Which of these two theories is more accepted or has more support in the field of ethics?

It seems that Kantian ethics holds too stringent of rules and the the Universal Law of Formulation is difficult to apply to all situations.

  • Kant's imperative can be applied in all situations, as long as we ignore the unnecessary prior moral decisions that he imposes on it (such as that we should never lie). In itself, as stated, the imperative is not 'too strict' but wonderfully flexible. .
    – user20253
    Nov 13, 2017 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


First of all, there is a category error here, comparing utilitarianism -- an entire class of related forms of ethics, to Kantianism -- a very specific theory, is not possible.

If one chose utility functions in such a way that autonomy was a highly valued form of pleasure and utilities topped out at a given level, you could pretty much achieve a form of utilitarianism that consistently gave the same results as Kant. So then how can you decide between these isomorphic but independent theories?

But even then, the two have rather different orientations. Kant is not intended to work out the solution to very specific problems. The notion of contingent duties means that it will very seldom actually give you a direct answer to a fully expressed question. At some point, you will introduce a detail that causes some aspect of some duty involved to be contingent, and then in deference to your own autonomy, Kant will not tell you precisely what to do.

For general questions like murder or lying about which humans already have strong intuition anyway, Kant gives a reason to trust our existing human instincts by putting them into a general framework in which most folks can see the value.

Utilitarianism has very much the opposite focus, it is almost impossible to apply to general questions without details, because you cannot predict the suffering of someone without knowing pretty specifically how they are going to be treated. And even then, you cannot propose a way of combining different kinds of suffering without a strong cultural basis for differentiating values: do we find mental anguish to be pain, or the fear of change? Which one should we weighted more? Different traditions would give rather different answers there.

So each is terribly weak at different kinds of questions, and where each is best, that one is generally going to give you back a clarified reflection of what you, yourself, put in.

So in practice, the value in these systems is not really in determining morality, but in grounding agreements and opening negotiations. Neither is generally better at this.

  • There's no problem understanding, and using, Kant's output as a specific form under a generic conception of Utilitarian philosophy if that's what people want to do. The issue is, to use Rawls' way of speaking, if one can show it to be part of a "prior order", i.e., the nominal. And then accessible only to those that can interpret that order (which, Kant trys to show, is everyone, through the Catigorical Imparative). Your account is mistaken, because it takes a specific sceintism-bassed form of Utilitarianism, such as that of Pinker, as Utilitarianism. Nov 13, 2017 at 21:14
  • This is a misleading and false account. The principle is simply concealed in the choice of the standard of "quantifiable pain". One should be refered to the serious legal debates of the last hundred years, and avoid silly accounts from the New Atheists, and Scientism-based trash. Joseph Raz is recommended. [ Correction, I meant Singer, not Pinker, above. ] Nov 13, 2017 at 21:17
  • @GonçaloMabunda I specifically avoid choosing any given form of utilitarianism 'scientism-based' or otherwise. The problem of setting a measure and a summation standard is huge and present in all attempts at is application. Do you resent the idea that I consider this cultural, instead of simply unsolveable?
    – user9166
    Nov 13, 2017 at 21:46
  • And for a 'real Kantian' there is no other ethics, so why would one bother to compare them? I am assuming the OP wants to look at these as tools that can actually be compared, and to ask how they are actually used in practice by real people who might actually use both of them. To assume the notion of prior order just means there is no point in asking the question at all.
    – user9166
    Nov 13, 2017 at 21:49
  • Utilitarianism as such, is based on critical qualitative judgment as much as is any system. "Objective Pain" is a 'deontological', standard/principle. Once the value/principle is in place, then it is operative/quantitative within that General Principle. He was asking about the Imperative as a General Rule. It is quite possible to make it part of Utilitarian system. Just forget the "prior order" or claim to Natural Law, and you have it. That is what "deontological" means. Not Natural Law, but mere positive principle. A "real Kant", a teleological Kant, has no part in contemporary discussion. Nov 13, 2017 at 22:16

This is a complex issue. I Just make a little sketch, since I am not certain what the core of your investigation is concerned with.

If one asks in terms of moralitate (morality, as manifested by individuals), and sittlichkeit (formal and supposedly higher guidance), somehow, theoretical ethics, is very vexed. Since what is in power, in government practices, in the international and domestic spheres, is not in lock step with the mores of the countries involved. So what does "ethics" refer to, what the largest number of Professors of Philosophy say? What the most popular Public Intellectual is currently selling?

If one says that "interest" (Intrest Poltics, Realism) corresponds to Utilitarianism, i.e., one removes justice (steming from a perpetual source, or a God), and what is left over is Interest, than Utilitarianism looks a lot like Positive Law, whatever the current law is (i.e., relativism). Yet, nobody of influence promotes themselves like that in practice.

Someone can have an "interest" in Justice, for instance in the sense that the Qaddafi killing was normatively justified in the name of "human rights". Yet this is often called "moralism". It could equally be understood, cynically, as concealed or rationalized Interest.

It's not really that a universal law is hard to apply, because "equality" is equally a universal principle, that must be interpreted into individual (specifically purpose) laws and situations, but rather that that Kant's specific notions are not as ideologically attractive as others, such as the rising power of "inclusivity". Behind Kant's principle is a claim that one should act as the founder, almost as father of the country, and treat oneself and everyone else as children. In the positive sense of taking responsibility for one's acts, but, largely, the notion that the human being is basically to be understood in terms of rationality is no longer believed in, if, in weaker cases, only because of the notion of "bounded rationality", the factual impossibility of being sufficiently well informed. and, in stronger terms, the notion that the human is essentially dominated by biases rules Kant's notions out.

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