J. S. Mill is known as an ethical utilitarian. Utilitarianism is a happiness based theory that is concerned with not just actions, but the consequences of those actions. Mill’s theories and beliefs revolve aroun



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Troy Pleasant

4/22/2011

Topic Two: Mill and Kant on Morality and Happiness
John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant have very different views when it comes to happiness and their moral and ethical philosophies. Mill sees happiness as the only intrinsic good, and believes that all of our morals should be based around happiness. Meanwhile, Kant doesn’t believe happiness actually has moral worth, and he sees duty as the driving factor of human morality. Both of the philosophers have somewhat extreme views that often rely on hypotheticals. Yet when it comes to happiness and morality, Mill has a superior view. Moral actions maximize pleasure and lead to happiness for all. While we may have certain duties, they are not the only things that influence morality, and they depend on situations. Consequences of actions do indeed have an impact on their moral worth, and a good action will not necessarily be moral in every situation.

J.S. Mill is known as an ethical utilitarian. Utilitarianism is a happiness based theory that is concerned with not just actions, but the consequences of those actions. Mill’s theories and beliefs revolve around his Greatest Happiness Principle, where he explains that the only intrinsic good in this world is pleasure. Actions are good or bad based on whether they promote happiness or produce the opposite of happiness. Other things are just instrumental goods, and are seen as means towards pleasure and absence of pain. According to this principle, as humans we should do things that maximize happiness and pleasure, and minimize pain. An action is good and just if it goes along with this Greatest Happiness Principle. To Mill, happiness is seen as pleasure and absence of pain. He views happiness as central to human morality because pleasure and lack of pain are the only wanted ends, and all other things are desirable because they lead to an increase in pleasure. Everything we do is a means towards happiness and the prevention on unhappiness.

Immanuel Kant has very different views on happiness in terms of morality. Kant’s ethical theory is based on duty, not pleasure, and follows absolute moral rules. Lying is never right, even if it benefits you or someone else, or even saves a life. Murder is never excusable, even if it saves other lives. What you should do does not always depend on consequences, and is independent of your desires. You should do things because it is your duty, not because it gives you pleasure. Kant argues that passion and desire have no moral worth and should not motivate moral decisions. On the other hand, it is reason that should influence our morals. The desire to be happy and pleased is no reason to do something. An action is good not because it causes happiness, but because it is our duty. Kant explains that the only intrinsic good is not happiness, but good will. Happiness is a consequence of actions, and to Kant, the consequences of actions do not have moral worth. Instead, moral worth revolves around one’s will, and why you act.

Kant’s ethical theory revolves around duty, and he believes reason alone should influence our morals. Acts from duty have moral value because good will is an intrinsic good, and it is our moral duty to have a good will. The act must be in respect of duty, and cannot just be in accordance with it. If you do something just because you are inclined to, that action does not have moral worth. You must act with good will as it is your duty. Kant believes that your morals lie within us and our reason, but not in our desires and feelings. He sees being moral as having a good will, which is acting from moral duties. It is our duty to never lie for example, even if doing so leads to the reduction of pain or increase in pleasure of someone.



Between the two accounts, Mill’s views on morality and happiness are more acceptable. While you can’t declare either of their views completely correct, Mill’s thoughts seem to be more reasonable. Mill focuses on consequences of actions as a determining factor of their morality, while Kant only looks at the actions themselves. Pleasure and happiness are positive results, and if an action leads to overall pleasure and reduction of pain, it must be good. Kant believes happiness has absolutely no moral worth when it comes to actions. Murder is never right, even it that murder saved the lives of ten other people, and minimized pain. While there are some general duties that apply to our morals as rational humans, there are times when one must go against those duties in order to have a positive result. One could argue that there is no place for happiness in morality, and that there is only right and wrong. But the right and wrong depends on the consequences, and the same action could be good in one situation and bad in another. While Kant may think that it is never moral to tell a lie, it may indeed be positive to lie in order to limit pain in certain situations. If telling a lie leads to something bigger like saving a life, then it cannot be considered immoral. Happiness, pleasure, and lack of pain do in fact have a role in morality. What an action leads to, whether it is pleasure or pain, plays a major role in determining its goodness. The general pursuit of happiness has moral worth, and actions that lead to the happiness of many can be good despite not being our “moral duty”. To declare that the consequences of actions have no moral worth is only looking at half of the picture. Not only is the action itself important, so is what that said action leads to. One agreement I do have with Kant is the fact that it is better to act in respect with duty, not just in accordance. If someone acts out of good will and the action results in happiness or pleasure, it can be viewed as good. Yet if one acts out of good will and causes the pain of many, it cannot be seen as morally good. Results have a major role in the morality of actions. Overall, while happiness may not be the only intrinsic good as Mill says, it still has value when it comes to the morality of actions.


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