My most recent essay for philosophy class. The assignment was to explain the views of Kant and the utilitarians in regards to morality and explain our preference.
Kant basically believed that ethics and morality were completely objective
and categorical imperatives. He believed that the facts of a given situation and the consequences of a given action were irrelevant to morality. The only imperative was the notion that using people, including oneself was immoral. That if an action is immoral or wrong in any given situation, no matter who might be involved in a given situation, then that action is universally and always immoral. He also believed that the intent was the thing. If your intention is to commit an immoral or unethical act, then the outcome is irrelevant – you have acted unethically.
The utilitarians, on the other hand, believed that the consequences of an action are all that matters. In their case, the intent is irrelevant, it is the outcome that atters. They also believe that morality is that which produces the greatest good, or the greatest number of people. Quantitative and qualitative pleasures, whether they are physical or intellectual are a moral good. Denying people those pleasures is immoral. Ensuring that as many people as possible have those pleasures is a moral good.
If forced to choose between just these two models for morality, I would have to say that the utilitarians make the most sense. Kant was just too rigid and stolid. The notion that one can ignore the consequences of a given action, in determining whether it is moral or not is absurd. While the utilitarian conception is rather rigid as well, it doesn't completely ignore the facts of a given situation. There is room to try to determine what the most positive outcome for the most people might be, when determining a course of action in a given situation. If one must ignore the facts, ignore the outcome, then there is truly nothing moral about a given decision.
Of course the problem with the utilitarian model is that it to is too rigid. If a conception of morality is to have any value whatever, then it must be as an arbitrator for competing factions of the mind. A personal moral frame, developed by ones experience of life, the influence of their culture and constantly being questioned and reexamined at every turn, is the only conception of morality that can have any value. If morality is not the ultimate intrapersonal governor of one's actions, then it is nothing more than dogma with external enforcement. If, on the other hand, morality is internalized and owned by the individual, questioned by the individual and reexamined with every internal conflict, then morality becomes a profoundly powerful governor of an individual's actions and decisions.
Dogma simply doesn't provide the force of will that is necessary to reasonably force one to do what it right. Dogma cannot force someone to make the right decision, when no external enforcement mechanisms can be applied. For example, if one wants to enjoy a particular food item and they are certain they can get away with stealing it from the home of someone they know is away from home, but they cannot afford to buy it themselves, dogma is far less likely to cause them to decide that it would be wrong to steal it. A moral frame that they have absolute ownership of, on the other hand, is far more able to force them to refrain from stealing that item. If they believe it is wrong, because that is what they have determined to be true through due consideration of their experience in life and of their culture, then they simply cannot steal that food – even without any external enforcement mechanism to keep their behavior in check.
The only moral absolute that makes any sense at all, that creates an outcome of any value, is that morality must be determined by the individual through due consideration of their life experience and their cultural experience.