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Mill vs Kant topic 2

Subtitle

John Mill’s

philosophy of Utilitarianism argues that one ought to do whatever action

creates the greatest good for the greatest amount of people- his argument rests

on the conclusion that a morally good society is one in which the greatest

amount of happiness is present. Opposing him is Immanuel Kant and his

Metaphysics of Morals, which are ground in absolute morality and operates with

a society being moral based solely on their intentions, not the consequences of

its actions. However, even though both philosophies are wildly different, both

usually give the same solution to a moral issue, just for different reasons.

Therefore, given the premise in which an unprepared group of musicians agree to

play difficult music for an important, personal event, I argue that Kant’s philosophy

is better suited than Mill’s to discern if and why the musicians are morally

correct in agreeing to face the music. To support my argument, I will be using

Kant’s Categorical Imperative (CI) to back up my claim of intentions being more

important than consequences, thus “good will” is what decides morality. To

provide background, I will first explain Kant’s Categorical Imperative and its subdivisions

and what that has to do with “good will.” After that, I will introduce Mill’s

Utilitarianism, where I will first explain the happiness principle, emphasize

the difference between base and intellectual pleasure, and discern long-term

versus short-term benefits. Following that, I will explain how the latter two tie

in to discern morality according to Mill. After the exposition, I will verify a


maxim through the CI and argue why Kantianism is more applicable to the premise

by referring back to intentions over consequences. Then, I will present a

possible Utilitarian naysayer using Greatest Happiness Principle to show that

Utilitarianism is better suited to judge morality because the consequence is

ultimately what matters. I will then conclude by responding with Kant by re-emphasizing

intentions over consequences and how that is much better suited to the

situation at hand, proving that Kant is the better choice here.

I will now

clarify the premise. The person asking the musicians, the asker, knows said musicians

personally. The musicians are not being forced into doing anything and are

consenting to playing. There are also no ulterior motives here by either party.

There is also no special incentive here for the musicians either whether it be

in the form of money or fame. It is, at its core, a group of people doing a

favor for another person to the fullest extent of their abilities, but they are

not fully able to execute the task at hand because of lack of experience. The

ethical dilemma here is if the musicians were morally correct in agreeing to

play for their friend and my argument is Kant is better suited to discern that

morality than Mill (I will expand on this later as it is my thesis, but first,

I need to explain Kant and Mill for context).

Kant’s ethics are

absolute- according to Kantianism, there are only universally moral or immoral

choices with no in-between. (Kant, Kant/Lay, Kant CC) To determine if something

is moral, a maxim is created and is ran through the Categorical Imperative.


What is a maxim? A maxim is a rule which connects an action to reasons for said

action. (Kant/Lay) What it isn’t is the action itself; for example, the maxim

affecting the musicians is “except in cases of life and death, when people are

asked of a favor they cannot complete to the best of their ability, they will

still try to do it.” Here, the action is doing a favor, and the rule is the

favor is completed no matter what, unless it has considerable weight on

someone’s life. The reason for this action is simply the party doing the favor

for the asker out of only the intention to help.

The maxim is then

verified by the categorical imperative. The Categorical Imperative (CI) is a

command, or moral obligation that must be followed by all rational beings and

it is independent of their beliefs and desires. (Kant CC) The imperative has

two formulations and in that, five subdivisions. The first formulation is the

universalizability principle, which entitles a maxim can be applied to every

situation without contradiction. (Kant/Lay) This formulation has the first four

divisions, the first of which is creating the maxim, and the second is universalizing

that maxim. The next part is determining logical inconsistencies in said maxim.

The inconsistency would be errors in resolving the maxim, where applications of

it would make contradictions (for example, a judge would never be applicable to

a maxim based on justifying lying, because it is their duty not to lie, thus

they would be in superposition of lying and not lying and that would be

illogical). If there are no contradictions in logic, the next step is the

rational desire test. This test is to determine if any rational being would
want to live in a world with the universalized maxim. (Kant/Lay) To clarify, a

“rational being,” according to Kant, is a human; humans are autonomous, think

critically, and can use their independence and intellect to make informed, or rational

choices. If all those conditions are cleared, the second clause must then be

passed, which is the test for rational consent. This is not the same as the

rational desire test; it instead is tangent to it. Here, what is being asked is

if people are being used merely as a

means, or if they are an end in and of themselves. In other words, if every

person consents to the maxim and its action, they are not merely being used as

a means to an end, thus are treated as a rational being, and not as a tool.

(Kant/Lay) All these conditions point to one thing: for Kant, only intentions

matter. Consequences are not something that can be controlled, but intentions

are, so the CI makes it so that if an intention is based in good will (as in,

it is good without needing any qualification), then that is all that matters to

determine a morally good action. Any consequences of the maxim leading to pain

and pleasure are irrelevant.

Pain, pleasure, and

consequences, however, are all that matter to Mill. Utilitarianism entitles

that society should have the most happiness for the most people- this is part

of the Happiness Principle. Simplified, the principle states actions are moral

if they overall create happiness and immoral if they create unhappiness. (Mill

CC, Mill/Lay) “Happiness” is a form of pleasure, and “unhappiness” is a pain.

There are two types of pleasure and pain according to Mill. The first set is
base pains and pleasures, which are physical, primal feelings: hunger when

there is no food, pain when hurt, and base fear, when faced with a danger such

as a predator. Then, there are intellectual pains and pleasures; these are of

the mind, and require higher thinking. An example of intellectual pleasure

would the feeling of passing a class with an “A,” while intellectual pain would

be the feeling when failing said class. For Mill, only rational beings like

humans experience higher pains and pleasures, thus that is what should be used

as a quantity to measure morality. (Mill/Lay, Mill CC) The next part of Mill’s argument

comes from short and long-term benefits. Utilitarianism entails the long-term

benefit of the greater good is the desired outcome of an action. What this

means is that if something causes intellectual pain in the short term, but has

an incredible long-term payoff consequently, it is moral according to Mill. (Mill/Lay)

His ultimate point is that morality is based off consequence, not intention;

the ends justify the means if it means long-term intellectual pleasure for the

greater good, thus an act is morally good.

I argue that in the case

of unprepared musicians agreeing to to play difficult music for an important event,

their action is better judged by Kant, who would deem it morally correct. The

maxim here is “except in cases of life and death, when people are asked of a

favor they cannot complete to the best of their ability, they will still try to

do it.” When universalized, it results in a world where every person who is

asked of a favor will see it to the end, whether they are prepared to do so or

not. In other words, this results in a world where all people have the
intention of helping their fellow human out of good will and nothing more. No

ill will is intended, thus bad results are merely consequences are irrelevant

as the intention was pure. This also poses no inconsistency in logic or desire

as people want to live in a world where others will readily help them. As for

consent, no person is being held against their will to do a favor because in

this world, everyone would be doing a favor of their own accord, thus consent

is given, and no person is used merely as a means. As for the musicians, they

are doing a favor for their friend, the asker, out of their own good will. The

quality of their performance is irrelevant as that is merely a consequence; the

musicians’ intentions are pure thus, they are morally correct in agreeing to

play the event.

Similarly, a utilitarian

could also argue that the musicians were morally good in their action. However,

their reasoning would be from the interaction of the musicians with the

audience, not the asker. People like music- dancing, listening, feeling, and analyzing

it; these all have components of intellectual pleasure. In terms of short term

pleasure, much of the audience will enjoy a musical experience; similarly, the

serious music listeners or critics- a minority in the audience, will experience

a short-term pain of having to endure (subjectively) terrible music. In

addition, there is also the long term pleasure of the asker, who will have the

happiness of the memory of having a custom concert just for them. Because the

benefits outweigh the costs, the consequences are much better suited to conclude

that the musicians were morally correct in agreeing to play.


To that, I would reply

that argument only provides more fuel to intentions over consequences. I say

this because the long-term pleasure emphasized was the relationship between the

asker and the musicians. This is pleasure which stemmed less from the

performance itself, a consequence, and more from the intention

of the musicians to do a favor for the asker out of their good will. Therefore,

even though the musicians’ actions led to good, the action itself, and the

intentions of said action were good in and of itself. I conclude that while

both a Kantian and a Utilitarian could reach the same result and determine that

the musicians were morally correct in agreeing to play, Kant’s ethics are

superior in this premise because the intention is all that matters.

Work Cited

http://www.christopherlay.com/MillsUtilitarianismExcerpts.html (Mill)

http://www.christopherlay.com/MillsUtilitarianismReadingNotes.html (Mill/Lay)

http://www.christopherlay.com/KantEthicsExcerpts.html (Kant)

http://www.christopherlay.com/KantEthicsReadingNotes.html (Kant/Lay)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a739VjqdSI (Mill CC)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bIys6JoEDw (Kant CC)