7 Differences between Immanuel Kant’s and John Stuart Mill’s moral theories- Free Solution

Immanuel Kant
The basic question is where does our sense of right and wrong come from (Immanuel Kant): does it come from our experience, specifically of pain and pleasure, or is it governed by a universal truth of reason that obligates us to behave in a certain way – like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?
 David Hume and the Utilitarians argue that our sense of right and wrong does not come from universal reason but comes from our experience of pain and pleasure. When I experience pain I interpret that as bad, and when I experience pleasure I interpret that as good. As a result of this experience I empathize (have sentiment) for the pain or pleasure of others.
 So as a moral principle I seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, so much so, that I wish to “maximize the greatest happiness/pleasure for the greatest number of people.” The utilitarians say therefore that our sense of right and wrong should be based on consequences or results.
Immanuel Kant believes that our sense of right and wrong is based on a universal truth of reason. I do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, independent of the results or consequences. So for Kant I don’t lie or steal not because I’m afraid of being punished (consequences) but because those things are wrong in and of themselves. They are a violation of the intrinsic dignity of every human being, no matter what. Kant says that we should “always act in such a way that our actions can be the guide for anyone else’s actions,” in other words, my actions are a universal guideline for everyone else. If I can’t will that action for everyone (as a universal moral law) then the action is morally wrong.
 So in class the question was posed: would you murder one individual to save the lives of many others; Kant says no, its wrong because it violates the dignity of the individual life, the utilitarians say yes, because we have given pleasure or happiness to a greater number of people as a result!


Right and Wrong

Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill had different moral theories that explained the source of right and wrong. Immanuel Kant believed in morality on the basis of ethics of pure duty while John Stuart Mill upheld utilitarian theory of ethics of justice. Both theories believe there is a conscience that guides human beings against doing the wrong thing and one that guides someone to doing the right thing. However, they both have different ways of reasoning in the way human beings perceive moral right and wrong.

Stuart Mill

Mill’s utilitarian theory believes that the sense of right and wrong is attributed to experience of pain and pleasure. When something brings happiness, it is morally right, and when it brings pain it is morally wrong. He emphasizes that consequences of an act determine whether the act is right or wrong. When the outcome of a certain act brings pain, the act is wrong, and when the consequences yield pleasure and happiness, the act is right to take (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006). Therefore, his main principle is that he wishes to maximize his greatest pleasure by doing the right things and minimize pain by avoiding the acts that would yield pain, hence, maintaining his morality.

Immanuel Kant

On the contrary, Immanuel believes that the judgment of right and wrong comes from the universal truth of reason, also known as ethics of pure duty. In his theory, he believes that a person performing a right or wrong thing does it from what he believes is right or wrong, but does not consider the consequences of the act, as Mill asserts. For Immanuel’s theory to be understood better, there are steps towards achieving universal truth of reason. One must first formulate the maxim of the action. He then universalizes the action and then determines whether the universalized maxim can become a universalized law. A person’s own actions are, therefore, the guide for anyone else. This challenges Mill’s theory because one does not have to reflect on the consequences of the action, but what the world believes is the right thing becomes right for a person (Trinity, 2012).

Works cited

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Internet Encyclopedia of  Philosophy. 2006. Accessed on 2nd March 2013 from: http://www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/#SH2d

Trinity. Kant’s Ethics: Some Key Ideas. TrinityEducation. 2012. Accessed on 2nd March 2013 from: http://www.trinity.edu/cbrown/intro/kant_ethics.html