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Moral Philosophy

Normative ethics aims to account for the conditions that will determine whether an action is right or wrong. It is thereby anchored on the notion of ‘the right. ’ There is however another notion which takes logical priority over this concept, that being the notion of ‘the good. ’ The reason for this is evident if one considers that ‘the good’ serves as a necessary condition for the notion of ‘the right. ’ In other words, it is ultimately the notion of ‘the good’ which determines what is ‘the right’ and what is ‘the wrong’ in normative ethics.

The similarity of ethical theories can thereby be traced to the connection between what it conceived as ‘the good’ and ‘the right’ within these theories. In other words, the similarity of ethical theories can be traced to the similarity of their logical structures wherein it is necessary to account for the notion of ‘the good’ before one can account for the notion of ‘the right’ and the notion of ‘the right’ is always considered to be dependent upon the notion of ‘the good. ’ In order to see this, one may compare John Stuart Mill’s consequentialist moral philosophy and Immanuel Kant’s deontological moral philosophy.

Consequentialist ethical theories base ‘the rightness or wrongness of an action to the value of its consequences’ (McNaughton, 2005a, p. 143). On the other hand, deontological ethical theories base ‘the rightness or wrongness of an action to its intrinsic goodness or badness’ (McNaughton, 2005b, p. 172). John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics is considered as a consequentialist ethical theory as it considers “‘utility’ or the ‘greatest happiness’” as the foundation of morals (Mill, 1957, p. 10).

On the other hand, Kant’s ethical theory is considered as a deontological ethical theory as it considers both duty and ‘good will’ as the foundation of morals. In order to further present the distinction between these two moral philosophies, it is necessary to outline the basic assumptions of both ethical theories. Mill contends that happiness is the only intrinsically desirable thing. This is the basic argument of the principle of utility. Mill argues that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure” (Mill, 1991, p. 210). Happiness thereby stands as ‘the good’ and is thus the principle of action. It is important to note that Mill’s utilitarianism also states that the quality of pleasure and pain experienced by an individual or the community, as a result of an action, must be considered in the assessment of the morality of an action (Mill, 1957, p. 10).

This is explicitly evident as Mill states, “The pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments hold a higher value than those of mere sensations” (Mill, 1957, p. 44). Mill thereby adheres to the existence of a hierarchy of pleasures and hence an action that would bring about the greatest form of pleasure, based upon his hierarchy, is that which is considered to be ‘the good. ’ As opposed to Mill’s consequentialist philosophy, Kant’s deontological philosophy places importance on the duty of each individual.

For Kant, moral philosophy ought to account for the moral principles that are binding for all people. In The Critique of Practical Reason, he states, “The moral law is…for the will of every finite rational being a law of duty, of moral necessitation and of the determination of his actions through respect for this law and reverence for his duty” (Kant, 1997, p. 70). According to Kant, duty stands as the moral principle that is binding for all people since to perform an act based on other conditions would forfeit the moral worth of the act.

It is important to note that for Kant, the moral worth of an act is dependent upon the act’s basis on ‘good will. ’ He states, “In a morally good will the law itself must be the incentive, the moral interest is a pure sense-free interest of practical reason alone” (Kant, 1997, p. 68). Within this context, moral principles become binding for all people since these principles are based on each individuals’ possession of practical reason which refers for each individuals’ capability to think rationally, the condition for which are determined by the existence of autonomy.

The existence of rationality and autonomy thereby enables an individual to gain control of his ‘will’ and hence to act in accordance to his ‘good will. ’ Robert Johnson (2007), in his analysis of Kant’s moral philosophy states this succinctly as he argues that for Kant, “The idea of an autonomous will emerges from a consideration of the idea of a will that is free… The concept of a rational will is of a will that operates by responding to reasons” (np).

Given these two moral philosophies, it seems that Kant’s deontological moral philosophy has more weight in comparison to Mill’s consequentialist philosophy. The reasons for this may be traced to several factors. First, since Mill’s consequentialist philosophy is dependent upon the hierarchy of pleasures, it is difficult to consider the practical application of his theory. An example of this is evident if one considers that utilitarianism necessitates an accurate assessment of the amount happiness yielded by a particular action.

Given that pleasure and pain are still highly phenomenological aspects, the quantification of such consequences remains imprecise hence the judgment of an actions morality also becomes imprecise. In addition to this, although Mill may have managed to explain that happiness is indeed desirable, his account of happiness inevitably resolves itself into a form of egoism whereby each individual pursues his or her own happiness. The problem is thus much deeper and intricate since this has serious implications on utilitarianism’s maxim, that is, ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

’ This becomes problematic since if each individual will pursue the attainment of his own happiness and if the end pursued by each individual greatly differs from one another, it follows that it would be impossible to attain ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number. ’ The appeal of Kant’s deontological moral philosophy however is evident if one considers that as opposed to Mill’s consequentialist philosophy, the foundation of Kant’s philosophy is the individual’s freedom and rationality as well as the individual’s capability to recognize how this freedom may be utilized in the construction of morally binding laws.

Although it might be argued that it is also difficult to practice Kant’s moral philosophy since it is impossible for any action not to be geared towards a particular end since the adherence to one’s duty may be considered as an end in itself, the appeal of Kant’s framework however rests on its emphasis on how the adherence to one’s moral duty leads to the adherence to a universalizable law. In addition to this, the appeal of Kant’s moral philosophy can also be attributed to its emphasis on the rational aspect of man.

As can be seen above, the similarity of moral philosophies may be attributed to its logical structure which can be seen on its emphasis on the relationship between ‘the good’ and ‘the right. ’ In line with this, the dissimilarities of moral philosophies, as can be seen in the discussion of Mill’s consequentialist ethics and Kant’s deontological ethics, may be attributed to their perception of the process of the attainment of ‘the good’ by the individual as well as the effects of the attainment of ‘the good’ to the individual. References Johnson, R. (2007). Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Retrieved June 24, 2009, from http://plato.

stanford. edu/entries/kant-moral. Kant, I. (1997). The Critique of Practical Reason. Ed. M. Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. McNaughton, D. (2005a). Consequentialism. In E. Craig (Ed. ), The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (pp. 143-146). London: Routledge. McNaughton, D. (2005b). Deontological Ethics. In E. Craig (Ed. ), The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (pp. 172-173). London: Routledge. Mill, J. S. (1957). Utilitarianism. Ed. O. Piest. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. Mill, J. S. (1991). The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Gen. Ed. J. M. Robson. 33 vols. Toronto: U of Toronto P.

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