Kant Versus Mill: Ethical Views On Morality

This specific question has been heatedly discussed from the earliest days of complex thought and philosophy. What is moral? Humanity hasn’t come closer to a particular answer over the years, but compelling philosophies and theories have been a source of new thinking. The question has also been posted in many distinct ways by Plato, the Greek philosopher in his seminal book, “Republic. Is this what is called good or bad?”

Nevertheless, the most basic questions two mindsets seem to tackle clearly but intimidating: “Categorical Requirement” of Immanuel Kant and “Utilitarianism” of John Stuart Mill.


In the year 1742, April 22, in Kaliningrad, Russia, or what was called Konigsberg in Prussia, Immanuel Kant was born. He wrote science books during his tutoring, which include “Theory of the Heavens and General Natural History” in 1755. He was a metaphysics professor for 15 years.

The first section of the “Critique of Pure Reason” was published in 1781. On February 12, 1804, in the city of his birth, he published additional critiques. During the Enlightenment period of the late 18th century, Kant was a German philosopher. The critique of pure reason is his best-known work.


The British philosopher, theorist, and proponent of Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill, was born on May 20, 1806, in London, England, and died on May 8, 1873, in Avignon, France. In the evolving 19th century, he was a famous publicist, becoming a logician and an ethical thinker with long-term interest.

In our decision to reject or uphold moral values, according to Kant, desires and emotions are insignificant. He suggests that morality is a matter of the common sense of duty, whatever one feels at the moment of commitment. Kant says that nothing is deemed to be as useful except goodwill, which is the moral compass that looks for good. He noted that morality-guided actions are not aimed at reward but are directed at fulfilling a duty, which is the intrinsic sense of good or bad, whether we are satisfied and happy, fulfilling our desires and soothing our emotions. Morality, in his view, is equivalent to desires and emotions. He has a more character-defined approach to virtue ethics or deontological ethics (Kant p. 44).

Mill strongly believes that pleasure and happiness resulting from the outcomes of action should be the leading factor for something based on the principle of utilitarianism on the others. In the pursuit of good fortune, for example, if the outcome of an action is to give satisfaction and happiness to the highest number of people, then the action doesn’t matter, for it brought joy and peace. This is called the hedonic calculus; specific rules and codes define it as the extent to which the highest number of people will be pleased with each occasion. Desires and morality, in his opinion, are superior to law. Desires and morality, in his view, are superior to law. Therefore, according to Mill, morality depends on the strength of the action, length, reliability or lack of it, its vitality, propinquity, coherence of derived value, pureness, and nature of the number of people involved. Their efficiency, effectiveness, and efficacy depend on the intensity of the acts. To justify his argument, Mill in one of his words quoted by saying… It is better to be an unhappy person than a happy pig…. and this directed him to the various levels of pleasure derived from various actions (John, p57).

Mill appears to imply that emotions and desires should be above reasoning, according to his theoretical advocates. The bully is justified in an example given in his book where teasing a lonely child creates joy rather than satisfaction as the product of virtues. His theory, therefore, seems to suggest that people should not take responsibility for their actions, but should bear responsibility for their emotions. There are no co-existents between emotions and reason, so because emotions guide the actions, people don’t need to be held responsible for their emotions, as they are more likely than not to be emotional. For instance, people often say, “I can’t help to feel the way about him” (John, p34).


Another distinction between these two philosophers is that they seem to believe that there is always something stimulating morality. It just doesn’t happen. What differs from what they feel is the driving force behind morality because while Mill is satisfied, Kant feels that morality is all about the responsibilities to humanity, which is a difference between the two.

The distinctions are, although Kant argues that morality is at all times a conscious driven force, Mill supports morality as a circumstance-driven force not based on cognitive factors or reason. Kant promotes the idea that humanity’s obligation is more important than the pleasure derived from actions. However, Mill advocates the importance of gratifying wishes and emotions rather than the duty to humanity. While Mill finds feelings to be the guiding force for good and evil, Kant does not take emotions into account and argues that they have no role in endorsing good or bad. Mill is ruled by ego because he is living for the present, Kant is rational about expanding the present into the future to see what’s worth doing. The rationale of Kant is at the identification level for the formation of personality (Lara, p. 86).

We could never know the actual essence of good in such a turbulent and tumultuous society. Too many questions, factors, and theories surround this problem, which is much more complicated than any of us could think, although it is evident in hindsight. Mill’s utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative are both revolutionary for their time. They are both excellent insights into what we exactly call morality. Both remind us of what it is not just to be good but to be human, in spite of their distinctions. Who knows, maybe neither is right or perhaps both or maybe goodness is found subjective.

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