Kant’s moral philosophy is based on fulfilling one’s duty as the
basis of knowing whether an action is right or wrong. This means that an action
is moral or immoral depending on whether it is fulfilling a duty. The consequences of an action do not
determine whether the action is right or wrong. This means that when an action
leads to happiness, it does not mean that the action is right and when it leads
to sorrow, it does not mean that the action is wrong. The consequences do no
determine the morality of an action.
In Kant’s moral philosophy,
he uses the principle of categorical Imperatives to determine what duties are
moral. The meaning of an imperative is a command. For example, do not sell
drugs. A categorical imperative is a command that is unconditional, that is, a
command that has to be fulfilled or performed. One has no option but to do what
the command says. A good example is. Follow the traffic rules. This means that
one has the duty to follow the traffic rules. Morality is commanded by a duty
that should be performed. For example, in the case of the traffic rules, it is
moral to follow the traffic rules and wrong when one does not perform that
duty. In order for a categorical imperative to be effective, it has to be a
rule that can be allowed as a universal law. That is, acts that one can
willingly allow others act on. If one thinks that lying should be a maxim or a
rule on which people should act on, then one should allow everyone to act in
that manner, that is lying. This means that the rule should not only apply to
one person, but to everyone in the universe. In this case, everyone is allowed
and expected to lie. This definitely cannot work since no one would trust the
other person, leading to chaos in the world. A person is good and moral only if
they perform their duties despite them enjoying them or not. Whether the duty
makes one happy or not is not an issue. Morality means that one is able to
perform their duty despite the consequences.
When it comes to John Stuart Mill’s moral philosophy, he uses
utilitarianism. According to his theory, actions are right when they lead to
happiness and pleasure, and wrong when they lead to sorrow or the opposite of
happiness. According to him, happiness is when there is no pain and one is
experiencing a degree or level of pleasure. There are pleasures of both higher
and lower qualities and quantities. According to John Stuart Mill, the aim of
every person is to be happy and everyone desires happiness. When an act is
committed and leads to sorrow or the opposite of happiness, then the act cannot
be right. Happiness being the ultimate aim of every action, no action is
exempted since those that seem to be exempted are a means to achieving one’s
happiness. For example, some people may argue that there are some actions that
lead to wealth or virtue. According to John Stuart Mill, such outcomes are a
means to one’s happiness. When one becomes rich for example, they become happy.
The happiness or pleasure that John Stuart Mill refers to is not only personal
happiness but also the happiness of the people involved and affected by the
action. This means that the happiness or pleasure does not show that one is
selfish at all. Therefore, the proper action to be taken by a person is
determined by whether the action will make one happy or the opposite of being
happy. An example that will be used in
this case is in the traffic. It is early in the morning and the whole family is
in the car. The parents are dropping the children to school before heading to
work. On their way, they are stopped at the traffic lights by the red light. On
all the sides of the road, no car is seen and the road is all clear. There are
two actions that can be carried out by this family. The first action is to stop
until the traffic lights change and allow them to proceed, while the other
option would be to move on since the road is clear all the way.
According to Kant’s moral philosophy, it is the duty of every
driver to obey the traffic rules. That is despite their situation. The rule has
no exception, since it is a universal rule. In this case, Kant would not allow
the family to proceed with their journey unless the traffic lights have allowed
them to. The family would have to stop there since it is their duty. The right
action or the moral thing to do is to obey the traffic rules and wait for the
signal that will allow them proceed. This is because, the right thing or the
moral thing to do according to Kant is to act as per one’s duty and in this
case, the duty is to obey the traffic rules.
On the other hand, John Stuart Mill would have a very different
opinion on the issue. According to John Stuart Mill, the consequence determines
whether an action is right or wrong. When the family stops and waits for the
traffic lights, and there is no car in sight that will lead to them to be
annoyed and impatient. On the other hand, proceeding with the journey since the
road is all clear will save the family time, worry of being late and the
annoyance of standing in the traffic and yet the road is clear. It does not
make sense waiting for the lights to change so that one can move, and yet there
is no vehicle on the road. The right action according to John Stuart Mill would
therefore be to proceed without waiting for the traffic lights to change. After
all, that will not harm anyone. On the contrary, it will make them happier
since they will arrive sooner than they would have, and they will avoid the
annoyance of waiting for lights to change.
It is very clear that the two philosophers have very different
ideas of what the right action to do is. Their theories lead to different
decisions; however, in this case, I would support Kant. This is because, if the
family disobeys the traffic, another family should be allowed to do the same.
If both families decide to ignore the lights, accidents would definitely occur.
It might not lead to accidents at this time but it might in the future.
Therefore, Kant is right.