Nature of Morality
A Russian born American science-fiction writer and biochemist once quoted, “Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” This statement generates a series of controversial questions. What is right? How do morals affect people and society in which we live? Does everyone have specific morals by which they try to live their life? How does someone realize what their morals are? What are morals? These questions cannot be truthfully answered because everyone has their own definition of what is right and what is wrong and how one should live their life. My definition of morality is the concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong, which can be seen through someone’s actions based on their ethical principles. That is, if someone lives their life based on their morals. Morality plays an important role in your life and the lives of others whether or not you live with it or not. Philosophers John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant have two very different views when it comes to the nature of morality. Kantianism and Utilitarianism are two theories that attempt to answer the moral nature of human beings. Immanuel Kant's moral system is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality. John Stuart Mill's moral system is based on the theory known as utilitarianism, which is based upon utility, or doing what produces the greatest happiness. Perhaps most importantly, they are looking for morality in completely different places. For Kant, an action is good or not based on intentions. If you shoot at someone with a gun and try to kill them, but miss and instead the bullet grazes off a piece of skin that was about to host a malignant and lethal tumor, you are still a villain and not a hero. Though this sounds like a ridiculous example, the point is that no person can completely control all the variables that are around him; Kant thought that nobody should be blamed for randomness. Mill, on the other hand, was of a much more experimental bent. None of us can ever know what another person's intentions are, so he thought that the only practical place to look for morality is in results. To him, a well-intentioned bumbler who ruined anything he came in contact with was no better than a malicious individual who caused the exact same chaos. It's the results that matter. Another emphasis of utilitarian philosophy is another major difference between them. To a utilitarian like Mills, the natural objective that people should shoot for was their own happiness. Happiness, he argued, was something every person understands... a goal that he can see and work toward, unlike the many other things that some philosophies pursue. Kant's categorical imperative hardly seems to be concerned with happiness at all. To him, ethics was a universal thing - each act is good or it is not; who does it is as irrelevant and whether it is enjoyable. Instead of pleasure, the metrics for Kant are the greater good and universality. One statement of his categorical imperative might be, "is the world a better place (greater good) if everybody did this all the time (universality)". You can see that from these two differences alone we can very easily end up in completely different places. With Mill, we have to think around our actions... since the outcome is what's important, it is often better not to try if we might fail. With Kant, we have to think about everyone else... since universality is important, no exceptions to the moral code are generally permitted in any circumstance. Let’s look at an example testing both arguments. The deontologist position is somewhat a little more complicated than the consequentionalist position. Kant believes in a theory of categorical imperatives. A categorical imperative would denote an absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances, and is both required and justified as an end in itself. Kant bases his decision making on a...
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