25 Aug 2022


Explaining Human Behavior: Theories of Kant and Mill

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Philosophers have always tried to explain human behavior using various theories. In the society morality has always been an issue hence is explaining why people’s actions should be justified according to morality. Kant and Mill use their theories to describe human acts and why people should act in a particular way. Their theories address human ethics in the context of society and what is expected of people. This essay compares the theories of Kant and Mill in ethics.

Kant’s theory is concerned with the acts of a human without considering the consequences. According to act people ought to do what is seen as right without thinking of the consequences. Kant is more concerned about duty and that people ought to do the right thing because it what they are supposed to but not because there is a pleasurable reward from the act.

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Many philosophers, however, does not conform to Kant’s thought. According to many philosophers, the term Good can only be explained with how an action plays a role in a person's life. For instance, telling the truth is viewed as a good thing in Kantian philosophy but there are instances when telling the truth might have bad consequences hence making it an otherwise bad thing. Kant’s thoughts thereby bring about the aspect of the unqualified good. According to him, we should all consider Christ rule of doing to others what we would want them to do to us.

The unqualified good is the good will which entails that people should have their duty not because they want to achieve anything else from it but simply because of it, our duty. We determine our duty using categorical imperatives. Imperatives consist of categorical imperatives and hypothetical imperatives. These imperatives give reasons why people act the way they do. Hypothetical imperatives refer to those situations that take the form of If and then. For instance, if you want to pass exams then you must study hard. Hypothetical imperatives consist of rules of skill and counsels of prudence. Categorical hypothesis, on the other hand, refers to those acts that apply universally with any references to intentions. The hypothetical imperatives are have nothing to do with morality and cannot be used universally. Categorical imperatives, on the other hand, are products of reason and should be applied universally. For instance lying. A person can lie to get out of trouble but then will it be good if everyone else did that. Lying to get out of trouble will be a form of using another person as a means for one to attain selfish goals. Evidently categorical imperatives determine what everyone’s duty is and is applied everywhere in the universe.

A duty is, therefore, the greater part of human actions. Duties are performed for their sake and not for the sake of impressing others, making us happy, we expect a reward of we are afraid of not doing so. This explains good will. Kant’s theory to some extent affirms with Christian morals. Nonetheless, Kant refused to introduce Christianity and God to his theory so that it remains an ethical issue. Christianity’s concept of good does not align with Kant’s idea since Christians act as a way of expecting a reward from God and to some extent because God wants them to act so. Another reason for Kant’s theory remaining devoid of Christianity is the fact that in some instances especially in Bible stories, there is a command from God for people to perform certain actions the way they do. According to Kant’s theory, the commands and reason for action violated the perfect duty of people to others.

Kantian ethic has been subject to criticism for the sole reason that it does not consider conflicts in duty. In our lives today there are always situations that will arise that might need a different course of action rather than doing the obvious. For instance, lying is sometimes useful if the result will be beneficial to both parties. Lying can be a good will if the result will be of the greater good. This scenario is best explained using utilitarianism in particular Mills rule utilitarianism.

Both utilitarianism and Kantian ethics seek to explain human behavior and acts of good will in ethics. The difference comes in various ways. First, utilitarianism acknowledges happiness as the ends of a choice of action while Kantians ethics does not. The major difference is that Utilitarianism recognizes the role consequences play in justifying an action while Kantian ethics is devoid of consequences of an act.

Utilitarianism considers the implications of the act as the most important and in is regarded as a form of consequentialist theory. In moral theory, utilitarianism entails a situation where the greatest happiness of everyone is promoted instead of promoting the greatest sadness of everyone. It does not promote egoism hence one can perform an action for the sake of the happiness of other people at the expense of one’s own.

Mill develops the rule utilitarianism as a response to several objections on utilitarianism. The first objection is called the hedonist objection which claims that since human beings seek pleasure, then they are not any different from animals. Mill addresses the objection by appealing to an ambiguity of the word pleasure. According to mill Human beings have their own rational or human pleasure that animals cannot seek or even enjoy?

The second objection is the Kantian objection whereby moral duty replaces happiness. Kant rejected the idea of happiness to act as the base of ethical theory. In utilitarianism, happiness can only be achieved in the course of a life well lived. Kant argues that it happiness vitiate the value of good will. As mentioned earlier, we ought to do our duty only because it’s our duty and not because we expect anything more from it.

According to Mill and the concepts of ethics, our duties are not our motives, but the consequences are what matters. He argues that the value of the act is more important than the value of the agent performing the act. For instance, if the act brings about greater good to a large number of people then it is not bad to ignore any selfish motive of the person performing the act. In utilitarianism, the value of happiness attained at the end is more important than selfish motifs of the agent. Another objection to utilitarianism is that it’s not religious; Mill responds to this by bringing to light that it only depends on the type of God in mind. For instance, In Christianity God wants us to achieve happiness which is the same as utilitarian principles.

The proof of principle utility states that, people act by two principles. External principles such as blame and praise for others will determine the happiness or sadness of a person due to an action. Internal principles are our conscience which provides psychological pleasure.

Evidently, Mill and Kant explain ethics in very distinctive ways. Mill considers consequences while Kant does not consider consequences. In the applications of the modern world, situations can be twisted, and the cases of conflict in duty are more every day. For that reason, Mills point of view is useful and applicable in the modern world. Kant’s theory, on the other hand, may only yield a lot of disasters and dissatisfaction.


Teale, A. E. (1951). Kantian ethics . London: Oxford University Press.

Mill, J. S., & In Gorovitz, S. (1971). Utilitarianism .

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Explaining Human Behavior: Theories of Kant and Mill.


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