Utilitarianism and Kantian Rationalist Ethical Theory

Utilitarianism refers to the philosophical theory of ethics. Utilitarianism speculates how people ought to act. Stuart John Mill became the first philosopher to express the theory, which states that maximum happiness for the maximum quantity of people. Utilitarianism claims that an individual should act to maximize the quantity of happiness in life.

On the other hand, the rationalist theory of morality concerns the moral principle advocated by Emanuel Kant. Kantian morality views that moral judgment depends on pure reason. Kant believes that goodwill motivates people to conform to their ethical duty. Utilitarianism becomes focused on the effects of an action. Utilitarianism intends to provide the greatest benefit for all people. This paper examines how the principle of utilitarianism relates to the Kantian rationalist ethical theory.

According to Hill, Utilitarianism is a goal-based principle of morality, which is different from the Kantian rationalist theory of morality that is based on ethical law (9). Utilitarianism aims at the impacts of an action. Utilitarianism considers making everybody happy in society. Mill Stuart John states that spiritual, cultural, and intellectual pleasures have a greater meaning than physical pleasure. Kantian principle of morality offers a rule of morality that is based on pure reason. Kant believes that an action that is right should conform to moral law and should be performed for the sake of such an ethical law. Kantian moral philosophy claims that moral duty is performed to conform to the moral law.

Utilitarianism presupposes the liberty principle that claims that the only aim in which authority can be exercised in a society is to avoid harm to people. Hill affirms that Utilitarianism motivates the greatest utility of every person, which is the main principle of morality (10). Kantian moral principle values ethical laws as the greatest standard. Kant affirms that people conform to moral law in order to obey the laws, but not to get desired impacts from their actions. Kant claims that pleasure and happiness are secondary factors to the moral duty. “Rationalist theory of morality expresses that moral judgment depends on pure reason” (Hill 13). Kant maintains that rationality influences a will. Reason can yield a will that is good. A good will is an act that is an end in its entity, which does not, merely yield a moral ethical act.

Hill reports that Utilitarianism expects human actions to yield highest utility (14). This happens to produce the greatest happiness to every person in the society. Utilitarianism becomes focused to prevent negative utility such as suffering and pain. Kant views that a good will encourage people to conform to their ethical duty. Ethical worth of human deed gets derived when human action becomes encouraged or motivated by an ethical duty. “Kant explains that when an action gets encouraged by a role of duty, the ethical value of the human act is determined by the principle in which it is derived upon” (Hill 12). Kant believes that ethical necessity is formed by reason but not on empirical experience.

Utilitarianists assert that ethical worth of human action depends on its impacts. “Utilitarianism is a utility principle because human actions are good if they contribute to maximize happiness of people. Joy and pleasure are valuable intrinsically while suffering and pain invaluable intrinsically” (Hill 15). There is nothing else that can be valuable unless it gives happiness or eradicate pain (suffering). While, Kant claims that rationalism is an essential principle in forming moral judgment. Pure reason is the only principle that can identify practical principles of ethics that possess universal validity. “Kant opines that universal ethical laws are not empirically based but are essential logically” (Hill 15). Kant affirms that ethical philosophy can not be based on contingent and empirical inquiry, but have to be based on metaphysical inquiry that depends on pure reason.

Works Cited

Hill, Thomas. Human Welfare and Moral Worth: Kantian Perspectives. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002. Print.