Utilitarianism and Categorical Imperatives a Comparison of Thesis

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Utilitarianism and Categorical Imperatives

A Comparison of the Theories of Utilitarianism and Categorical Imperatives

The principles of Utilitarianism and Categorical Imperatives contradict each other on many fronts. Both provide a rational for making moral decisions, both have benefits and flaws. A compelling argument can be made for each. From my perspective the principal's of Kant exemplify a more ethical way to conduct life.


Utilitarianism as a specific school of thought is generally credited to Jeremy Bentham, who outlined this theory in his 1789 work, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Bentham believed pain and pleasure were the only fundamental values in the world and from this belief he developed his rule of utility, the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. This is known as Act Utilitarianism. An act is to be preferred to its alternatives according to the extent of the increase it achieves, compared to the extent the alternatives would achieve. An action is thus good or bad in proportion to the amount it increases or diminishes general happiness, compared to the amount that could have been achieved by acting differently. Act utilitarianism is distinctive not only in the stress on utility, but in the fact that each individual action is the primary object of ethical evaluation. This contrasts it with varieties of indirect utilitarianism, as well as with ethical systems that accord priority to duty or personal virtue.

In 1863 Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill was published. Mill's father, James Mill, was a colleague and close associate of Bentham. In the book Mill asserts cultural, intellectual and spiritual pleasures are of greater value than mere physical pleasure because the former would be valued higher than the latter by fit judges. Mill defines one fit to judge as anyone who has had experience with both types of pleasure, the lower and the higher. In distinguishing between types of pleasure, Mill distanced himself from Bentham, who stated the belief that assuming the two bring equal quantities of pleasure, the child's game of push-pin is as good as poetry. Mill notes that what one desires and what is good is not always the same thing. For instance one may desire to bully a lonely child, and this could produce pleasure, however happiness comes from following virtues rather than desires.

Utilitarian's focus on the consequences of an act rather than on its intrinsic nature or the motives. Classical Utilitarianism is basically hedonistic, however values other than, or in addition to, pleasure can be employed. Mill says the test of utility can be applied to a single act or acts only indirectly through some other suitable object of moral assessment.

Categorical Imperatives

A Categorical Imperative is an absolute and universal moral obligation. German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed categorical imperative help us to know which actions are obligatory and which are forbidden. Hypothetical imperatives, according to Kant, are conditional: 'If I want x then I must do y'. These are not moral imperatives. Kant thought the only moral imperatives were categorical: 'I ought to do x," with no suggestion of desires or needs.

Kant formulated three Categorical Imperatives: 1) Universal law -- All moral statements should be general laws, which apply…

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