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Secualr Ethics

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Kantianism and Utilitarianism are two theories that attempt to answer the moral nature of human beings. Immanuel Kant's moral system is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality. John Stuart Mill's moral system is based on the theory known as utilitarianism, which is based upon utility, or doing what produces the greatest happiness.

One of Kant's lasting contributions to moral philosophy was his emphasis on the notion of respect for persons. He considers respect for persons to be the fundamental moral principle of ethical philosophy. His Kantianism premise is a deontological moral theory, which claims that the right action in any given situation is determined by the "categorical imperative". This imperative is a command that applies to all rational beings independent of their desires. It is a command that reason tells us to follow no matter what. Kant considers this an objective law of reason and because it applies to all of us, he calls it a universal practical law for all rational beings. (pg.54-56) The hypothetical imperative, on the contrary, is a conditional command. (pg.56-57) For example, if you want X, then you will do Y, whereas with the categorical imperative, X has nothing to do with why you do Y.

It is vital to understand the formulations that accompany the "categorical imperative." Kant upheld systematic laws as the model of rational principles. A

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characteristic of systematic laws is that they are universal, such as the law that when heated, gas will expand. Kant thought that moral laws or principles must have universality to be rational. He derives the "categorical imperative" out of the notion that we should be willing to adopt those moral principle that can be universalized, that is, those that we can imagine that everyone could act upon or adopt as their principle. Thus, the first formulation of the "categorical imperative" is, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (Pg. 54) By maxim, he means the rule or principle on which you act. Consider the example Kant gives of giving a false promise. Making false promises is wrong and therefore could not be a universal law, because every rational being would not adopt this as a principle of action.

The practical imperative will therefore be as follows: "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a mean." (Pg. 56) According to Kant, as rational beings, we are self-directed beings. We experience ourselves and others as intrinsically valuable, as valuable as an end and not merely instrumentally valuable or valuable as a means to obtaining something. According to this second formulation of the "categorical imperative," we should treat people with fundamental dignity and respect. For instance, it would be wrong to make false promises because we would be treating others as merely a means and not respecting them as persons with intrinsic value.

In order to avoid misunderstanding Kant, it is crucial to distinguish between treating someone as a means to an end and treating them merely as a means to an end. In

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a complex network of social relationships, we use other people all the time as means to our ends without dehumanizing them. For instance, we use the services of certain people to deliver our newspapers, groceries, and mail. Students use professors as tools to become educated and earn degrees. By contrast, when you use someone merely as a means only, it is abusive and lacks respect for that person. The abuse of that person shows that you do not believe they have value apart from his or her immediate use.

Kant believed that human beings occupy a special place in creation. Human beings have dignity, because they are rational agents, capable of making their own decisions and guiding their conduct by reason. Therefore, we have the duty of being good to all persons.

Unlike Kant, John Stuart Mill believed in an ethical theory known as utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is another theory in which the main objective is to explain the nature of ethics and morality. There are many formulations to this theory. Utilitarianism is based upon utility, or doing what produces the greatest happiness. It states that the actions of a person should be based upon the "principle of utility,"



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