Mill’s theory of morality

Both John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant are well-known philosophers who advanced opposing viewpoints on morality in their respective theories. Morality is described as a set of social rules that determine if something is right or wrong. Most of what we know about morality today comes from the work of these thinkers. They had contrasting viewpoints on the origins of moral ideals. Mill’s theory favors a consequentialist approach, while Kant’s theory emphasizes moral obligation as the basis of morality (Kant 521). One of the thinkers who coined the utilitarianism idea was Mill. For decades, many philosophers have embraced and rejected this idea. Some of the philosophers take the theory to mean rejection of pleasure and happiness. The theory of utilitarianism is the foundation of the principles of utility, morals, and happiness. The theory of utilitarianism according to Mill states that an action is said to be right depending on the happiness it promotes. Also, actions are wrong in the proportion of the unhappiness they may cause. Happiness is measured in terms of pleasure and lack of pain. An action is right if it is pleasurable and has no pain. Unhappiness means lack of pleasure and painful situations. The unpleasant condition is caused by wrong actions according to Mill (Mill 212).

This theory gives a clear view of the moral standards. The utilitarianism morality suggests that human being have the power to sacrifice their pleasures for the sake of others. However, the theory fails to recognize that the sacrifice itself is good. The morality theory states that a sacrifice that does not increase happiness is a waste. Mill in his morality theory applauds the type of sacrifice that increases the level of happiness in human beings. Mill stresses that the happiness which meets the utilitarian standards of morality in conduct is not precisely the individuals’ happiness but a concern of others. Utilitarianism requires the individual to be as impartial as possible. Being impartial in this case represents the act of thinking about the happiness of others before doing any action. He considers the pleasurable actions that bring unhappiness to others as selfish and a reverse of morality.

Mill gives his golden rule of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the principle that guides the ethics of utility. This principle states that individuals should do to others as they want others to do to them. Jesus of Nazareth stressed on loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Mill states that the golden rule of Jesus is the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. The laws and social arrangements should be the ones that determine happiness. Happiness refers to the interests of every individual. Human beings interest must be in accordance with the interest of the society. People should use their opinions and education to establish in their minds the association between their happiness and the good of the society as a whole. The utilitarian morality builds the positive character in every individual. When the actions done by people bring happiness to the society, then they obey the utilitarianism theory (Mill 224).

Those who oppose the utilitarian theory of morality say that the theory is demanding too much from humanity. The opponents find a fault in the theory as being too strict to human beings. They say that it is too demanding to require that people should always do actions that promote the general interest of the society. The opposing suggestions seem to be against the standards of morals according to Mill. It is demeaning to the rule of action that states people should do to others as they would wish to get in reverse. Mill says that it is the responsibility of ethics to dictate to the human beings what their duties are. The system of ethics itself does not require that every motive should be taken as a duty. On the other hand, almost all the actions done by individuals are out of their own motives. The actions are said to be right if the system of duty does not condemn them. The utilitarian philosophers affirm that there is no relationship between the motives and morality of actions. For instance, a person who saves a fellow human being from a dangerous creature does what is morally right whether it is his duty or motive.

Immanuel Kant’s theory of morality

Immanuel Kant who was a German philosopher is considered as one of the philosophers who lay the foundation of modern Philosophy. The primary focus of the Kantian philosophy is to determine the principles that should guide an individual in deciding how to act. Furthermore, it also aims at evaluating the basis in which an individual’s action should be judged. The bedrock of Kantian ethics is that the decision to act in a certain way should be informed by duty rather than consequence (Kant 341).

Kant notes that the consequence of doing an action does not determine the morality of the action. Rather, the moral value of an action comes from within the action itself. The guiding principle in deciding on the moral value is that it should be based on reason. The determining question should be whether an individual would will that everyone else acts the same way. Regardless of the consequence, the duty to act morally should supersede. Some actions are inherently right or wrong even before taking a step further to evaluate the impacts. For instance, murder and robbery are just inherently wrong despite the reason they were perpetrated.

According to Kant, an action is right only if it is performed out of moral obligation. Our actions are driven by intentions that come from within us. The intention is, therefore, the compass that points to an action being right or wrong. To support his deontological approach, Kant proposes the concept of categorical imperative as the supreme principle of morality. Categorical imperatives according to Kant are unconditional commands to someone to do or desist from doing a particular thing (Kant 321).

The operation of categorical imperatives towards regulating individuals’ behavior can be explained via different perspectives. One approach is by use of the formula of universal law. This means acting in a maxim that one would wish to become the universal law. Before performing an action, one should first consider whether he/she would wish everyone else to act in the same way. If not, such action does not pass the morality test (Kant 541). For instance, should an individual steal to get something he/she does not have? To decide on the morality of the action, the individual should rationally question him/herself whether it is okay for everyone to steal to get something they do not have. If it is not, it shows that the action is wrong despite the outcome that it might have (Rachels & Stuart 267).

The critics of Kant’s theory often claim that the strict application of the theory is sometimes self-defeatist. For instance, the maxim as per the Kant’s model is that one should not lie under any circumstance, and accepting lies only means that one acknowledges that lying should be universally acceptable for everyone. The opponents of this view propose that there are circumstances when lying may be a moral duty. For instance, when lying is done to save a life, it is a moral obligation. Such a maxim can, therefore, be modified to state that one is allowed to lie to save a life. Such a maxim does not mean it is permissible to lie, but only allows one to lie on some infrequent occasions of saving a life. Therefore, it does not go against the general maxim as per Kant’s theory that one should not lie (Kant 361).

Comparison of Mill’s and Kant’s theories

Mill’s moral theory is based on consequences. As a consequentialist, Mill proposes that moral values of an action are determined by the outcomes it impacts on others. The doer of an action should always consider what will happen to the happiness others. Mills utilitarianism theory forms the foundation of the consequentialist principle which focuses on the results of an action rather than the action itself. Using the Mill’s approach, the underlying principle of the end justifying the means is applied. Kant moral theory is based on a non-consequentialist approach (Mill 348). He states that the consequences or the results of doing an act do not determine its moral value. Kant emphasizes that the moral value of an action comes from inside the act. According to him, the moral values of the actions are determined by the individual’s reasons for doing the act. The morality of an action is often inherent to the action, and it is no way dependent on the outcome. Some actions are right or wrong inherently without even considering their outcome. Kant’s theory concludes that the moral values depend on reason from the thoughts of an individual.

Mill’s theory forms the basis of many social policies that are applied in various disciplines. The utilitarianism measures the goodness of an action basing on the consequences. This means that a good action causes positive consequences and vice versa. The morality is primarily about the results of the action. This implies that morality is measured based on the happiness or unhappiness caused by the actions concerning the society at large but not just an individual. Kant’s theory proposes that an action is right if it is done out of the moral obligation. The morality of an action is about the reasoning and thinking of an individual internally. The morality of an act is measured as per the intentions or the reasons for performing it. This theory differs from Mill’s theory by stating that morality is not about the consequences of an action to the society, but it is about the duty to do the right thing (Beauchamp 87).

In Mill’s theory, the end justifies the means. The theory disregards the motives and intentions of the perpetrator of an action to focus on the outcome of the action. If an action leads to optimum overall happiness, then such action passes the morality test according to Mill. For instance, if hurting a person will prevent the person from hurting more people and lead to overall less pain and less unhappiness, then such action may qualify to be moral. In contrast, Kant’s view tends to be more rigid as the rules regarding moral duty are standard. Moral obligations follow maxims that should rationally be universally applied. Kant’s theory holds that hurting somebody is wrong regardless of the outcome it will have (Mill 168).


From the assessment, this paper holds that Kant’s theory has a better approach towards morality. Kant’s theory portrays a higher ethical standard of an individual abiding by the maxims of natural law. Kant’s approach gives priority to individual rights and justice. This brings about predictability in human behavior and thus promotes law and order. Having a mentality of the end justifies the means as proposed by Mill does not always support fairness and justice. Utilitarianism focuses on individuals’ happiness but fails to factor in individual rights and justice (Mill 674).

Work cited

Beauchamp, Tom L. “Philosophical ethics: An introduction to moral philosophy.” (2001).

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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

Lyons, David. “Mill’s theory of morality.” Nous (1976): 101-120.

Mill, John Stuart. “Utilitarianism and On Liberty: Including’Essay on Bentham’and Selections from the Writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin.” (2003).

Rachels, James, and Stuart Rachels. The elements of moral philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

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