When it comes to ethics, there are two vital theories that try to explain why an action or a decision is considered ethical by some and not ethical by others. These ethical theories include Kantianism and Utilitarianism theory. Although these theories usually express the moral standard of certain actions, they are different in a number of ways. For instance, the Kantianism theory emphasizes that the morality of a particular decision is determined by the motivation of the doer and not its consequences.
However, Utilitarianism is different as it emphasizes that the morality of a decision is usually determined by the consequences brought forth by the decision or action in question. From a layman’s point of view, Kantianism seems to be the opposite of Utilitarianism. However, we shall take an in-depth look at these theories for a better understanding
What is Kantianism?
To start with, the above-mentioned ethical theory was first put forward by Immanuel Kant, who was a German philosopher between 1724 and 1804. In this theory, he argues that the morality of a particular action or decision is not based on its consequences but rather, on the motivation of the doer. This characteristic makes this theory one of the commonly known deontological moral theories.
In essence, deontological theories usually focus on ethics that involve commitment, responsibility, and moral duty. According to Kant, we should look at the intentions or maxims of a particular action. He also says that goodwill, duty, and moral worth are very essential when determining if a particular action is morally right or not.
In addition, he says that human beings are naturally rational beings. Therefore, they should be able to use their ability to reason or rational thinking to make ethical decisions. According to him, a person is deemed to engage in morally good decisions whenever he or she is guided by duty and goodwill.
With the above considerations in mind, Kant came up with two versions of the categorical imperative that can help people make morally worthy decisions. The first version was a universal law that says that a person should act in a way that will be a universal law that applies to everyone. In this case, if you perform an immoral act, you should not expect others to act morally. Instead, they will also be immoral like you.
Generally, the precedent you set from the word go will applies now and in the years to come. You can be sure that there will be no exception for yourself. The second version of the categorical imperative says that it is vital that human beings should consider humanity as the end and not treat others as just a means to accomplish something. This is also known as the principle of humanity. In other words, you should put yourself in the shoes of the other person and treat him or her the way you would like to be treated.
What is Utilitarianism?
The above-mentioned ethical philosophy was pioneered by Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick, John Sturt Mill, and G.E Moore. As its name suggests, it is based on the principle of utility, where the action is deemed to be more beneficial based on its outcome or result. It was actually developed so that lawmakers of England could consider the common good of certain actions when formulating laws.
Simply put, an action is deemed good if it results in greater happiness or pleasure on the majority. Therefore, if a particular decision benefits several people, it is considered ethical or right. It is based on the principle of consequentialism and hedonism, which means that an action is deemed right based on the consequences it yields.
Therefore, individual interests do not matter so much as far as this theory is concerned. As long as the action in question promotes a greater sense of common good in a community or society, it is deemed to be ethical, whether the individual interests have been considered or not. This characteristic makes this theory to be one of the most powerful approaches used when it comes to normative ethics. Here, the ‘greatest happiness principle’ applies as far as the morality of various actions is concerned.
What are the Similarities Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism?
The ethical theories mentioned above have a number of similarities. One of them is that they are both introduced in the 18th century. Besides being introduced in the 18th century, both of them are ethical philosophies or theories that help determine the morality of certain decisions or actions.
What are the Differences Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism?
Since we have looked at the similarities between these theories, time is ripe for you to know what sets them apart. Here are a number of aspects that distinguishes these two ethical theories:
- Definition: Kantianism is an ethical philosophy that says that the morality of a decision or action is usually determined by the motivation of the doer. However, Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that emphasizes that the morality of an action is usually determined by its results or consequences.
- Pioneers: The pioneers of these theories are different. This is because Kantianism was pioneered by Immanuel Kant while its counterpart was introduced by Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick, John Sturt Mill, et al.
- Kind of theory: You will note that Kantianism is a deontological theory while Utilitarianism is a teleological theory.
- What makes an action morally good?: According to Utilitarianism, an action is considered to be ethical or right if the results offer the much-needed happiness or pleasure to others, regardless of its intention. However, Kantianism theory says that an action is deemed to be right or ethical if the motive behind it is right. This has to do with the goodwill, duty, and morality of the action in question.
Therefore, the consequences of the actions do not determine if the action in question is right or wrong. Simply put, Kantianism advocates that the means justify the ends, while Utilitarianism emphasizes that the ends justify the means.
It is true to say that both Kantianism and Utilitarianism are vital ethical theories that help guide people to make wise decisions on a daily basis. As you purpose to use any of these theories as a guiding principle, consider the differences mentioned above, and you will make the right decision. Besides making an informed decision, you will no longer confuse Kantianism for Utilitarianism and vice versa.