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Kant And Mill Essay, Research Paper
Kant: Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative
Immanuel Kant?s philosophy frames the Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative as a procedure for determining morality of actions. This method contains two vital components. First, one creates a maxim and decides whether or not the maxim can be used as a universal law for all rational beings. Then one determines whether all rational beings would want it to be the universal law. There are no exceptions if the maxim passes both components. A moral action according to Kant is if the issue at hand passes both parts of the Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative. For example, if a doctor is confronted by a loved one of someone who has recently been a victim of homicide, and they ask if it was accidental, what should they say if it was not? According to Kant, they must decide which maxim to create and, based on the test, which action to perform. The maxim would be when answering the question regarding the nature of the death, one should always tell the truth.
The first step of the Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative obligates that a maxim be universally applicable to all rational beings. The above maxim passed the first stage. This is easily understandable because we can easily imagine a doctor answering truthfully to this confrontation. Therefore, this maxim is logical and everyone can abide by it. The next sensible step is to apply the second stage of the test.
The second requirement is that a rational being would will this maxim to become a universal law. To test this, you need to decide whether that, in every case possible, a rational being would believe that the morally correct action is to tell the truth. First, it?s obvious that the loved one expects to know the truth of the death. A lie would only spare her feelings, if she believed it to be the absolute truth. Therefore, even people who would consider lying to her must understand that the right thing to do is to tell the truth. What if telling the truth brings the person to suicide? Is telling him/her the truth a moral action, even though its consequence is a wrongful act? If telling the person the truth drives her to commit suicide, it seems like no rational being would will the maxim to become a universal law. However, the suicide is a consequence of your initial action. According to the Categorical Imperative, the suicide has no relevance on whether telling the truth is moral. Likewise, it is impossible to know that upon hearing the news, that the person would commit suicide. Of course it is a possibility, but there are many other alternatives that they could make, and it is impossible to predict each one.
To decide whether a rational being would want a maxim to become a law, the maxim itself must be examined rationally, and not the consequences. Therefore, this maxim passes the second requirement as well. On the other hand, some may think that in telling the loved one the lie, you will spare him/her years of torment and suffering. These supporters feel the maxim should be when facing this situation, you should lie in regards to the death to spare her feelings. Applying the first part of the Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative, it shows that this maxim is definitely a moral act.
Surely a universal law that prevents hurt feelings of people, who are already in pain from being hurt any further seems like an excellent universal law. But the only reason the lie works is because the person being lied to believes it to be the absolute truth. If everyone were lied to spare their feelings, then they never would get the complete truth. This leads to a logical discrepancy, because no one will believe a lie if previously known a lie and the maxim fails. You can try to narrow a maxim so that it includes only a few people, and then it passes the first test. For example, the maxim could then be: ?when facing a distraught family member whose late relative was jumped in a dark alley and was beaten severely, and died a slow and painful death, then you should tell the widow that he died instantly in order to spare her feelings.” It?s understandable to most that a doctor could lie in a situation like such.
However, this does not mean that it will pass the second test. Even if it does pass the first test, narrowing down the maxim can possibly create other difficulties. For instance, things may change and people, who were originally included in the universal law, may not be anymore. Thus, you may not want to will your maxim to be a universal law. Likewise, if one person can make these maxims that include only a select group of people, so can everyone else. If you create a maxim like the above, that is specific enough to pass the first test, so can everyone else. One must ask if rational beings would really will such a world in which there would be many specific, but universal, laws. In order to answer this one must use the rational “I” for the statement. For instance, “I, as a rational being would will such a world.” You must consider that you are the family member in the situation rather than the doctor, and then decide whether you would will this a universal law.
I agree with the morality, based on Kant?s principles because it is strict in its application of moral conduct. There is no fluctuating in individual cases to determine whether an action is moral or not. An action is moral in itself, not because of its consequences, but because any rational being wills it to be a universal law. In addition an action is moral if it does not contradict itself. Regardless of what the family member does with the information or the loved one?s death, the act of telling her the truth is a moral one. No one would argue that telling the truth (if she asks for it) is an immoral thing to do. Sometimes moral actions are make the situation difficult, and perhaps in this situation it would be easier to lie to the distraught family member, but it would still be an immoral. This picture of morality resonates with my common sense view of morality. If the surviving family member commits any immoral acts as a consequence (i.e. commits suicide), it still has no bearing on the morality of the original action in itself.
Utilitarianism would differ on this point. Utilitarianism outlines that an action is moral if it increases the total happiness of society. A man named John Stuart Mill brought about utilitarianism. Utilitarianism says that the basic moral principle is that we ought to do whatever promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Mill equated happiness with pleasure. But not all pleasures have equal value; higher pleasures of the mind are better than lower pleasures of the body. Morality is based on consequences. Telling a lie to the family member would increase his/her happiness and would constitute a moral action. Utilitarianism would also take into account the precedent set by the act of lying. Yet the analysis still rests on predicted consequence rather than on the action’s intrinsic moral value. The morality of telling the lie is on a case by case basis. In some situations, it might be better to tell the truth, and according to utilitarianism that would then be the moral action. Unlike Kant?s philosophy, one is not bound by a universal law. Instead, you must judge in each instance which action will produce the greatest overall happiness. The problem with this approach is that morality loses any value as a universal or intrinsic quality. Every decision is made on an individual basis and in every specific situation. In fact, utilitarianism considers happiness to be the only valuable end. Defenders of utilitarianism claim that it maintains universality by considering the greatest happiness of all, rather than just individual happiness.
Still, the morality is based on constantly changing consequences. The requirement that one consider all of the consequences of an action and determine the best possible action makes me want to reject utilitarianism as a method of determining morality. Although utilitarianism sometimes offers the easier solution to do because it produces immediate gratification and allows many exceptions to common sense moral codes, the answers it gives are unfulfilling and unrealistic. Furthermore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make all of the required calculations beforehand. Immanuel Kant’s solution, although as interpreted by himself as sometimes overly extreme, is much better than utilitarianism. It resonates with my moral sensibilities to consider that actions are moral or immoral regardless of their immediate consequences. I am willing to accept that sometimes the moral action is harder to perform, but I am unwilling to accept that morality rests within the specifics of a situation and the possible consequences. Therefore, I consider Kant’s Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative to be a better test of morality than Mill’s Utilitarianism.
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