Self-interest in morality, Other Subject

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How would two contrasting thinkers respond to question of the role of self-interest in morality? (Hint: Kant and anyone?)

When it comes to the issue of right and wrong; individually, what one person may consider wrong or unjust, another could consider right and justified. Either way, many philosophers have had their beliefs popularized, concerning the matter of right and wrong--overall, the issue of morality. For example, John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant were both known for their philosophical views; yet, their views were more contrasting than identical. The following analysis will shed light not only on the two philosophers' beliefs and views, but will also make clear the contrasting views of one philosopher from the other.

In the year 1861, John Stuart Mills published the book Utilitarianism, an earnest conviction-proving work, dedicated to the theory of Utilitarianism; a theory which sets the criterion for right and wrong actions. The principle concludes that "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" (CW, x.210; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Therefore, it was Mill's belief that our morality is based on our happiness. He continues on to insinuate that humans do not always do things because of having good morals, but many times will do things because of personal obligation and other motives. This was made clear when he himself quoted, "but no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives, and rightly so done if the rule of duty does not condemn them" (CW, X.219; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

In addition, he makes known his view that the doing of good for others basically starts with wanting to do go by our own selves, individually. So for example, deciding to not smoke will not only benefit an individual personally; but as well, it will benefit all who are in his presence. Such a decision is not caused by underlying motive; but instead, is for the benefit of health. Even if a person doesn't care about others; if he cares enough about his own well-being, then he will therefore avoid habits that could endanger his health. His caring enough about his own health will cause a positive effect on those around him, even if it is not in his personal agenda to do so.

In modern society, the idea of right and wrong is heavily influenced by society. However, those who may live their lives according to the Holy writings may have a more specific "code of ethics" by which they base their actions of right and wrong. Mill reasoned that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness"- (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


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