Utilitarianism vs. Kantianism

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Utilitarianism vs. Kantianism

Ethics can be defined as "the conscious reflection on our moral beliefs with the aim of improving, extending or refining those beliefs in some way." (Dodds, Lecture 2) Kantian moral theory and Utilitarianism are two theories that attempt to answer the ethical nature of human beings. This paper will attempt to explain how and why Kantian moral theory and Utilitarianism differ as well as discuss why I believe Kant's theory provides a more plausible account of ethics.

Immanuel Kant's deonotological ethical theory assesses if actions are moral based on the person's will or intention of acting. Kant's theory can be categorized as a deonotological because "actions are not assessed to be morally permissible on the basis of consequences they produce, but rather on the form of the agent's will in acting," (Dodds, Lecture 7) therefore his actions are based on duty and not consequential. Kantianism is based on three principles: maxims, willing, and the categorical imperative. Kant states that a maxim is a "general rule or principle which will explain what a person takes himself to be doing and the circumstances in which he takes himself to be doing it" (Feldman, 1999, 201). It is important that this principle be universalisable and that the maxim can be applied consistently to everyone that encounters similar situations, therefore willed as a universal law. The second aspect of Kant's theory is willing. This involves the agent consistently committing oneself to make an action occur. He states that, "In general, we can say that a person wills inconsistently if he wills that p be the case and he wills that q be the case and its impossible for p and q to be the case together" (Feldman, 1999, 203). T...

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...nces. Kantianism focuses on the motivation of actions, has clear and distinct set of universal rules, and is morally logical. On the other hand, Utilitarianism relies on the consequences of an action, has no set universal laws as each action is assessed on an individual basis, and morality is based on the results of the assessment. Because of these reasons, I believe that Kantianism is the more ethically plausible theory of the two.


Susan Dodds, Lecture 2 notes, 'Utilitarianism.'

Susan Dodds, Lecture 7 notes, 'Kantianism.'

Fred Feldman, 'Kant's Ethics Theory: Exposition and Critique' from H. J. Curzer, ed Ethical Theory and Moral Problems, Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Publishing Co. 1999.

J.S. Mill, 'What Utilitarianism Is' from Peter Y. Windt, An Introduction to Philosophy: Ideas in Conflict, St Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1982.
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