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Comparison of Kant and Mill’s Responses

2021-06-10 来源: 51Due教员组 类别: Essay范文

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Comparison of Kant and Mill’s Responses

In “Duty and Desolation,” the author tells about the interactions between Kant and Maria von Herbert, a troubled Austrian lady who seeks help in her life. She could not decide whether her decision to reveal the truth to her friend was the right thing to do. The consequence was the termination of their friendship, and she was devastated by it. However, she also felt it was the right thing to do at the same time. The loss of friendship broke her heart, making her have suicidal thoughts due to the meaninglessness of her life. She was unable to find happiness and was seeking a philosophical enlightenment that would save her from all the troubles. In this essay, responses from Immanuel Kant and John Mill to Maria’s problems will be simulated, based on the ethical theories of the two. The discussion will be unfolded regarding topics of honesty, life, and happiness. Through the discussion, Mill is found to be the more appropriate solution for Maria’s struggles.

Maria’s struggles were largely originated from her decision to reveal the truth to her loved one, which did not end well. Kant believes that sincerity is at the heart of honesty and betrayal of the inner sincerity is the intrinsic reason why people lie to others. Therefore, Kant treats inner sincerity and the external action as two different concepts. The difference between these two concepts stems from Kant's distinction between the intrinsic value of human nature and the external behavior of man. Based on Kant’s response to Maria’s first letter, it is clear that he believed in the necessity of telling the truth, even at the cost of losing a friend (Langton, 1992). What matters to him the most is staying true to the inner moral ethics, and telling the truth is merely an external reflection of such ethics. At the beginning of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant claims that good will is the only imaginable unconditional goodness in this world. Then he distinguishes between the inner motives, good and evil, and the external result, good and bad (Kant, 1997). In other words, Kant believes that Maria should feel good about her action of honesty, even if the result of this action is highly undesirable.

The other main issue of Maria is her intention to commit suicide, which appears multiple times in her two letters. Strangely, Kant did not respond to this intention directly. Thus, Kant’s thoughts on the issue can only be deducted from his writing. It is precisely because Kant insists on the nobleness of humanity that he views the responsibility of preserving the individual life as one’s complete responsibility, and resolutely opposes any motive for any form of suicide (Kant, 1997). When people read Kant's ethics, it is very easy to have the impression that his ethics is too serious and even inhumane. Kant's doctrine has his own unique elegance, and judging it by the standard of general experience, it would naturally seem impossible to ascend. Kant knows that in addition to being rational and kind-hearted, people also have emotions, desires and hobbies. However, Kant treats them as things that should be suppressed because he insists on moral purity (Kant, 1997). For him, being suicidal due to emotional reasons is completely unjustified, as the case for Maria. Therefore, his respect for Maria was diminishing, when he described her problem as “curious mental derangement (Langton, 1992)” and did not bother to even respond to her second letter.

To resolve the problem of spiritual desolation and emptiness of life, Kant believes that morality is the solution that Maria needs. Kant considers morality to be the essential feature that ultimately distinguishes people from animals. Morality is the embodiment of human nature and people have dignity because of their morality (Kant, 1997). Kant ethics mission is to enable people to achieve morality, continue to get rid of their own limitations, and thus highlight the human nature and dignity. Kant explicitly claims in Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals that the purpose of this book is to find and establish the supreme principle of morality. In "Groundwork," Kant states that the most complete formulation of moral imperative is self-discipline, which is rationality self-sufficiency (Kant, 1997). Reason is an innate ability that every rational being has. Kant inherited the traditional rationalism, advocating that rationality is the essence of man and the foundation of human nature. It is in this sense that the person who is the rational being constitutes the true self and achieves true happiness. The moral law is not derived from any external authority or interest induction, but from innate reason. In Kant's opinion, human dignity lies in the fact that humans obey the law that they have established for themselves. Maria should find her happiness for she has followed the ethical values of herself, instead of being trouble by the consequences of her action.

Mill would have disapproved Maria’s decision to tell the true, simple because of the result it brings. Utilitarianism beliefs claim that the judgment of behavior right or wrong is whether it brings happiness, or pain relief. Mill makes it clear that utilitarianism is not based on the actor himself but on the maximum happiness of all concerned (Mill, 2008). A utilitarian believer is bound to regard the well-being of all stakeholders as his own purpose. However, he pointed out that it is a noble person to be such an actor in need. Noble people will give up their personal enjoyment properly, for the maximized good of the largest amount of people. Although they may not be happier in doing so, they can certainly bring happiness to others. Those who only care about their own and neglect others, because of the lack of spiritual cultivation, cannot see the real meaning of their lives. Therefore, utilitarianism can only achieve its own goal by the universal cultivation of noble morality. For Maria, she was not considering the overall happiness of herself and her friend. Instead, she was only driven by the desire to be truthful, which resulted in an undesirable situation for the two of them. For utilitarianism, concealing part of the truth, or even lying is justifiable, as long as the results are positive.

Mill and Kant are on the same page regarding the issue of death and suicide. The biggest difference between utilitarianism and other kinds of teleology lies in its evaluation of the consequences. utilitarianism believes that the result of the action is the ethical standard to judge the right or wrong. The best result of the action is the maximization of the goodness of human society and even the whole universe (Mill, 2008). Utilitarianism believes that life must be respected because it is of the highest value for any human being. Therefore, it undoubtedly gives the highest value to life in value comparison. Because, for an individual, the loss of life equals the loss of the entire universe. Human life is the primary prerequisite for realizing all the values and happiness in life. Life is priceless and there is no equivalent to it in any scale, expect for more lives maybe. When people's interests are in conflict, especially when there are conflicts of multiple values, utilitarianism also advocates a choice that will maximize the happiness of the largest part of the people as a result of balancing interests and calculating values. This is not applicable to Maria’s case as one person, who should value her life and not to commit suicide, for all the opportunities of happiness would be lost without life.

In dealing with the problem of spiritual desolation and emptiness, Mill would propose the solution of establishing relevance to the world. Mill makes it clear that utilitarianism is not based on the actor themselves, but on the maximum happiness of all concerned. A utilitarian believer is bound to regard the well-being of all stakeholders as his or her own purpose. Noble people will give up their personal enjoyment for the good of others. Although they may not be happier in doing so, they can certainly bring happiness to others (Mill, 2008). Those who only care about their own neglect others, because of the lack of spiritual cultivation. Meanwhile, Mill points out that it is impossible for people to do everything motivated by society interests, and most of our actions are motivated by other factors. To save people from drowning is always morally correct, regardless of whether the motivation is due to obligation or payment. In the spirit of utilitarianism, Mill uses the words of Jesus "do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself" and concludes that this constitutes the perfect ideal of utilitarianism (Mill, 2008). Translating this into Maria’s situation, it is suggested that she tries to establish correlation with the world around her in order to fill her emptiness. She would be able to find meaning and happiness when she learns to care about more than herself.

In conclusion, Kant and Mill bring distinctive solutions to Maria’s problems. On the issue of honesty, Kant believes in the categorical honesty derived from inner integrity, while Mill justifies white lies with the positive consequences. The two are both considered plausible approaches for Maria. Kant and Mill reaches the same conclusion on the issue of suicide, which again are both appropriate solutions for Maria. However, Kant wants Maria to find happiness through rationality self-sufficiency and morality from within, while Mill’s suggestion would involve establishing correlation with the society. On the issue of finding true happiness, Mill’s beliefs are found to be more appropriate for Maria, simply because it is a more plausible option. While not a lot of people can reach the state of pure rationalism, a sense of concern for the people around is a much easier way for the majority to find happiness.


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