Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher born in 1724 and died in 1804. His philosophical writings influenced people, not only in Europe but the world over. Centuries later, his works still form a major point of reference in studies carried out in the modern world. His writings were such that they brought a new dimension in religion, law and history. Among his many works was the ‘Metaphysics of Morals’ which form the basis for this paper. His view of morals is that our desires and emotions are categorically imperative, meaning that they are conscience driven. His philosophy is closely related to the golden rule which states that one should always act in accordance to the outcome that will give him the best outcome, while the categorical imperative rule of Kant seems to suggest that actions must be universal for them to be classified as either moral or immoral (Thomas, p10)
John Stuart Mill on the other hand was a British philosopher born in 1806 and died in 1873. He also strongly contributed to the development of philosophical views that have continued to influence different aspects in different disciplines like sociology, politics and economy. Among his many developments is the utilitarianism theory that explains morality. Mill argues that the usefulness or moral worth of an action is determined by its utility (pleasure or satisfaction derived from the consequences of the action). Mill seems to suggest that our emotions and desires form a great basis on which we should judge our morals. For example, if telling lies to another person will ensure that the desire to live in harmony with other people is fulfilled, the act of lying will be considered moral, guided by that desire. On the other hand, Kant’s argument in metaphysics of moral, would view this as lack of standards because it compromises the true value of lies, which in his view should be universalized as immoral, whether there is gratification derived from it or not. This view forms the basis of the contrasting argument between him and Kant (John, p 17).
Roles played by desires and emotions in our moral choices
According to Kant, desires and emotions are insignificant in our choice to uphold or reject morality. He argues that morality is a matter of common sense of duty, regardless of what one feels at the time they are called to that duty. Kant says that there is nothing that can be considered to be good, apart from good will, which he says is the moral compass that is always on the lookout for good. He says that actions guided by morality are not out to seek for rewards, but to fulfill a duty, which is the intrinsic sense of right or wrong, whether there is gratification and pleasure or not, whether our desires are met and our emotions soothed or not. In his view, morals are superior to emotions and desires. His theory is more of a virtue ethics approach or deontological ethics that are based on character (Kant, p 44).
Mill, on the principle of utilitarianism on the other strongly feels that the happiness and pleasure derived from the consequences of an action should always be the guiding factor in doing something. For example, in the pursuit of happiness, if the result of an action is that t leaves the biggest number of people gratified and happy then the action does not really matter, the bottom line is that it brought happiness and harmony. This is what is known as the hedonic calculus, which is marked by some rules and codes as to what is supposed to be done in each occasion in order to please the biggest number of people. In his view, desires and morals are superior to morals. Thus, according to Mill, moral is relative, based on ones emotions and desires and the utility derived from an action is dependent on the intensity of the action, the duration, the certainty or lack of it, its propinquity, fecundity; consistency in derived utility, purity and extent in term of number of people affected. To support his view, Mill was quoted saying ‘…better be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied…’ and in this he was driving to the different levels of pleasure derivable from different set of actions (John, p 57).
Mill, according to his theoretical proponents, seems to suggest that desires and emotions should be placed above reason. In an example given in his book, if bullying a lonely child produces pleasure as opposed to happiness which is a result of virtues, then the bully is justified to do so. His theory hence seems to suggest that people should not be held responsible for their actions, but their emotions should. Emotions and reason do not co-exist, hence, since actions are guided by emotions, people should not be held responsible for their emotions because more often than not, people act out of emotion, more than out of reason. For example, it is common to hear people say’ ‘I could not help feeling the way I did about him’ (John, p34).
Similarities between Kant and Mill
One of the similarities between the two philosophers is that they both seem to agree that morality is always stimulated by something, it does not just happen. What they feel is the driving force behind morality is what differs because while Mill feels morality is all about gratification, Kant feels that morality is all about duty to humanity, which is a difference between the two in itself.
The differences is that while Kant advocates for morality to be a conscious driven force at all times, Mill advocates for morality to be a situation/circumstance-driven force, which should not be based on reason or cognitive factors. Kant supports the notion that duty to humanity is more crucial than derivation of pleasure from out actions. Mill on the other hand supports that gratification of desires and emotions is more important than duty to humanity. While Mill regards emotions as a human’s driving force to good or bad, Kant disregards emotions and says they have no place in upholding what is good or bad. Mill is egoistic in that he lives for the here and now, while Kant is more realistic in that he stretches the here and now into the future to see what worth there is in doing what we do. Kant’s reasoning is at the ID level of personality development (Lara, p 86).
Most convincing philosopher
The most convincing philosopher in my opinion is Kant. This is because, in explaining the basis for morality, he says that morals should be universalized and this in my opinion forms a very good basis for judgment of what is wrong or right. How would we be able to judge whether committing murder is morally upright or not, if we subjected it to emotions and the desire to seek gratification? If this was the basis on which we judged wrong doers, then I think everyone would go scot free because if they derived pleasure for doing whatever wrong they did, then we have no reason to judge or punish them because in their eyes, they have done nothing wrong, they just sought pleasure and gratification. After all there are no legal punishments for having emotions, all we get are non legal sanctions like isolation for harboring feelings such as jealousy or anger, but they are not punishable by law.
Immanuel Kant, Thomas Kingsmill Abbott and Lara Denis, Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals, London, Broadview Press, 2005
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001