Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the philosophical standpoint of utilitarianism. As a recap, we stated that utilitarianism seeks to effect the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Today, we will discuss the opposite viewpoint: Kantianism. This standpoint stands in direct disagreement with utilitarianism. Read on to find out why.
Kantianism comes from a German philosopher who lived during the eighteenth century by the name of (you guessed it) Immanuel Kant. Now Kant was known to be a moralist. He held certain morals in high esteem and viewed some as unbreakable. For example, he believed that one should never lie. In fact, he viewed liars in the same group of culpability and punishment as murderers.
Now that you have some background on Kant, we will discuss some of the basic characteristics of Kantian thought. Whereas utilitarianism looks to be pragmatic, Kantianism views some laws as unbreakable, even if it will end up better breaking them. Perhaps an example will suffice to explain
Suppose there is a man who is deranged who shows up at your doorstep with an axe. He asks if your children are in the house with the intent to murder them. While a utilitarian would lie to tip off the madman, Kant would suggest that you tell the truth, even if it ends up having a poor outcome. He believed this because he thought that certain laws were not meant to be broken, no matter how dire the circumstance.
If you have never taken a philosophy class (or read any philosophy), then term “utilitarian” might be a very foreign word to you. Don’t be vexed, though, the concept of utilitarianism is not something that you haven’t heard before! In this article, we will focus on explaining the concept of utilitarianism and thinking of how it looks in different situations. Read on to educate yourself!
“The greater good”
Have you ever heard this term before? If you have, then you are already on your way to understanding the underlying concept of utilitarianism. Essentially, utilitarianism focuses on trying to affect the greatest amount of benefit for the greatest amount of people. This means sometimes doing away with traditional values and morals in order to accomplish the greatest amount of good. Let’s look at some examples.
Let’s say, for example, that there are some people stuck on a train track with an oncoming train hurtling towards them at top speed. They can’t get off the track, and if nothing is done, the train will smash into them, killing them. However, there is a diverging track between the people and the train. There is, however, one person who is stuck on the diverging track. You are at the lever.
Here, now, you are presented with a certain dilemma. Do you pull the lever, redirecting the train to save the group of people and end up killing one person, or do you let the train stay its course, letting it kill the group of people so as not to kill the one person?
A utilitarian would pull the lever.
“One of the reasons that we have government is to facilitate the intake of money from the people and turn it into something that is sustainable to take care of the nation’s people.” –Colin Powell
This notion is definitely a noble idea, there are some interesting questions that arise from this statement. For example, is it the government’s responsibility to take care of its people by taxing those who make a lot of money, or is it the upper class’s responsibility to chip in and help out?
One of the biggest problems in our society is the disparity between all of the classes, mainly the upper class and the rest of the classes. What is interesting is that the middle class is disappearing. This is because the majority of the money made in our country goes to the top one percent of the country’s socioeconomic strata. This means that money is leaving the middle class and going to the upper class, forcing the rest of the people down. This is something that must be stopped in order to achieve more equality within our country.
As a result, there is much turmoil as to whether we can use the government to institute high taxes on the upper class and help redistribute this wealth. This is a very good idea (or at least it seems so), but may be difficult in implementation. However, just because it is difficult does not mean that it is not worth a try.
More philosophical debates to come soon!
Nobody likes being told what to do. We all have some kind of innate sense within us that makes us want to resist authority. And this makes sense! While we are communal beings, we are also very independent and have some desire to rule ourselves and our choices.
This also sometimes happens with states and large groups of collective people. Unfortunately, this can prove to be somewhat difficult, because if states are all independently ruled, then there might not be anything binding them together.
This is one of the thoughts of the Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. This thinker wrote a book entitled The Prince in which he urges the Italian family in power, the Medicis, to seize hold of all of the states surrounding them and bring them together under one rule. This book is very interesting because it promotes some philosophy and some government ideals that are very unpopular in this day and age. Read on to get more information!
While some might think that Machiavelli had some great ideas, it is important to realize what he was proposing. He wanted to take away the individual freedoms of the states surrounding the Medici family. This would have caused great economic stress on these states and may have caused a lot of turmoil in trying to unite them. History shows that states that have tried to unite have sometimes ended up in civil wars. This results in unnecessary bloodshed. So, you see, we cannot support these kinds of Machiavellian ideas.
Have you ever realized that anarchy and nihilism are somewhat connected? An anarchy is a system of people that runs without a government. This means that there is not an overall authority that rules over all of the people like a democracy or a monarchy would. In the same sense, nihilism is a rejection of authority. So, then, we can deduce that some anarchists can also be nihilists. However, have you ever wondered how these kinds of mindsets operate? Think of it this way–who makes the laws? Who decides what is right and wrong? In the days of cruel monarchy, some great thinkers began to think in this manner of rejecting authority. Author Fyodor Dostoevsky writes about this kind of thinking in his novel entitled Crime and Punishment.
Crime and Punishment
The main character, whose name is Raskolnikov, decides that he must murder a wayward pawnbroker and take her money because she is evil. While this may not seem out of the ordinary, it is actually a look into how a nihilist might think.
The law obviously prohibits murder. However, here is Raskolnikov, a young law student, who thinks that his moral compass is stronger than that of the government’s law. In thinking this, he decides to act out of his own conscious rather than obeying the law set out for him. This is clearly a rejection of authority and shows some nihilistic thinking.
Throughout this novel, Raskolnikov continues to think this way, and it leads him down a treacherous path to what seems to his bitter end. However, his change of mind towards the end leads to redemption.