Are Your Actions GOOD? (Kant vs. Mill)

Press Start for “Are Your Actions GOOD”? by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Episode 15: Are Your Actions GOOD? | (Kant vs. Mill)

Written by: Mia Wood
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Visual Consultant: Matt Reichle
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Are Your Actions GOOD? (Kant vs. Mill)

What makes an action good?

Suppose you’re trying to save the world from aliens who seek to enslave humanity… But you accidentally blow up Earth?

Most unpleasant, indeed! Or what if you see an infant fall into a pond. You jump in to save it…

But a crocodile gets there first. Can your action still be considered morally good? Well, It depends on whom you ask. Immanuel Kant would say that the moral worth of your action is determined entirely by whether or not you were motivated by duty…

Whereas English philosopher John Stuart Mill would say the moral worth of your action is determined by the amount of happiness it produces — and for the greatest number of people.

Kant defines duty as “the necessity to act out of respect for the moral law.” So, if it is your duty to attempt to save the drowning child, but you fail, your action is still morally good. The consequences of that attempt are morally irrelevant.

Of course, it’s natural to feel happiness from doing your duty, but Kant thinks this doesn’t matter. Because for him, morality isn’t a matter of what makes you happy – it’s about rationality.
You see, to determine an action’s moral worth, you must look to the will of the person who, well, willed the action! Now, the good that the good will wills is expressed by doing our duty, which satisfies what Kant calls the Categorical Imperative.

The Categorical Imperative is a self-given law, a command that, Kant thinks, our reason dictates to us. Consequently, when we act from duty, we are willing the right thing out of respect for ourselves as rational, law-giving beings.

Mill, on the other hand, thinks that happiness, not rationality, is fundamental to morality. And by “happiness,” Mill means “pleasure and the absence of pain.” (Ibid. Mill)
Indeed, Mill thinks that pleasure is the only thing that’s inherently valuable. But, it should be noted, not all pleasures are equal.
Provided that an action promotes happiness, it is morally good. To the extent it does not promote happiness, it is wrong.
But what if they’re both wrong? What if morality is a delusion, just a sophisticated way of asserting preference? What if it’s all relative?

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