A person’s actions impacts their peers, communities, and the world. Many people aspire to be “good” people, and hope to put good out into the world. One can define “good” in many different ways, but depending on an individual’s ethical code, they may or may not be considered good. The three major ethical theories which we addressed are Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics. A strong argument could be made for each theory, but one sticks out as the best and most reasonable theory of ethics. Kantian Ethics is the best universal theory of ethics, as it allows for individual rights and is specific nough to follow.
Kantian ethics stresses individual rights, reason, and motivation for actions. Immanuel Kant believed that each person should be valued, and that we should recognize that everyone has their own opinions, motivations, and maxims. No person is less valuable than another, and nobody should be used by another. All decisions are supposed to be made using reason, and the focus of decision making is on the motivation. More importantly, Kantian ethics can be used in hindsight to evaluate if a person made the right decision. If the motivation or the past action was right, the action should theoretically be ethical.
According to Kant, the most important motivation for action is duty. The two most important considerations leading to a decision is how you are treating others, and if it is your duty to act. The “golden rule” is essentially based on Kantianism: do onto others as you would want done to yourself. Everyone wants to be treated as important individuals, and nobody wants to be used by another without benefit to themselves. Although not identical ideologies, Kant’s similar theory to the Golden Rule s called the “Categorical Imperative. We teach our children how we hope our society will act in the future. Since Kantianism is essentially equivalent to what we teach our children in grade school, it seems like the most universally accepted theory today. Kantianism being the most widely accepted theory of ethics does not necessarily make it the most perfect theory, but it does show that the majority of people believe it is the most logical way of moral evaluation. Kantian ethics has solutions to many of the issues which come along with the other mentioned theories.
Utilitarianism says that any decision made should weigh the total happiness or sadness that will come from a decision, and act on whatever produces the most pleasure. This seems to make sense, but it allows for individuals to use others for the pleasure of themselves or the masses. For example, any system which allows for oppression of a minority could be supported by utilitarianism because the total pain of the minority could be outweighed by the pleasure of the majority. Although the total pleasure may be higher, it discounts the value of an individual’s rights.
Kantian ethics solves this issue by saying that all individuals have rights, and no individual should be used as a “means” to another’s “end. ” In other words, nobody should be used to achieve the goal of another against their own will. Kantianism says all individuals should be considered themselves as an “end,” meaning all people have their own personal motivations and maxims. Precision of decision making also makes Kantian the strongest theory. Utilitarianism can be difficult and takes consideration of everyone who may be impacted, and not all data or knowledge s always available to the decision maker.
This makes quick decision making nearly impossible, and makes moral evaluation difficult, since it is rarely possible to collect or quantify the amount of pleasure or pain inflicted across an impacted group. Virtue Ethics can also be difficult since there is no actual “code;” instead, people either have to be born with virtue, or take after another individual who has it. Clearly, there can be some confusion with this and even those with virtue may not always make the right decisions. With Kantian Ethics, one can simply onsider a few questions: Am I using anyone as a means?
Am I motivated to do this? Kantian ethics primarily focuses on motivation for making a decision. If the motivation is right, then the decision should be good. Duty is a major theme in Kantian ethics. Any decision can easily be made by considering whether you feel motivated to do this task. Further, if it is your duty, you should feel strongly motivated to do something. Duty should be motivated by a sense of moral obligation, not self-interest. For example, when you make a promise to a person, it becomes your duty to fulfill that promise.
According to Utilitarianism, it would be acceptable to break this promise if it would produce more pleasure. This does not seem morally acceptable, since a promise is binding; if an individual regularly broke promises, that person would not be considered moral or trustworthy in the future. Since motivation and reason are most prominent in Katianism, emotions about a situation are left out of the decision making process. The moral obligation should always come before a self- interested motivation, so if breaking the promise would provide self-benefit, the duty should override this opposing motivation.
This prevents an individual from making decisions which would benefit themselves and from using others as a means to an end. The strongest objections to Kantian ethics include moral absolutism, conflicts of duty, and lack of emotion. Moral absolutism means Kantian ethics has a specific set of rules which should be followed no matter what the consequences may be. It is an issue, as no set of rules should be blindly followed without reason, but in a way highlights a benefit of Kantian ethics. This issue applies most to Kantianism compared to the other two theories because it is the most specific.
Given that a person uses their reasoning ability, Kantian ethics can never truly be “blindly followed,” since reason would prevent anyone from making “blind” decisions. For example, consider if someone hiding Jews during the Holocaust was asked by the Gestapo “Are you hiding Jews? ” In one way, it is the person’s moral duty to tell the truth. On the other hand, it is their moral duty to preserve their own life and the lives of the people they are hiding. This shows Kantian ethics is not always a clear choice like “do not lie ever,” but sometimes we must use reason to onsider which option is the highest duty.
Conflicts of duty is another issue with Kantian ethics. If someone feels they have two separate duties which prevent them from doing the other, this presents a problem. For example, if you ask a person what they have in their basement, and you promise not to tell anyone, it is now your duty not to tell anyone. If they tell you it is a nuclear bomb which they are planning to drop on a large city, it is also your duty to prevent them from doing so. It seems best to use Utilitarianism in this case, since there is a clear discrepancy in pleasure between the ecisions.
Kantian ethics could still be used here, because it is now time to use reason and motivation to decide between the two duties. Most people would reason that saving the city is more important than the promise made. Lack of emotion could be proposed as an issue with Kantian ethics, since it is so focused on motivation and reason, and emotion is essentially ignored in decision making. Emotion seems like it should be considered in decision making, since there can be such strong sensations associated with certain decisions. Making a decision against your own emotions seems ike it would be difficult to do.
On the other hand, this may be why it is best to do so. Acting on emotions is more likely to be selfish and it is more likely you will oppress some party and help another. For example, most people are emotional towards their loved-ones. They want their own family and friends to succeed. If decisions were made from an emotional standpoint, it may seem to make sense to use other people who you care for less in order to benefit your own family. Kantian ethics prevents this type of action from happening. Also, it seems difficult to say we hould not act emotionally towards those we love.
In a loving relationship, one would expect two people to have an emotional connection and to treat one-another differently than they may treat others. This seems to be left out of the equation with Kantian ethics. To rebut that argument, it seems that ethics and an emotional relationship do not need to be completely interconnected. An emotional relationship includes things other than ethics, and ethics includes things outside of emotional relationships. Therefore, Kantian ethics can still exist in relationships, as long as the emotion is put aside when valuating moral situations.
As compared to the other major ethical theories, Kantianism gives the most value to human rights. It also is the most precise, allowing decision making to be simpler. Where Utilitarianism allows for immoral use and potential abuse of others as a means to an end, Kantian ethics considers each person for who they are. Where virtue ethics gives vague guidelines and makes some people seem naturally “better” or “more virtuous” than others, Kantian ethics gives a fairly simple code of ethics which can be followed by asking one’s self a few simple questions.