Mill’s Objection to Kant’s Moral Theory

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John Stuart Mill famously criticized Immanuel Kant and his theory of the Categorical Imperative by arguing that, “[Kant] fails… to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.” If accurate, this is a debilitating criticism of Kant’s moral theory as he had intended it. Mill’s critique instead classifies Kant’s moral theory as a type of rule utilitarianism. Any action under Kant’s theory is tested as a general rule for the public, and if the consequences are undesirable, then the general rule is rejected. “Undesirable consequences” are, according to the more precise language of Mill’s utilitarianism, consequences which are not a result of producing the greatest happiness. Mill’s analysis hinges on the lack of logical contradiction found in Kant’s theory. Without a concrete incongruity, Kant may be no more than a rule utilitarian. However, Mill is mistaken; the Categorical Imperative does produce absolute contradictions, as will be demonstrated through examples. Kant argued that the Categorical Imperative (CI) was the test for morally permissible actions. The CI states: I must act in such a way that I can will that my maxim should become a universal law. Maxims which fail to pass the CI do so because they lead to a contradiction or impossibility. Kant believes this imperative stems from the rationality of the will itself, and thus it is necessary regardless of the particular ends of an individual; the CI is an innate constituent of being a rational individual. As a result, failure ... ... middle of paper ... ...d in the discussion of promise keeping and beneficence, identifiable logical or practical contradictions arise when attempting to universalize morally impermissible maxims (according to the CI). Mill argues that the CI only shows “that the consequences of [the maxims] universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.” This is erroneous for there is no such “choice” available. The logical and practical contradictions that Mill fails to recognize produce an outcome (rejection of the maxim) necessitated by rationality and a free will. It is not that the consequences are unpleasant, but that their production is irrational. Works Cited Christine Korsgaard. Kant’s Formula of Universal Law. p542 Christine Korsgaard. Kant’s Formula of Universal Law. p546 Christine Korsgaard. Kant’s Formula of Universal Law. p548 Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter 1, p. 4
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