of Happiness in Kant and Mill’s Conceptions
Immanuel Kant is a very influential western philosopher whose
studies and researches have had a great impact on the development
of western philosophical thought. It is difficult to meet
a person who would not know the expression Categorical Imperatives
that make the basis of the Kant’s teaching. Kant has
developed an ethical system of his own mostly presented in
his two works - The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
and The Critique of Practical Reason. Search for universal
and supreme principle of morality was on the focus of his
attention. Finally, the universal moral law (Categorical Imperative)
was found as a basic law that can apply to complex and changing
situations. Kant distinguished imperative as command, dictating
particular actions. He defines several types of imperatives.
He presents hypothetical imperative as opposition to moral
or categorical ones. In general, he defines hypothetical imperative
as imperative, which is formed in conditional form and focus
on the final result. Thus the person knows that some actions
will bring desirable result – happiness, and behaves
accordingly. Foe example, “if I learn the poem, I will
get a good mark”. All in all, the desire to be happy
is not of great value and it can not be the measure for morality.
Kant opposes hypothetical imperatives to moral ones as hypothetical
imperatives do not contain universal truths and are based
on subjective considerations. He states that there can be
no general happiness, because people desire different things
and they understand happiness in different ways. Hypothetical
imperative is defined by personal liking and preferences and
can not be called a universal moral principle. (Kant, 1964)
Kant states that good or bad actions can be performed to achieve
the worse or better result and this puts us in the position
of moral dilemma where choosing good for yourself, one can
hurt others and vise versa. The actions we perform after these
reflections and considerations Kant defies as moral actions.
Moral actions for him are the actions, where reasons stay
earlier than the action itself, and where we take others into
account when taking the final decision. It means that we think
about the consequences of our action for others and ourselves
before we perform it.
According to Kant, all humans should follow universal moral
low and “act only on that maxim by which you can at
the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
(Kant, 1967, p. 227).
He defines morality as a set of rules, which make the part
of pure reason. According to Kant this pure reason should
make us choose such type of actions, which bring good to others
or help us to self-improve. Such kind of actions and behavior
must make people virtuous presenting the patterns of moral
behavior. When applying this theory to reality we very soon
notice that not all human actions can be directed to help
others or to self-perfect the personality. So, moral laws
can not direct human behavior in such cases and here dichotomy
between morality and prudence arises as Kant describes prudence
as something, which regulates human actions when moral regulations
can’t be applied. In Morals, he states that main difference
between prudence and morality is in a priory nature of morality
while prudence does not possess this characteristic.
John Stuart Mill is a prominent philosopher of the nineteenth
century, who is famous for his theory of happiness –
Utilitarianism. According to this ethic theory people must
try to promote the greatest number of happiness to a great
amount of people. Mil’s theory is an exact antithesis
to Kant’s theory, which is based on rational thinking,
while Mill is guided by the principle of pleasure.
In his work Utilitarianism Mill presents the first principle
of morality, which helps us to distinguish right and wrong:
“actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote
happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain;
by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.”
(Mill, p. 246).
Happiness is the only thing we desire essentially, not just
for the sake of other things. So, being the only true value,
happiness can distinguish moral principles in the society.
Mill states that people do not always value things as the
means to reach happiness; they value them for their own sakes.
All in all, valuing things for their own sakes, people actually
value them as parts of happiness. For example, people value
freedom, peace, and knowledge as things that bring happiness.
So having their own value, these things are parts of happiness.
According to Mill only the feeling of happiness can teach
all human being to be tolerant to each other and develop the
inner desire to be in unity with other people. This feeling
helps to care about other people, worry about them and have
not individual interests and follow not selfish goals but
perceive interests linked with others. Of course, people can
not always strive for the general happiness, but one of the
signals of moral progress is the phenomenon when the happiness
of other people, even unknown people, becomes important. It
the greatest stage of morality and each society must move
in this direction. (Mill, pp. 203-59)
In my opinion, both Kant and Mill theories are worth our attention
because they are based on assumptions proved by philosophers’
arguments. Nevertheless, both theories have their drawbacks.
Kant states that morality is based on pure reason. People
motivations are based only on rational thinking and reasoning
from this people consciously do not do any harm to each other.
Nevertheless, in real life we see that motivation is not always
based on rationalism, but in most cases on our desire to feel
good and be happy. Striving for happiness is not a rational
desire, it is a feeling. I agree with Kant at a point that
happiness is a subjective notion, but at the same time I agree
with Mill that there is general happiness. All people have
their small desires and goals but at the same time we all
have an ideal of general happiness: it is peace, freedom,
wealth, virtue and so on. To my mind, these values are true
values and just they form moral principles, which can be applied
for the whole society.
1. Kant Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals,
translated by H.J. Paton. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.
2. Mill, John, On Liberty, University Press of the Pacific,
3. Mill, J. S., Utilitarianism. Collected Works of John Stuart
Mill, J. M. Robson (ed.), Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
v. 10, 1861, pp. 203-59.