A pluralistic approach to moral theory

Attempting to reconcile the Greatest Happiness Principle and Kant's Second Formulation is a great ethical and intellectual exercise that yields some very intriguing results. The Greatest Happiness Principle is the foundation of utilitarianism, and it states that activities are only moral if they provide the greatest amount of benefit to the greatest number of stakeholders. According to the Second Formulation, an activity is ethical if it is founded on respect for other people. The principles are clearly complementary, and in some circumstances, one cannot exist without the other. The paper shall show that the Second Formulation is actually critical for one to live by utilitarianism.

Literature review

What should be considered in depth is that Kant uses the word maxim in his formulation and that should be taken to refer to the underlying principle. That principle does not just focus on the individual; it should be a principle that focuses on society as the whole (Shafer-Landau, 2014). In that sense, it broadens the scope of what can be done under the banner of the Second Formulation. In that sense, the principle than reinforces the fact that humans do have an obligation to other humans (Waluchow, 2003). When tied to utilitarianism, it gains a far much broader scope. One is not only duty bound to respect others, he or she is also compelled to act in such a way that he or she maximizes benefits to them (Hinman, 2013). It is a broad application that ensures that the two principles act in concert with each other and lead to moral and ethical actions in a society.


Intent and result

The two aspects come together to provide an almost perfect combination of intent and results that one can deem ethical. Most times, one has one or the other. For example, deontology is largely about the action of following through on one’s duty; there is little emphasis on the underlying intent (Waluchow, 2003). However, in the case, the Second Formulation provides the maxim or intent and the happiness principle results in happiness. If one were to follow both of the principles and incorporate them into his or her decision making, the action would be deemed ethical on both fronts. The motivation purists would appreciate that one took the action based on a maxim formulated through logic and respect for another human being. Additionally, he or she will have ensured the most utility to the most number of stakeholders. In this instance, it is a clear win-win situation for a person willing to combine the principles.


The two are also largely complimentary. First of all, in order to truly be willing to provide the most benefit to the most humans, one must have the capacity to respect and empathize with them. He or she must be convinced that these are entities deserving of his or her feelings and actions. In that simple extrapolation lie the fundamentals of the Second Formulation. It is based on the respect for the autonomy that all human beings should enjoy (Shafer-Landau, 2014). For example, one must believe that all humans have a right to make their decisions before he or she thinks about whether or not it is ethical to withhold any information. The act of respecting the other’s rights directly leads to honesty which then translates to utility in most cases.


However, there are those who will argue that because the Greatest Happiness Principle applies to the ‘common good’, it is removed from the idea of autonomy (Hinman, 2013). For example, if one were a budget officer, he or she would budget in such a way that the most people benefitted from the resources. However, that would imply that there is a small majority that will not see much of the money and will thus suffer. In that instance, the budget officer will not have respected the autonomy of those people and their right to benefit from the resources available. He will have had to follow the utilitarian principle and thus ignored the individual. In that respect, the two principles can be said to be contradictory. A focus on the common good does indeed take away from the focus on the individual and his or her autonomy in many cases (Shafer-Landau, 2007).


There are two main ways in which Kant’s Second Formulation and the Greatest Happiness Principle combine and work together. For one, the formulation presents the maxim or intent while the principle should produce the results. Basing one’s action on the combined fundamentals will give one standing as both intentionally and practically ethical. Additionally, they do seem to flow into one another. For one to truly want utility for many humans, he or she must at least have respect for them as humans deserving of utility. In that sense, one supports the other. However, a focus on the common good can take away from the consideration of individual autonomy and that is a source of contradiction. On the whole, the two stances can and should be used together.


Hinman, L. M. (2013). Ethics: A pluralistic approach to moral theory. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Pub Co.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2007). Ethical theory: An anthology. Malden, Mass.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2014). The fundamentals of ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Waluchow, W. J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press.

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price