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Seth Robinson

PHIL 1213.015
Final Exam
May 8, 2014
Kant vs. Mill
Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill are two very significant figures in moral philosophy.
While Kants Deontology and Mills consequentialist moral doctrine differ in many ways, they
do share some opinions on liberties for individuals. While parts of both doctrines can be useful
today, it is my belief that Mills philosophical ideologies have a more significant place in
contemporary American society.
Kants deontology finds the moral worth of an action in the action itself, rather than the
consequences that action produces. Kant developed what he characterized as the Categorical
Imperative. While there were three formulations to this imperative, the most fundamental is the
belief that if one cannot wish for all individuals to employ the same action, that action cannot be
considered moral. The Ends vs. Means formulation states in short, do unto others as you would
have done to you. Finally, the Kingdom of Ends/Autonomous Will formulation states that we
should treat ourselves and others as both a means and an end; we should act in a way that would
be acceptable by a group of rational thinking people. It was Kants belief that being good is more
important than being happy and that the hardest thing and the right thing were generally the
same. He also believed that moral law did not come from nature, but that it was made by choice;
that duty is the necessity of acting for the law.
Mill employed a consequentialist or utilitarian moral doctrine, meaning that an action is
judged to be good by the outcomes that it produces. He was utilitarian in that he believed that
goods are judged to be good by the amount of happiness that they produce; that our moral duty is

to prevent harm and promote pleasure for the greatest amount of people. If you are considering
two possible actions, both of which do some harm but one more than the other, you should
choose the one that does the least amount of harm.
Kant and Mill obviously have contrasting beliefs in terms of what makes an act moral or
immoral. Their philosophies would however come to the same conclusions in some cases. For
instance, on the subject of whether or not it is acceptable to commit suicide, I believe they would
both agree that would not be an acceptable choice: Kant because it is not rational and could not
be universally good; Mill because it would hurt far more people (his family and friends) if he
ended his life, and because, unless he as an incurable disease, there would be a possibility that
his situation would improve rendering his choice a bad one. In most instances however, the two
would generally disagree on what decision would be the right one and the reasons for which that
decision would be right.
Take for instance a young man, we will say he is 17 years old, who comes home from
school one day to find his father in bed with another woman. He confronts his father who pleads
with him not to tell his mother about the incident. His father offers to buy him a new car if he
keeps the affair a secret. The young man is beside himself with anxiety over what to do. His
mother is a very insecure woman and he knows she is still in love with his father. If he tells her it
could ruin her. Should he keep the secret, take the new car and leave his mother none the wiser?
Should he tell his mother about the affair and let her decide whether or not to end the marriage. I
believe Kant and Mill would have quite different opinions as to which decision would be the
right one.
Mill would first determine which choice would produce the most good for the most
people. On one hand, if he keeps the affair secret, he gets a new car, his father is not kicked out

of his house and his mother is not riddled with despair. On the other hand, if he tells his mother
about the affair, he does not have to spend the rest of his life with the guilt of keeping the secret.
His mother will be freed from a marriage in which she is obviously not valued and his father
could potentially be happier with his lover than he was with the young mans mother. I believe he
would have the boy keep the secret. While there is obviously potential for harm coming in the
future from this decision (she could find out about the affair on her own and be hurt), the
immediate outcome would be less painful for the most people.
Kants view would be much less complicated. He believes that any lie, no matter how
insignificant, could not be acceptable in every situation and therefore could not be considered
morally right. The consequences of telling the truth (his mothers pain, his parents divorce and
the pain that would cause him) would not be important, only that telling a lie could not be
universally acceptable and is therefore morally wrong. Also, the good that could come from
telling the lie would not be the reason for its being wrong. It would not matter that his mother
would be protected from pain, that he would get a new car or that his father would be able to
remain married to his mother. The only reason for its wrongness is that a lie is always wrong,
regardless of the consequences.
While I believe there are good points to be taken from both Kant and Mill, I feel that, at
least in America today, Mills moral philosophy could be perceived as more beneficial. We live in
a very selfish, anything goes society. As much as I am sure it would make for a better world,
people will not live by the categorical imperative. There are certain times when lying for
instance, is a better decision than telling the truth. Kants deontology is far to ridged for todays
society. There must be wiggle room in certain instances. If the every decision was made based

on what would make the most people happy, I believe the world would be a better place. The
problem is we, as a whole, are far too selfish and narcissistic for that.