Both J.S. Mill and Immanuel Kant’s theories of Utilitarianism and Moral Theory, respectively, may apply to individuals’ lives and thus dictate different actions of persons based on specific situations. After learning about Mill’s Utilitarian Theory and how it aims at achieving happiness by any means, I found this did not rest well with my own values and beliefs. However, Immanuel’s Duty based theory is applicable in my everyday life for a number of reasons, as it relies heavily on rationality.
Kant’s duty based ethics focus on what people do, and not necessarily the outcomes of their performed actions. The objective is to emphasize doing the right thing, and doing it because it is simply the right thing to do, while avoiding wrong things because they are morally incorrect. This philosophy most closely aligns with how I strive to maintain integrity in my everyday life. For example, it is much easier to perform the ‘right’ action when in public. If a person was in public and dropped their credit card or cash after a transaction with the cashier, with other people around to witness the fact, it becomes easy to see that the right thing to do would be to pick up the credit card or cash and give it back to the unknowing individual. But, if a person were alone with one other person who dropped a valuable and did not see their loss, the right thing to do would still be to pick up the valuable and give it to them, though no one else was there to see your actions of either giving or keeping the valuable. This is also my definition of integrity, thus aligning more with Kant’s theory, rather than Mill’s theory of utilitarianism.
Other facets of Kant’s theory include how it is wrong to kill others, to steal, to tell lies, and that it is right to keep promises. Essentially, when one follows duty-based ethics in their life, they should do the right thing always, regardless of the possibility that it may produce more harm/less good than doing the wrong thing. Thus, individuals possess the duty to do the right thing, even if it leads to a poor or bad result. Unlike onsequentialists, those who follow the duty based theory first try to decide what actions are ‘right,’ and then execute actions from there, whereas consequentialists first start by the consideration of good things, and then select the right actions based on knowing what will produce the maximum amount of good things or effects.
This is applicable to how I often execute decisions in my own life everyday. For example, before I do anything when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong, I first focus on what actions I think are right, and then form a plan as to how to execute the actions. When I was younger, I saw my sister steal candy at a chocolate shop when the shopkeeper had his back turned. We were the only two kids in the shop, and thus no one else had seen her do this. Though I was quite young, I have always been very rational and quick to think about what the right thing is. Standing there watching as my sister beamed from her successful steal, I decided that the right thing to do was to talk to my sister first, rather than tattling to the shopkeeper. From there, I was able to convince her to give the candy back before we left, thus executing the right actions under the duty-based theory.
Though this example is from a long time ago, I find that this theory applies every day when I am with family, in school, with friends, or out and about by myself. Unlike utilitarianism, which focuses on attaining the highest level of happiness, or the most ideal consequence regardless of the act performed, I believe that some acts are undeniably wrong, such as lying. With duty-based theory, actions are always judged separately from their predicted or actual outcome. For example, an act can be morally bad or unjust, but may result in a positive/favorable outcome. While utilitarian theory accepts this approach to achieving an outcome, duty-based theory does not, hence aligning more with my own beliefs and values.
As a human being, I have the ability to utilize rationality, just like every other human. No other animal has such an inclination for reasoned beliefs and actions, which is precisely why we are required, as humans, to act and adhere to a certain standard of moral duty or law. Sometimes however, I do allow my other humanly emotions to interfere with my thoughts in moral action, which I try to recognize and separate so as to make a sound judgment and decision. The motivation behind deciding what the right action is should be based on moral obligation. This sense of morality is able to provide the necessary framework that I require to both guide and prevent particular actions on my part, while maintaining separation from my own emotions, desires, and personal intents. For example, when my grandfather died after a host of health complications, my family and I discussed as to whether a burial or cremation should occur. My grandfather had always said he preferred cremation, but for our own selfish reasons, we wanted him buried, so we could still visit and be at peace with his passing. Choosing to bury my grandfather would have conflicted with what is right in this situation, as that path focused on our own selfish desires. In the end, I told my parents, after careful consideration, that we should cremate my grandfather, as it was morally right to follow through with his wishes.
In this way, I dictate my thought processes and subsequent actions through Kant’s duty based theory. Morals are something that play a very large role in my life, and also provide the framework for how I execute actions everyday. Additionally, I utilize rationality frequently to make my decisions, thus separating my emotions from my choices, and acting in accordance with moral law or duty.