From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Full entry here.

A very good overview (as clear as I’ve seen it).


What about a Utilitarianism that would throw that Dutch cartoonist to his fate, or Salman Rushdie to his?

“It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit.”

You likely can’t accept Kant’s solution, though, without exploring where such ideas stem from in this thinking…his transcendental idealism.

To act in pursuit of happiness is arbitrary and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness. All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. The danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions.”

The embracing of baser instincts usually comes with its attendant idealism.  However, it can also have some political and social benefits…and here in America we have a kind of avoidance of some forms idealism or at least moral realism enough to potentially avoid the greater hazards of such idealism (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not Truth, Justice and Peace)…

Addition:  Perhaps it’s good to keep Kant separate from judgments about American democracy and the traditions that have created and sustained it.  In other words, perhaps through Kant it’s easy to let a certain idealism (religious?) into one’s thinking that can be quite destructive of American democracy.  Is it a particularly German idealism?  Does it make one swing darkly to the right?

Perhaps I’m just corrupting Kant and dragging him out of the metaphysical/philosophical realm for my own purposes.

Another Addition:  As a reader points out, utilatarianism may stem from the depths of Kant, or the attempt to create a sufficiently abstract moral law.  Is that the same as a scientific law?  Freedom and morality?

See these posts, and if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them:  Kantian Metaphysics and J.S. Mill’s UtilitarianismDaniel Deudney on BloggingheadsMore On Daniel Deudney’s Bounding Power, Roger Scruton on Kant: A Response To Hume?