Kantian Ethics vs. Utilitarianism

As an introduction to ETHICS, move through this incredibly excellent introduction to ethics, ethical hypocrisy, kantian ethics and utilitarianism: 

http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/fatman/Default.aspx

One of the heaviest hitters in the philosophical world of ethics is German Philosopher Emanuel Kant.

Kant wrote at length on a variety of topics and is considered one of the great German Philosophers along with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Schopenhauer.

Below is a link to a great summary of Kant’s famous, “Categorical Imperative” and his Deontological Moral Theory.

http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/Kantian%20Ethics.htm

This is in contrast to UTILITARIANISM which is a philosophical perspective that places an emphasis on choosing behaviors and actions that have the most advantageous ratio of utility (value) to risk/disadvantage. John Stuart Mill was one of the most famous philosophical proponents of utilitarianism. Below is some information:

http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/part2/sect9.html

So…after you’ve read the above and contemplated each philosophy’s ramifications, answer the following questions: 

1.  Which moral approach do you follow, Utilitarianism or Kantian Morality?

2.  Which moral approach do you believe is BEST for society? Why?

3.  Is it possible for a society to adopt Kant’s moral beliefs?

4.  Which approach causes the practitioner to be in touch with more ways of knowing? Which ways of knowing does each approach rely on?

One thought on “Kantian Ethics vs. Utilitarianism

  1. Excellent questions! Glad to see an IBer bringing this into the blogosphere (I got my IB diploma years ago but wasn’t so inclined).

    1. I personally follow a Kantian approach to morality. I consider whether my action treats a person as a mere means and ideally that the action treats others as ends in themselves.

    2. Question two is an interesting question because it allows for a distinction between a moral system being the true mapping of moral reality (moral realism) and a moral system being one that we should adhere to to improve the lives of citizens (moral irrealism), but not necessarily mapping moral reality. Assuming this latter route (I think realism might be true), I think Kantianism is the best for society, because it would not allow for violations of individuals’ rights for the “greatest good”. Each person is an end with dignity and deserving of respect, and so we should not violate the rights of individuals to maximize the good, say by persecuting a large part of the population in order to solidify power in the hands of a certain social/economic class (ahem). What is more, Utilitarianism could not be best for society, because if everyone acted in accord with some act-utilitarian principle then life would be fairly miserable — in the words of Derek Parfit, (paraphrasing) if everyone acted for the best possible action it would not be the best possible world.

    3. I suppose it would be possible for society to adopt Kant’s beliefs, but they don’t necessarily have to in adopting his principles. I think many people could think through the procedures, and thus, the moral principles I noted in response 1.

    4. Utilitarianism is based in empiricism, whereas Kantianism is based in rationalism. The difference then is between knowledge from experience and knowledge from reflection. I submit that any knowledge gained through experience would also have to be filtered by reflection, but that any knowledge from reflection would be reflection on concepts informed by experience, so isolating empiricism and rationalism becomes questionable here. Still, moral knowledge would seem to be of moral generalizations and thus principles, which wouldn’t be known by experience but by reflection, so to me it seems that moral knowledge requires rationalism. Which points us towards Kantianism.

    Thanks for posing this interesting questions!

    Like

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