Any human action can be judged and referred to as good or bad based on peoples' perceptions, experience, culture and attitudes. The principle of action being right or wrong is referred to as morality. Moral quality is with a degree of living according to the standards that measure the right or wrong behavior. Many philosophers and scholars have come up with various theories explaining which credentials should be used to determine whether an action is moral or immoral. These include Formula of Universal Law, Formula of the End in Itself and Formula of Autonomy, all proposed by Immanuel Kant, and the Principle of Greatest Happiness or Principle of Utility , proposed by John Stuart Mill. This essay critically discusses which philosophy - Formula of Universal Law or the Principle of Greatest Happiness is best for testing one's moral quality.
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The Formula of the Universal Law asserts that a good thing is good regardless of its consequences. Kant states that people should ‘act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time that it should become a universal law’ (Kerstein 23). This simply means that one’s motives behind certain action and the action itself should be rational. The motive should be based not on self-preservation, happiness or sympathy, but on the universal law. One should act the way he or she wants other to act on them. Their conscience should not have any ill motives, but have only a genuine one that is based on the Universal Law. The philosopher argues that regardless of the consequences, an action is good if it based on good will.
According to the Principle of Greatest Happiness, an action is considered to be moral immoral depending on its consequences. Actions or behaviors which produce happiness and less pain are considered to be right while those that produce pain are consider to be wrong. Actions resulting in happiness of many people are moral, regardless what the motives behind such actions were. According to this principle, the essence of living is to have as much pleasure and happiness as possible. The government should allow people to develop with little interference. This implies that one can have an ill motive, but if an outcome of his or her actions produces happiness, then the action is right. Unlike Kant's Formula of Universal Law, referred to as deontological ethics, the Principle of Greatest Happiness is a consequentialist ethics (Reath 46).
Kant’s principle is a better test for the moral quality than the Greatest Happiness principle due to a number of reasons. The Greatest Happiness principle downplays some very crucial elements of humanity which are highly considered in the Kant’s Formula. For example, the element of justice is vital in human life. This element is addressed by Kant in a way that before one determines the moral quality of an action, he or she has to consider the Universal laws. These laws advocate for justice of all people regardless of the individual power of each person (Kerstein 26). Mill’s principle downplays this element in a way that it only focuses on the happiness of some people, even though other people may have faced injustice.
The human dignity may also be greatly affected by this principle. Certain pleasures interfere with some peoples' lives in a greater way that others, affecting them in positive or negative way. For instance, sex gives pleasure and happiness. According to this principle, when a girl is raped by a number of men who got pleasure at the expense of that girl's dignity, the act will not be considered to be immoral, because it brings happiness to many people (Reath 53). At the same time, according to Kant’s principle, such an action is highly immoral, since nobody wants to be raped, hence no one is expected do so to another person. Mill’s principle does not focus on protection of every individual's rights, but on the happiness of the majority of people. The lack of the protection of individual's rights and the human dignity in general made my decision to recommend the Kant’s principle over the principle of Greatest Happiness for testing moral quality.
The last argument in favour of Kant’s principle is the fact that it protects the rights and interests of minority. The Universal law provides protection for every individual in the society. It protects subjects from their master’s exploitation and the minority rights from being suppressed by the interests of the vast majority. People who execute power cannot exploit the weak, as they would definitely not like someone to do the same thing towards them. On the other hand, the Principle of Utility advocates for the exploitation of the minority, the few weak ones may be sacrificed for the purpose of making happy the greater amount of people (Reath 58). It focuses primarily on the happiness of majority, even though it may be achieved at the expense of minority and its suffering.
To continue, I would like to support my argument with an example. Take a case of two countries where one country is big and executes more power compared the other that is a smaller one. The small country, however, happened to posses some natural resources that the big country is lack of. Applying the Mill’s principle, the big country can attack the small country and take all the natural resources from its people. This action will be moral as it aims at providing happiness to the greater amount of people, who comprise a population of the bigger country. However, this is an unjust and violent act in terms of human rights and the rights of individual people. Applying the Principle Universal Law, the big country will not attack the small country, and if they do, it will be highly immoral (Alican 30).
To conclude, I strongly believe that any action should be judged based on its motives as described in Kant’s formula rather than its consequences. The principle of the Greatest Happiness is too narrow to be relied on. It downplays some elements that are vital to human rights. The Formula of Universal Law has wide considerations and, hence, is a better option for testing moral quality of a given action.
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