Formulated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism is an ethical theory whose philosophy focuses on promoting mass happiness rather than individual happiness. Consequently, an action falls under the category of morality depending on its impact on society. Therefore, many philosophers have given diverse views on the utilitarian theory while others relate it to the Kantian ethical theory.
Louis Pojman has observed various weaknesses in the utilitarian theory. For instance, he outlines justice objection as one of the major failures of the utilitarian theory. In his example, he is against the act of sacrificing an individual’s life for the happiness of many people. Although the action seems right, it is against humanity to kill to promote happiness among many individuals. Morally, the action is unacceptable but utilitarian theory classifies such action as ethical because there is the suffering of only one person. Nevertheless, the relatives, friends, and family (father, mother, and siblings) of the individual may experience both psychological and emotional torture. Thus, due to justice, the utilitarian theory may be unable to uphold some of its philosophies.
However, a strict utilitarian will argue against Pojman’s assertion on the utilitarian theory. Intuitively, saving five lives at the expense of one seems right. Consequently, population-wise many people will be happy in comparison to only one family. Furthermore, the sacrificed individual is a bachelor therefore there will be no children or spouse to suffer in his absence. In brief, according to a utilitarian, the forfeiture of an individual’s happiness to promote societal goodness is acceptable.
Pojman’s justice objection against utilitarianism is in line with Kant’s ethical theory. According to the Kantian ethical theory, the dignity and respect of an individual are the most important elements. Therefore, the aforementioned example contradicts the Kantian ethical theory. Intuitively, Kantian ethics promotes duty and not happiness. Therefore, there is no reason of sacrificing a person’s life for the happiness of others. Furthermore, according to Kant’s ethical theory, people should benefit from an individual’s actions mainly by maintaining their respect and dignity. Thus, a person can use any means to maintain an individual’s dignity. However, killing a healthy person denies them their dignity and respect.
When compared to utilitarianism Kant’s ethical theory calls for human rights. Kant puts the interest of an individual first and thus, he calls for respect, dignity, and humanity. Fundamentally, the Kantian theory disqualifies the use of a person as an end to the action. Therefore, from the aforementioned example, the use of a healthy bachelor to produce happiness is unacceptable in the Kantian theory. In addition, according to the Kantians, people should put their interests or benefits first before others follow. On the contrary, utilitarianism puts the happiness of society as the major acceptable element. Furthermore, a person may be stripped of his happiness, dignity, and respect for the beneficiary of society. Moreover, utilitarianism puts the happiness or interest of society or strangers first. An individual may live in misery to ensure that other people live in happiness.
In conclusion, although Kantianism and utilitarianism are both ethical theories they define personal justice in contradictory ways. The Kantian theory ensures that humanity and justice prevail while utilitarianism makes sure that societal happiness prevails. Utilitarianism violates human rights for the beneficiary of society.