Kantian Ethics – vs Consequentialism (a form of utilitarianism)

Aristolian distinction: Kantian focus is not on the poiesis (on producing something) but on praxis (how one acts)


– do what produced the best consequences - Kantian – Do what is ‘right’ – which means doing something on principle. i.e. no matter how worthwhile the goal, there are things we may not do even if they are crucial for that goal.

E.g. you find yourself flirting with someone, your wife phones up, you lie about what you are doing and your location. This lie promotes trust – if you told the truth about flirting she would trust you less (providing you don’t get caught etc). So consequentialists would lie. This is ACT consequentialism (i.e making a specific act for better consequences). Rule consequentialism is about an act being right because it conforms to a good rule (less different to kantian ethics)

Problem: Everything we do forms habit, lie once and you are likely to lie again, the more lies the greater the risk etc. Also our self-identity will be tarnished, if we don’t think ourselves honest, will it show in how we treat outselves and others?

Act consequentialsts understand it is too costly in time etc to always calculate the best option and so are ok with having ‘rules of thumb’ (guildlines/breakable rules) like stop at red lights, don’t cheat people, etc. they will break their rule of thumb if it is apparent that breaking it will have better consequences. Rule consequentialists will stick to it regardless (like a principle/side restraint), unless they have another rule that will have better consequences.

- Se are all a mixture I think – so what do these definitions even applyto then?

Rule consequentialists example: If everyone cheated in exams as a rule would it be beneficial? answer: no, so they don’t do it themselves.

Mill (despite being a utilitarian) says ‘power can only be rightfully exercised over someone against his well if it prevents the harm to others….’

Isn’t sticking to a ‘blanket’ principle irrational? – Kant says no, because we are an end in ourselves

Consequentialists are concerned to maximise (good to help, better to help lots), unlike Kant, who leaves it open as to how much you help others and how you improve yourself, i.e. he doesn’t say you should improve all your talents or pick a couple, its up to you.

Kantian Obligatory ends:

- Helping happiness of others by helping them realize their ends. This does not include ends you deem unworthwhile, e.g. providing them with wine to get drunk. But it does allow for you to choose which of their ends you want to help with. - Self improvement via developing ones talents and improving oneself morally. It is our duty to see that duty is sufficient motivation to do so. Vices to avoid are envy, arrogance, ingratitude, desire for revenge (sweetest form of malice)

But according to Kantian ethics we are not to try to transform or reform others moral values, it is not out business. – Note, this is with adults, parents bare responsibility for their children, but Kant does say: “It is a duty for one of the friends to point out the other’s faults in him” this is a “duty of love”.

“Minding one’s business” means not trying to manage other’s characters or decide for them what their ends should be – but it does not mean ignoring them when they are suffering.

Duties: Perfect duties are simple things like paying someone back £20, or ‘I may not help my friends by cheating others, or robb the rich to give to the poor’.

Imperfect duties are duties created by the obligatory ends.

Someone who only helps others when it will also help themselves to kill two birds with one stone is not really trying to help the other achieve their ends – this is not enough according to Kant, - you have to care, not only act a certain way.

How much latitude is there in imperfect duties? - e.g. man collapses and there is no one around to help but you see a phonebox, but you say ‘I do like helping others, igive to charity and listen to friends troubles, but I keep my distance in situations with strangers like this’ – you do not really care for others according to kant. “humans are united by nature in one dwellng place so that they can help one another”.

i.e. it is a duty to help if we love them or not. But we do not have to help at every oppourtunity, nor help everyone equally. Kant doesn’t require maximizing – like consequentialism.

Neither Obligatory end (helping others and improving oneself) is more important. Moral excellence comes in considerable variety in the Kantian view. There is some ranking, but no ‘best’

Kantian ethics avoids this big problem: - The ‘excessive demmands’ problem. Other moral theories require maximizing the walrefare of others, so that makes anyone who’s career isn’t humanitarian (e.g. a novelist, bug studier, etc) is immoral. Kantian ethics allows people to follow their pet projects. - “moral saint’ – a Kantian moral saint would not work single mindedly to promote the welfare of others because there are TWO obligatory ends. Kantian ethics allows for lots of hobbies because one could not develop ones talents without spending time in music, athletics, writing, reading etc.

Consequensialists are baffled by this, they say you should always promote any value you adopt to maximize it. If you take honesty seriously you will be willing to be dishonest to promote the greater good of honesty. But the Kantian view would be that there are other responses to value, (honouring honesty by being honest) such as the response to the value of a forest is appreciation and the response to some values is to express them.

Sometimes the best way to promote justice is to act unjust – i.e. promote justice instead of honour justice – is act consequentialist..


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