John Stuart Mill

In England, Stuart Mill is regarded as the heir to utilitarian thought. His life's work was primarily concerned with enhancing the teachings of James Jeremy Bentham and James Mill (his father). His mentors and the founders of the utilitarian movement were these two philosophers. Essay Utilitarianism (1861), Essays on Liberty (1859), Principle of Political Economics (1848), and Systems of Logic (1843) were among his main writings.

It is important emphasizing that Mill did not develop an original theory of ethics, but rather focused his efforts on expanding on what already existing. He was building on a theory based on a principle which stated: “objects of morality is the promotion of the greatest happiness of the maximum number of members in the society.” (Mill 24). Therefore he aimed to expound on the fact that the happiness of an individual in a lifetime depends on the ratio of pleasure to pain; actions which created pleasure in a person are considered to be ‘good’ while those that tend to create pain are referred to as ‘bad’ actions.

Immanuel Kant

Kant is a renowned philosopher from Konigsberg, Prussian City between the years 1725-1804. He is considered the last influential philosopher during the Enlightenment period taking after John Locke, David Hume and George Berkeley (“metaphysics of morals” IV). The philosopher is remembered for his strict discipline and routine, and interest in French and American Revolution. Some of his most celebrated works in 17th Century are Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Judgment, General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens and Critique of Practical Reason (“metaphysics of morals” 2)

The philosopher's main works focused on nature and morality “starry heavens above and moral laws within” (“foundation of ethics” 54). He believed that morality was both universally and objectively binding. In his works, he argued that the basis of ethical practices was deep within the rational nature of human beings, and was similar in each human being. Additionally, his test of moral consistency (also referred to as categorical imperative) determined whether an act was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ based upon maxims which should conform to all human rational thoughts.

John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant on happiness and morality

The two philosophers had different perspectives on happiness and morality. Mill used utilitarianism as an ethical system to determine what should be considered just or unjust in society (Mill 17). His arguments may make his perspective seem natural. But utilitarianism role in the idea and conceptual development of morality is more complicated when analyzed critically, with a focus on its possible consequences (Glover 54).

This essay aims to discuss Mills points of view concerning morality and happiness and use his arguments as a basis of comparison with Kantian’s principles. Then an argument is presented as to why Kantian’s concepts of morality and happiness are better and should be adopted in society.

Stuart Mill, one of the philosophers who championed for utilitarian theory argued that any action is right if it meets its total utility objective, that is, it creates maximum happiness to the maximum number of people in the society (Mill 27). Simply put, the aim of utilitarian is to favor the majority. Despite the fact that the theory can appear rational at first sight, a lot of controversies emerge when it is analyzed critically. First, the fact that the people support this theory is reduced to mere numbers has received criticism from many quarters (Glover 16). Mill, however, brings forth interesting points in response to this criticism. Mill’s take on the issue is that point explaining why happiness is desirable since each person always strives to attain maximum happiness from birth (Mill 28). The explanation provided by Mill is plausible since the fact that all humans want a happy life is purely logical, and hence the criterion of judging morality should be based on the same.

Despite the fact that Mill excellently argues out his points to support his utilitarian theory, there are different loopholes in his concept which can make a person rethink his/her stand on the issue, for instance, the cases when a person does not base his actions on attaining maximum pleasure (Glover 54). He/she may prefer lesser pleasure but for a greater good. Take for example a health-conscious lady who monitors her diet chooses to take oatmeal instead of burger or pizza as a mid-morning snack. In her case, eating the burger or pizza may have given her the greatest pleasure, but she sticks to eating oatmeal.

The response that Mill gives to such scenarios happening is equally intriguing. He argues that “because they have not the time or opportunity for indulging in higher pleasures; and they addict them to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them because they (pleasures) are the only ones which they are not capable of enjoying” (Mill 160). However, from the response given in this case, it becomes evident that there are many instances when a person may deliberately choose lesser pleasure.

Wolff argues that utilitarian theory stands out when it comes to policy formulation and implementation, especially in democratic societies (12; ch. 1). In simple terms, democracy is a majority rule. There are few options which are better than utilitarianism when it comes to the formation of governments and decision making on behalf of the citizens (Wolff 19). In a typical society, it is expected that there are divergent views on matters relating to policy formulation and implementation. Since the policies have to be passed anyway, it is common to base the decisions on the opinions of the majority (A classic example of how utilitarian principles applies in real life). Some people can raise concerns such as how using a majority opinion in policy formulation renders the views of the minority useless thereby disregarding their human rights (Glover 54). However, Mill recommends that we should not forget the reason why he vouches for utilitarian principles it is practical. That makes democratic government the best form of government because, in a state with a population of over 40 million, it is practically impossible to listen to the views of everyone.Therefore utilitarian principles (majority rule) holds in policy formulation and implementation until another philosopher comes up with a better theory.

Even after accepting the well-illustrated examples on the application of utilitarianism, it is still challenging to come to terms with the fact that utilitarian principles disregard human rights of the minority (Glover 57). That brings up the question of the moral basis of the theory. However, Mill maintains his position on the extent to which an individual can enjoy his/her rights depends on how many more people will be affected when he/she enjoys her rights. He then concludes that it is the practices which are widely accepted by the majority as ‘good’ that forms moral code of any society in the world, be it traditional or a modern community.

Brandt, a fellow utilitarian, provides a better argument for the whole morality and rights question. He points out that “utility should have room for recognition of rights which cannot be overridden by marginal gains” (Brandt 18). To defend utilitarianism, he argues out that the minority groups who feel that they are not represented adequately should act according to the principle by considering themselves agents of the utility of the opinions they hold to different situations. He adds that for an act to be considered as ‘right’ it should not be one that is easy to compromise, except in extreme circumstances where it has a negative impact on maximization principle. (Brandt 19). From his point of view, it is okay to maximize the happiness of majority, provided they conduct themselves within moral standards. By following through Brandt argument and his proposal, the utilitarian theory in principle does not violate human rights at the expense of maximizing utility gains.

Brandt’s argument that favoring utilitarian remains acceptable or tolerable at the very least until Thomas Nagel presents his points on how utilitarian theory curtails human rights (Nagel 86). The philosopher discredits the efforts by Miller and Brandt to reconcile human rights and utilitarianism. He continues by saying that grouping people into either a majority or minority group to maximize utility ignores individualism in the society. According to him, the essence of human rights is to ensure that everyone in the community expresses his/hers freely, even if it will make drag the efforts to achieve social goals (Nagel 86). He then pursues his argument by saying that human rights respect everyone as an individual, and not by merging and the inclusion of interests for general good. He then concludes by explaining that there is no possible way that human rights and utilitarian theory can be compatible using a classic murder example (Nagel 87). It is morally wrong and illegal to kill an individual even if the act of will save two or more other people. If this is the case, anyone is allowed to execute to minimize threats to society. The individual who is killed has his right to life violated at the expense of the satisfaction of the others. That is what utilitarian principles suggest and would justify the killing arguing that it would serve the “greater good” of protecting more individuals. That argument raises the concerns about the real moral principles that constitute the utilitarian theory which most people do not know. Nagel effectively uses the example to demonstrate how incorporating human rights with the theory is a flawed idea, and that there can only be one or the other but not both of them concurrently.

By putting everything into perspective, any rational human being can conclude that having a utilitarian mindset can have severe consequences on society. Despite the fact that the philosophers conclusively explain why it is the only theory that can provide practical solutions to emerging challenges in the community, it has a very high potential to destroy them if it is followed blindly (Glover 66). Since the theory fails to respond to the concern raised on human rights adequately many critics recommend the Kantian philosophy whose primary purpose is to serve humanity.

Kantian concepts of morality and happiness, as presented by Immanuel, are an exact opposite of what the utilitarian philosophers bring forth. Kant argues that the most important idea is upholding human rights. The reasons and motives for doing an act are more important than the consequences of the action (“metaphysics of morals” 21). He proceeds to argue that rightness or wrongness of an action is independent of the effects, provided they achieve their intended purpose. Unlike utilitarian principles, Kantian theory considers that the motive behind doing good should be the ultimate desire of human beings. That is even if it doesn’t achieve anything substantial outcome regarding pleasing people. For him, a good deed is a good deed irrespective of its outcome “the greatest effort it should yet achieve nothing, and only the good will should remain, yet would it, like a jewel, still shine by its light” (“foundation of ethics” 220). Just by considering the broad comparison of definitions of the two theories, the first difference you deduce from the two arguments is that while one focuses on the end of a result, the other one apparently doesn’t care about the outcome.

To determine which theory is superior to the other is not merely based on the fundamental differences in ideologies brought forth by both Stuart Mill and Kant. As explained earlier, utilitarian philosophy is defined as upholding the actions that create the maximum happiness to a majority of the population in the society (Mill 4). Mill advocates for each person to pursue his desires to lead a happy and fulfilling life. However Kantian theory argues that the more a person find a reason to do something based only on satisfaction of personal desires, the less contentment he/she gets. “The more a cultivated reason devotes itself to the aim of enjoying life and happiness the further does man get away from true contentment” (“foundation of ethics” 221). He argues out his belief that if a person’s mindset is fixed on seeking highest pleasures in life; he would eventually end up being unhappy and living an unfulfilling life. To this effect, he reasons out that “true function must be to produce a will which is not merely good as a means to some further end but is good in itself” (“foundation of ethics” 221). By comparing these two points of views, Kant’s argument seems to be more convincing because he proves that happiness is not always the main reason for many human actions.

Morality is more aligned with Kant’s theory than Mill’s arguments (Glover 73). Kant defines a moral act as that which is not only guided by rational reasoning but also with a sense of duty than consequence (as in utilitarian concepts). Consider the following cases: The first one lady who volunteers to a children’s home because she sympathizes with the needy and is happy with being of service to the community. The other example is that of another lady who also volunteers in the facility because she feels it is her duty and responsibility to help the needy despite the fact that he doesn’t feel any sympathy towards the children. The initial reaction expected is that people would support the one who is happy to serve, and may even criticize the latter. But on moral grounds, the one who feels a sense of duty to help the needy children shows the true worth of character (“metaphysics of morals” 26). That is because it is expected that such a person will continue to volunteer irrespective of the external factors in his life. A person who volunteers because of the good feeling he/she gets from helping the needy can quit anytime if he gets an alternative activity that he/she feels will give him happiness and maximum pleasure at the end of the day.

Kantian theory receives more credit than utilitarian because Kant emphasizes on the fact that morals behind any action in a society should be determined by evaluating its maxim. In his book on the Kantian theory he states that “one should never act except in a way that (one) can also will that (his), maxim should become a universal law”(“foundation of ethics” 224). That can be best explained using an example of a man who borrows an amount of money from a lender which he is sure he will not be able to repay within the agreed time or repay at all. If this act was to be made a universal law, no man would be able to lend or borrow money because no one would believe what anyone promised him. (“foundation of ethics” 230) Compare the scenario with a hypothetical example where the Stuart Mill and his fellow utilitarians were to universalize their maxims: If the theoretical case mentioned above (where the society kills one person to save the lives of two or three) were to be actualized Chaos would erupt which would result in many casualties in the society. In this way, Kantian theory on ethics discredits the utilitarian’s philosophy.

The Kantian theory also scores higher than Utilitarianism concerning humanitarian considerations. Right from the introduction, Kant argument is that humanity is an end in itself. He adds that humans can never be subjects to fellow human beings,“ Humans are not merely subjective ends, whose existence as an effect of our actions has a value for us; but such beings are beings are objective ends and exist as ends on themselves”(“foundation of ethics” 233). However, the utilitarian theory in most cases discredits humanity in the pursuit of happiness provided that the end goal which is satisfaction for a particular individual is achieved, even at the expense of other human beings. For example, consider in cases where there is a national disaster, and prime suspect in the act of terror is captured. The next obvious thing expected from a utilitarian in such a case would be to torture the suspect to whatever extent until the suspect provides valuable intelligence to counter the attack and ensure their citizens are safe. Despite the fact that it is a controversial example that could have a mixed reaction, the point is the suspect is used as an object to achieve satisfaction. Therefore utilitarianism does not protect humanity.

Kant effectively builds on his explanation as a proof of his principle on treating each human as an end, but not a means. He argues that if all human beings were to consider other’s existence the same way they hold their own, then the principle would become both a subjective and an objective principle. He continues by saying, “the principle is at the same time an objective principle, from which, as a supreme practical ground, all laws of the will must be able to be derived” (“foundation of ethics” 233). This principle can then be used to come up with a practical moral code that respects humanity.

Another advantage that Kantian ethical concepts have over utilitarianism is that they are readily acceptable in the society when its practicality is considered. Kant comments that human being can unite themselves and obey laws that they have created by themselves as compared to that which is imposed upon them by a majority (“metaphysics of morals” 61). That is because in the former people are both the subjects and objects of the laws. In any society, people are often ready to accept punishment if they go against a law which they created themselves. The reason for this is that the goal post does not shift irrespective of who breaks the law, punishment is still the same.

However, utilitarianism creates an avenue for ethical insensitivity and legalistic attitude towards ethics that considers an action done by the most number of people is right morally (Glover 54). If you apply this thinking to certain practical examples, the glaring hypocrisy of the laws manifests. Take a hypothetical example where many people decide that they are going to burn down a house belonging to a robbery suspect, but there has been no tangible proof. If you apply utilitarian principles to the example, obviously the house would be burned down for the majority to be happy. However, in Kantian ethical consideration, where humanity in itself is an end, integral questions that would come to mind include: what if the person is not a thief? Would I want my house to be burnt down if I was the suspect? What if the information they had received is wrong? By rationally answering these questions, any person would realize that the rash decision to destroy the suspect to make the general public is wrong any logical (“metaphysics of morals” 8).

In conclusion, it is clear that both utilitarian and Kantian theories have their strengths and weaknesses as argued by Mill and Immanuel Kant respectively. However, utilitarian fails to address a fundamental issue of human rights, making his principles to be criticized. On the other hand, the inclusion of this human rights and humanity in as the basis of Kantian’s theory of morality and happiness that makes it more preferable for practical situations in the society.

Works Cited

Brandt, Richard B. "Utilitarianism and moral rights." Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14.1 (1984): pp. 1-19.

Glover, Jonathan. "Utilitarianism and its Critics." (1990).

Kant, Immanuel. “The Foundation of Ethics” Moral Philosophy: A reader Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1993. N. pag. Print.Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. London: Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1863.

Kant, Immanuel. Kant: The metaphysics of morals. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Mill, John S. "Utilitarianism." Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1993. N. pag. Print.

Nagel, Thomas. "Personal rights and public space." Philosophy & Public Affairs 24.2 (1995): pp. 83-107.

Wolff, Jonathan. "Making the world safe for utilitarianism" Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 58 (2006): pp. 1-22.

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