Comparison of Philosophy of Utilitarianism and Deontology

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This paper will contrast two main ethical theories, mainly the ‘Utilitarianism’ theory which was brought to light by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill versus the ‘Deontology’ theory that is argued by Immanuel Kant. The argument that will be discussed in this paper will be one that deals with the matter of pleasure versus morality and the criticism that comes with solely basing your decision making on maximizing pleasure. The two theories argue different points of view and convey a totally different message so the question that will be argued in this paper is the right course of action the one that produces the most good? Or is it the one that is the morally right course?

Deontology as stated above is a theory that is associated with the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant. This theory is based on universal moral laws since for Kant the correct course of action is the one that is morally correct and requires that people adhere to rules and duties. Furthermore, it doesnot require one to weigh the costs and benefits of his actions, for according to Kant nothing is good without qualification except the good will and a good will is one that acts accordingly with the moral law and out of respect for such laws and not out of natural inclinations. He believed moral laws to be as categorical imperatives in other words, unconditional commands as per the quote, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Deontology, Kant) . Furthermore, he believed that people should be treated as an ends and never as a means.

The utilitarianism theory argues that one should seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain regardless of the morality of the action, for Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill identified the good with pleasure and the bad with pain and unlike the deontological school of thought the utilitarianistic school of thought is one that weighs consequences and takes into account the ends result of one’s actions. According to Bentham, nature has placed mankind under two sovereign masters which are pain and pleasure and so human actions should be grounded in codes to maximize pleasure and minimize pains and not in abstract concepts of human rights or natural rights granted by God.

For example, he argued sexual relations were typically benefical because of the pleausres that come with the act and so Bentham fought to advocate legalizing prostitution and homosexual acts. Another major player when it comes to the utilitarianistic school of thought was John Stuart Mill, who took Benthams approach and modified it. Stuart Mill argued that pleasures differ from each other in kind and quality not only in quantity. The pleasure of the intellect, of feelings and imagination and of the moral sentiments have a higher value than the of the pleasures of mere sensations, as per the quote, “Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beasts pleasure; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus no person of feeling and conscious would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lots than they are with theirs” (Utilitarianism, Mill). Because of the indifference regarding morality the utilitarianism ethical theory was subject to lots of objections.

One major objection is that the utilitarianism theory does not take into account individual rights for it argues that if the action maximizes pleasure then it is acceptable to disregard ones right no matter what the right is. Rights vary in nature and in kind for example humans have a right to freedom and a right to be treated fairly so is it acceptable to disregard these rights solely for the purpose of maximizing ones pleasure? Another objection to the utilitarianistic school of thought is that it is entirely based on the consequence of one’s action, it fails to take into account the reason behind the action.

For example, when one makes a promise it is regarded as morally required that he acts in a manner that fulfills this promise, according to the utilitarianistic school of thought morality is not a factor when deciding the best course of action and so promises can be broken if the consequence of breaking a promise leads to maximizing one’s personal pleasure. So is it truly acceptable to break a promise when it is convenient? A final objection to the utilitarianistic school of thought is that it forces very strict and stringent obligations, it demands that a person is obligated to regard others well-being as having the same importance and value of a persons own well-being, and it entails that one makes sacrifices, no matter how great when the benefits of such sacrifices to other people outweigh the cost of the sacrifice to ones self.

Looking at these objections from a deontological perspective, first human rights are given the atmost importance when it comes to the deontological school of thought, for it requires people to act in a manner that respects other peoples humanity, to Kant all humans must be seen as inherently worthy of respect and dignity, consequences such as pain or pleasure are irrelevant. Furthermore, when taking a consequencial approach to matters like the utilitarianistic school of thought, morally unjustified actions can be justified. For example, an innocent man can be punished if the punishment leads to the maximizing of pleasure. The second objection to the utilitarianistic school of thought was that is entirely consequencial and all actions are based on the end result they produce disregarding any form of right and wrong.

For deontologists and Immanuel Kant this approach is forbidden and the main insentive behind actions should always be the morality of the action regardless of the consequence, Kant believes in duty, and duty should be done for duty sake, and thus acts like lying, promise breaking or murdering are instinctly wrong and people have a duty not to do these acts, but this does not mean that consequences of acts are not important to deontologists, for they are also taken into account since they play a role in the morality of the course of action chosen. For example, a doctor may have a duty to benefit a patient and he/she may need to know what medical consequences would result from the treatment in order to choose the correct one, but unlike the utilitarianistic school of thought the consequence is not what makes the action right but it is a means to help in determining which action is more suitably alligned with our duty. The final objection of the utilitarianistic school of thought is that it forces strict and demanding obligations but according to deontologists these obligations stem from a sense of duty and not from the idea of maximizing benefits. Kant believes that the act of helping others sets humans apart as unique beings, with special abilities to make rational and genuiene decisions while adhering to moral laws irrespective of natural desires or inclinations.

These moral laws are described by Kant as maxims as per the quote, “ When I infer that a person needs help and I have the capacity to help, I have a duty to help” (Deontology and duty, Kant) . Kant offers a rational test that determines whether a maxim for action is a genuine universal moral principle, called categorical imperatives. These imperatives rely on the principle of contradiction and each one is a necessary condition to ascribing the categorical moral values of the maxim. The categorical imperatives are, first univerasalizability, which states that you should act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law and the second is the means/ends that states that you should act in a way in which you always treat humanity as never simply as a means but always as an ends and finally autonomy which states that you should act in a way that you treat the will of every rational being as a will that makes universal law.

Analyzing these two ethical theories discussed it is clear that taking into account the consequence of the action alone is not enough to decide on the course of action, and one should always take into account morality of the action carried out. Although real life situations are not always black or white as Kant describes them and sometimes a person must choose between the better of two evils, Kant’s point of view is better suited for real life application since as humans morality and right and wrong should always be a factor when deciding on the appropriate course of action and the notion of duty should always be present in a certain way since it sets us apart as humans from other beings. The argument which states that the supreme principle of morality is a standard of rationality that Immanuel Kant dubbed as ‘Categrorical Imperative’ is the methodology that one should follow.

Kant charactarised this an an objective, rationally imparative and unconditional belief that one must always follow, despite any natural desires or inclinations that one may have to the contrary. All specific ethical necessities, according to Kant, are vindicated by this code of practice which would subsequently entail that all immoral actions are irrational since they violate the categorical imerative ‘CI’. Unlike other philosophers, such as Mills, who have argued that ethical requirements are based on standards of rationality for satisfying ones desires and pleasures, Kant agreed with many of his predecessors that an interpretation of practical reason reveals the requirement that ethical agents must obey to instrumental principles. That being said, at the heart of Kant’s moral philosophy is a commencement of reason and rationality that one must abide by a conceptual method of act which will adhere to one’s own ethical and moral beliefs. Additionally, it is the existence of this self-determining reason in each person that Kant believed presented conclusive grounds for viewing each as possessed of equal value and worthy of equal respect.

In conclusion, the matter of right and wrong versus happiness and maximizing pleasure will always be a matter for discussion, but it should never be acceptable to disregard ones personal rights for the sake of pleasure, and it should never be acceptable to break a promise for the sole reason of seeking pleasure and morality should always play a role in deciding the best course of action.


Cite this paper

Comparison of Philosophy of Utilitarianism and Deontology. (2020, Nov 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/comparison-of-philosophy-of-utilitarianism-and-deontology/



What are the differences and similarities between deontological virtue and utilitarian ethics?
Deontological ethics focuses on the morality of actions based on duty and rules, while virtue ethics emphasizes the character and virtues of the moral actor. Utilitarian ethics, on the other hand, prioritizes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, often through a cost-benefit analysis.
What are the similarities and differences between Kant's philosophy and utilitarianism?
Utilitarianism is the belief that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, while Kant's philosophy is based on the belief that reason is the ultimate deciding factor in moral action. The two theories differ in their approach to morality, but both seek to promote the greatest good.
What are the similarities between utilitarianism and deontology?
Utilitarianism is the belief that an action is right if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Deontology is the belief that an action is right if it is in accordance with a moral rule. Both theories seek to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.
What is the main difference between deontology and utilitarianism?
Virtue is a quality of character that is morally good, while ethics is the study of morality.
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