical imperative, therefore, is the supreme principle of morality. Mill, on the other hand, developed the utilitarian principle and according to his position, happiness and morality are linked. Mill utility principle stated that our actions should act towards serving the “greatest good,” for the highest number of people. Essentially, morality’s goal is to make people happy and spare them from pain and if an action satisfies most people, then it is right.


Kant, who is considered the father of modern ethics and morality, earned his favorable status by using logic to prove that there was a unifying principle that binds all humanity. His thoughts were that humanity was responsible for what we did and posed that our morality was based on what we “ought to do.” While recognizing that human beings had no power over things that were beyond their control, such as the consequences of their action, he felt that we could find reprieve in our “good will.” Our good intentions and attempts to do our duties can justify our morality. To enforce his argument, Kant enforced his argument by leaning heavily on the categorical imperative as an outline for what people must do in their lives.


In Kant’s philosophy, our actions should be judged based on our intentions and not the consequences of these actions. Since we have no control of the consequences of our actions, we should be held to terms for the rational decisions we made in line with what the society expects of us. For example, in the case of suicide, morality would be assessed through the action and not the consequences. Kant would ask the suicidal person whether suicide could become a “universal law of nature,” a consideration that reveals that it is not. Nature intends life to be improved, and not destroyed, which is why things grow. Therefore, suicide is not moral since it negates nature’s intentions by destroying life.


Mill, on the other hand, used utilitarianism, which proposes that our actions should always create the greatest good for the highest number of people. However, unlike Kant, who fails to consider consequences, Mill felt that our actions should depend on what creates the best/least miserable outcome for many. Mill’s position is that morality should create happiness or at least give people pleasure instead of pain with higher levels of pleasure being better than lower levels. Considering the suicide example under utilitarianism, Mill would ask whether suicide would reduce pain for the person and their family. If the individual has an incurable disease, and all experts agree that the situation will only get worse, then Mill might say that suicide would be an “acceptable action.” As disgusting as the idea sounds, the morality of the action would reduce the pain of the person and their family is they continued to get worse/suffer from illness.


Thus, while both philosophers make great arguments on the moral system, it is important to note that Kant calls for morality to be driven by rational action, while Mill advises that morality depends on the specific situation. Kant urges us to consider the universality and rationality of our moral actions as an immovable fact while Mill is more concerned with the intentions of the actions. Kant’s view is ultimately demanding as it urges everyone to follow the same path while Mills intends that everyone should avoid pain, or be happy.


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