4 June 2018
Evaluating Mill and Kant on Right Action (part 2)
After considering Mill and Kant’s different theories of right action, I believe that the morally right choice for Kelly to make is to tell her father the truth. The family is going through a very tough and emotional time with their sick father. Kelly didn’t actually have enough time to decide what she would do with the business. Maybe Kelly would have figured a better way to tell her father that they all want to sell the business. What if she wanted to keep the business but knew that she couldn’t handle it alone, without help from her brothers. The theories of both Kant and Mill could be used to determine the moral actions of the family. I would like to add that it is not possible for both theories to be used at the same time. Mill believes that consequences determine right action, while Kant believes that the principle determines the right action (lecture). For the remainder of the essay, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Mill and Kant’s competing approaches to reasoning about right action.
Kant believes that reason directs us to do what is good. To determine right action, Kant tells us “the only thing that is morally good without qualification is good will” (Lecture, 393-4). Kant defines good will to be, “doing what is right regardless of what you desire” (Lecture). Kant’s Categorical Imperative acts as a universal moral law that we must follow. Because his moral theory is universal, we can assume that his argument is valid by the definition of validity.
Kant’s general view of right action does not permit her to lie under any circumstances. Lying doesn’t make sense to Kant because of The Formula of Universal Law, which states, “Act only from maxims (principles) that you can rationally and without inconsistency will as law for everyone” (Lecture). As I mentioned in paper 3.1, this law does not suggest that we should only do something because people do it all the time, instead, if it would rationally make sense for them to do it all the time. People have different behaviors from one another. Sometimes the might be selfish and sometimes they might be generous. To Kant, morality acts in the same way, but without inconsistency. This means that we cannot change our behavior and act morally sometimes, implying that are obligated to behave morally all the time since it is our “duty”. According to Kant, “We find that we do not really will that our maxim should become a universal law, if we take the liberty of making an exception to it for ourselves to the advantage of our inclination…yet subjectively not hold universally but allow exceptions” (Kant, 34). Kant essentially is saying that exceptions cannot be made for ourselves if we won’t allow them to be made for others. Since we are obligated to be moral, and Kant’s moral theory is an unconditional, it wouldn’t be fair to allow exceptions that favor one’s own welfare over others. Thus, no exceptions are to be made under Kant’s theory. This is why Kant would say that it is not be morally permissible for Kelly to lie to her father and that she should tell the truth. I agree with Kant that she should be honest and tell her father that she has no intention on taking on his business after he passes away. The advantage of Kant’s theory in this situation is that Kelly doesn’t have to worry about her conscious haunting over her. Knowing that she had lied to her father, she will never be able to tell him the truth after he passes away. Kelly is already at a disadvantage, because she is going through the process of loosing a loved one. Lying would put her at an even greater disadvantage because of the unpredictable outcome.
Mill would argue that Kelly should do whatever might make her father the happiest.
According to Mill, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness” (Mill 7). Utilitarianism explains that actions are only permissible if an only if they produce the greatest amount of happiness; any other actions are morally wrong. The more happiness and less “suffering” the action, the better the action is by Mill’s theory. I had mentioned in paper 3.1, that Mill’s theory is not applicable in this situation. As a person who has recently struggled with being happy, happiness is a feeling of joy and comfort that we want to feel all the time. Who wouldn’t always want to be happy right? Mill’s theory is not as complex as Kant’s, but is harder to follow. After paper 3.1, I came to the realization that Mill’s theory is more conditional, or circumstantial. This is why his theory doesn’t necessarily work out for Kelly’s situation, since his theory has many objections (like the ones we discussed in lecture). Mill’s theory suggests that we focus past our own self-interest to consider the interests of others that would be affected by our actions. If Kelly were to use Mill’s theory in this situation, she would have to lie. Being lied to will give Thomas more happiness than being told the truth in this scenario. But if she lies, and he finds out, he won’t be happy either way. This is the contradiction to using Mill’s theory here. His theory is not as universal as Kant’s. Kelly has no control over the outcomes of her action.
The last thing Kelly wants to do is to upset her father in his current condition. Out of pure love, she would instead rather endure his suffering than cause it. Mill’s approach only presents Kelly with disadvantages because his theory only examines the “what if”, and not the “how”. We know that Kelly wants to do what is morally right, but is uncertain whether the morally right choice is to lie or tell him the truth. We don’t know about the past events that have led up to this moment. What if Thomas was never present during the upbringing of his children because he was too focused on running his business? We do not know enough information about the family to decide or assume what Kelly should morally do. This is the main problem with Mill’s theory, and why there are only disadvantages.
Does this mean that Mill’s theory therefore, forces Kelly to lie? Yes, because there is not a lot of autonomy in his theory compared to Kant’s. Like I mentioned earlier, Kant is not trying to force us to abide by his law. He is not a God capable of forcing us to go against our free will. Instead, he suggests rather that we should use our will (doing what is right regardless of desire) to reason if our action logically makes sense for others to do all the time. Kant’s general theory of morality allows for us to have autonomy in our actions. Although Kant’s theory commands one to take a certain action, we are not necessarily forced to do what is right, but instead desire to do what is right, because it is the right thing to do. By Kant’s theory, Kelly doesn’t have to lie because of her will (desire) to do the right thing. Kelly has to live with the consequences of her actions. Although her father might be not be happy hearing the truth from Kelly, Kant would justify her reasoning as a “right action”, regardless of the outcome since she did what she thought was right.
Having moral values means having the ability to distinguish right actions from wrong one. The two theories discussed in this paper explore how two different philosophical ideas approach reasoning. Mill’s ideas contrast with Kant’s. The problem with Mill’s theory is that it doesn’t fully address the issues with lying. Although Kelly would have to lie (according to Mill), what if she is wrong? Humans are not perfect. Mill’s idea assumes that Kelly is right, but what if she was wrong about what would make Thomas happy? The truth might disappoint Thomas periodically, but being deceived ruin their relationship. Relationships are based on the core principles of trust and “dishonestly undermines trust” (Mill).
After strong considerations from both theorists, I believe that the morally right choice is for Kelly to be honest. My simple explanation draws from my own experiences and reasoning. I internally believe in the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated), which is why I favor honesty. I wouldn’t want to be lied to, which is why I shouldn’t lie to others. My reasoning favors Kant’s theories of morality over Mill’s. I generally use rationalization and reasoning to justify my actions but I do understand that I am not always right. I make mistakes all the time. Individuals are given the opportunity to learn, grow and improve by making mistakes. I have no problem with Kelly lying to her father if and only if she learns from this experience. Learning from this experience, Kelly would not lie again.
To conclude, I do not think that Mill’s theory can be used to determine the morality of Kelly’s decision. Utilitarianism explains that actions are only permissible if an only if they produce the greatest amount of happiness. I believe that Kant’s theory of morality is more applicable to Kelly’s situation. Kant believes that we are obligated to behave morally all the time, since it is our “duty”. I do not agree with this because I don’t think it is possible for people to always be, or act moral. If people actually acted in this way, the world would be perfect. Humans are not perfect, and it is inevitable and necessary that we make errors in order for us to learn to not make them again. This is why our experiences ultimately help us shape our own moral values.