A Comparison of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant's Ethical Theories

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Compare Mill and Kant's ethical theories; which makes a better societal order?

John Stuart Mill (1808-73) believed in an ethical theory known as utilitarianism. There are many formulation of this theory. One such is, "Everyone should act in such a way to bring the largest possibly balance of good over evil for everyone involved." However, good is a relative term. What is good? Utilitarians disagreed on this subject.

Mill made a distinction between happiness and sheer sensual pleasure. He defines happiness in terms of higher order pleasure (i.e. social enjoyments, intellectual). In his Utilitarianism (1861), Mill described this principle as follows:According to the Greatest Happiness Principle … The ultimate end, end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible enjoyments.Therefore, based on this statement, three ideas may be identified: (1) The goodness of an act may be determined by the consequences of that act. (2) Consequences are determined by the amount of happiness or unhappiness caused. (3) A "good" man is one who considers the other man's pleasure (or pain) as equally as his own.

Each person's happiness is equally important.Mill believed that a free act is not an undetermined act. It is determined by the unconstrained choice of the person performing the act. Either external or internal forces compel an unfree act. Mill also determined that every situation depends on how you address the situation and that you are only responsible for your feelings and actions. You decide how you feel about what you think you saw.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) had an interesting ethical system. It is based on a belief that the reason is the final authority for morality.

Actions of any sort, he believed, must be undertaken from a sense of duty dictated by reason, and no action performed for expediency or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral. A moral act is an act done for the "right" reasons. Kant would argue that to make a promise for the wrong reason is not moral - you might as well not make the promise. You must have a duty code inside of you or it will not come through in your actions otherwise. Our reasoning ability will always allow us to know what our duty is.

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