Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism

Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism
ErinCM
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Posted Dec 2, 2007 - 9:52 AM:
Subject: Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism
With a philosophy exam coming up in the next few days I've been brushing up on some of the topics I feel I need some more work. I came across a few notes I'd made on Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism but I'm having a little bit of difficulty explaining clearly what the differences are between the two.

If anyone could help me out I'd greatly appreciate it.
Mashy
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Posted Dec 2, 2007 - 10:27 AM:

As far as I can tell, they're both pretty similar, but Kant has different reasons for going about it.

Rule utilitarians believe that you should stick to certain rules because they generally bring about the best consequences.
Kantianists believe that you should look at the motives of any action before deciding on the moral value. What he says about maxims, as far as I can tell anyway, is that we should follow them also because they usually have the best consequences, but also because it is our duty to follow them. One of many problems that comes about is in deciding which maxims to follow - it is likely that Kant would say the one which is more 'supreme', ie.not killing over always keeping a promise, but to judge the supremeness of a maxim the only way that I can work out is by the one which will usually bring about the best consequences, which Kant is totally opposed to.
Though I reckon that some of Kant's theories are ok, but when he starts going on about the categorical imperative and maxims he just loses it.
He was such a small man who's Scottish grandfather settled down in Prussia and he never had a relationship with a woman. Let's find Prussia on the map!wink

Though I somehow doubt we'd be asked to comapre rule utilitarianism and kantianism.
ErinCM
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Posted Dec 2, 2007 - 11:35 AM:

I have seen a question somewhere at some point during the course that asks what are the differences between Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism. That got me a little worried.

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory whilst Kantianism is a deontological theory. So, like you said, the difference is that a Rule Utilitarian would stick to the rules as they normally give the best consequences whereas a Kantianist would look at it from the perspective of motives?

It isn't a terribly big difference really; motives opposed to consequences. I was wondering if there was more to it but I can't really imagine what else there could be.
NoSoul
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Posted Dec 6, 2007 - 10:53 AM:

I really wish I knew the answer to this question myself. After dogmatically clinging to Kant for a long time my ideals have been foundationally shaken when I realized there's something called Rule Utilitarianism that's practically indistinguishable yet more flexible & intuitive & adaptive & realistic that Kantianism. I wish I'd had your course, actually. The point is that Kant assumed, essentially dogmatically, that the only truly virtuous/moral actions were those in which you could imagine that act being done universally, e.g. by everyone, as a maxim/Categorical Imperative. The problem is there are plenty of times when conflicting Imperatives arise. Nazi's knocking at your door asking if there are any Jews in your house, and you're hiding Anne Frank's family in your attic: "Never lie!" vs. "Never allow someone to murder someone else!" are competing maxims. It really does seem as though Kant never actually considered this, which has to be incredibly naive.

Also, his Categorical Imperative is supposed to be deontological, which is to say purely from duty, with no respect at all to consequences, or even to "intent." Really, "duty" seems to mean something like "obediance to established/universal rules/maxims." Indeed, the more you perform an act without enthusiasm, without passion, the less you perform that act from inclination, and the more you perform it with duty, which for Kant makes it more moral.

Also, the entire function of Deontic Ethics is clearly to achieve a more harmonious, congenial human society; and in that respect, all of Kant's Deontology is clearly Utilitarian, aiming clearly for "The Greatest Happiness Possible." So right there Kant's project of trying to completely eradicate Utilitarianism appears to be wildly unsuccessful.

Still, imo Deontology gives a bearing or an orientation to Utilitarianism, since there really is nothing in Utilitarianism which absolutely demands that a person to consider the "happiness" or "utility" of someone else: What is useful to one person or makes one person happy, very often has absolutely nothing to do with what is useful to someone else or makes someone else happy. Deontology, by insisting that one must imagine/visualize everyone else in the world doing the same kind of act you are contemplating, clearly makes a demand on ethics that utilitarianism, even I think rule utilitarianism, technically can't make.
Goaswerfraiejen
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Posted Dec 6, 2007 - 4:24 PM:

NOTE: I just re-read the posts and saw that ErinCM just said pretty much what follows below in a single sentence in his last post. I guess he could take what follows as confirmation, on my end; NoSoul, I'm not trying to be combative or anything. There's a fair bit of room for interpretive manoeuvres in Kant's ethics--what I've gleaned from it just happens to be slightly different from what you got.


NoSoul wrote:
Also, his Categorical Imperative is supposed to be deontological, which is to say purely from duty, with no respect at all to consequences, or even to "intent." Really, "duty" seems to mean something like "obediance to established/universal rules/maxims." Indeed, the more you perform an act without enthusiasm, without passion, the less you perform that act from inclination, and the more you perform it with duty, which for Kant makes it more moral.

Also, the entire function of Deontic Ethics is clearly to achieve a more harmonious, congenial human society; and in that respect, all of Kant's Deontology is clearly Utilitarian, aiming clearly for "The Greatest Happiness Possible." So right there Kant's project of trying to completely eradicate Utilitarianism appears to be wildly unsuccessful.


I disagree. I feel it's unfair to characterise Kant's ethics as strictly deontological (although ultimately it certainly winds up being deontological), because to do so is to ignore the fact that he clearly states that the only unconditionally good thing is a good will. Kant's emphasis is not on actions or the end result of actions, which I think is where he differs from utilitarianism in general (as well as rule utilitarianism, although I'm not familiar enough with that to make any claims that are too specific). His emphasis is very clearly on intent: actions are only ever coincidentally good or bad unless the will that accompanies them is so as well. Universalisability is a criterion for judging whether or not an action is good, but it has nothing to say about the will motivating that action, which is the important part. It also doesn't really have anything to do with promoting the greatest happiness possible. The Kingdom of Ends is certainly an ideal in which everyone is happy and lovey-dovey, and it could be taken as a ground for saying that Kant is being overly utilitarian; we should remember, however, that Kant himself realized full well that it was an ideal, and says merely that we should act as though the moral of our maxim could be made into a universal rule for a Kingdom of Ends. That is to say, it's a guide for action, but since it says nothing about the will behind that action, it can't properly be called a rule. The rule comes in with the concept of duty, which "commands obeisance," as he puts it. Duty (and the consequent discussion of autonomy and heteronomy) has got a whole lot more to do with will, but it also speaks to action: our actions should conform with our will, but their outcome is largely morally irrelevant.


I don't know much about deontological ethics beyond Kant (save what I've read in the context of opposing Virtue Ethics), but I think that we have to be careful with our characterisations. Deontological ethics clearly doesn't exclude motivations, but to my understanding its chief characteristic is providing a set of concrete rules for moral beings to follow. This seems to place the emphasis more on the action than on either the consequence of the action (utilitarianism) or the will that motivated it (virtue ethics). As I see it, Kant is special in that he makes the will an important (in fact, the most important) factor in his ethics--and yet, he endeavours to show that reason gives a rule (duty) for that will (and, to a certain extent, the action) to follow.


Hope that makes sense. Doesn't change too much that's been said, but hopefully it helps you to step back and connect the dots a little better.
Mashy
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Posted Dec 6, 2007 - 11:36 PM:

Anyway, yeah, that's pretty much how I understand it, albeit your post was a bit more in depth.

I was wondering if you could possibly correct me on this. Kant says that you should only perform an action because it is your 'duty' to, aye? But doesn't he also say that you should make up your mind on what actions you should perform, rather than just being told to do them, so you do them? Or is he saying that you should think about it, then most rational people would still follow what their duty is telling them to do?
It seems to me like Kant was on to a reasonably good idea (looking at the motives of an action do decide it's moral value) but then got mixed up and tried to formulate a whole new ethical system, rather than an extension to utilitarianism, which it clearly is.

What I really don't like about Kant (and my whole class agrees) is that he insists without a doubt that there can be no compromises when it comes to maxims, yet he does not give us a method of dealing with the situation when there is one. Fool.

Edited by Mashy on Dec 7, 2007 - 8:47 AM
NoSoul
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Posted Dec 7, 2007 - 10:02 AM:

Goaswerfraiejen wrote:
I feel it's unfair to characterise Kant's ethics as strictly deontological (although ultimately it certainly winds up being deontological), because to do so is to ignore the fact that he clearly states that the only unconditionally good thing is a good will....

...Universalisability is a criterion for judging whether or not an action is good, but it has nothing to say about the will motivating that action, which is the important part. It also doesn't really have anything to do with promoting the greatest happiness possible. The Kingdom of Ends is certainly an ideal in which everyone is happy and lovey-dovey, and it could be taken as a ground for saying that Kant is being overly utilitarian; we should remember, however, that Kant himself realized full well that it was an ideal, and says merely that we should act as though the moral of our maxim could be made into a universal rule for a Kingdom of Ends. That is to say, it's a guide for action, but since it says nothing about the will behind that action, it can't properly be called a rule. The rule comes in with the concept of duty, which "commands obeisance," as he puts it. Duty (and the consequent discussion of autonomy and heteronomy) has got a whole lot more to do with will, but it also speaks to action: our actions should conform with our will, but their outcome is largely morally irrelevant.


That's pretty good, thank you. This reminds me of things I used to be aware of but have, well, forgotten for lack of study.


I don't know much about deontological ethics beyond Kant (save what I've read in the context of opposing Virtue Ethics), but I think that we have to be careful with our characterisations. Deontological ethics clearly doesn't exclude motivations, but to my understanding its chief characteristic is providing a set of concrete rules for moral beings to follow. This seems to place the emphasis more on the action than on either the consequence of the action (utilitarianism) or the will that motivated it (virtue ethics). As I see it, Kant is special in that he makes the will an important (in fact, the most important) factor in his ethics--and yet, he endeavours to show that reason gives a rule (duty) for that will (and, to a certain extent, the action) to follow.


In a way, I'd say, he's almost anticipating Hegel here, presupposing that a truly good will along with rigorous reasoning should yield the same thing -- which is an assumption that the a-priori (yet anti-thetical) realms of emotion and rationality "should" unite when they are perfect; and even implying that the result (a-posteriori - another antithesis) will be harmonious (a synthesis) as a result.

To be frank, I've long felt I've admired Kant significantly more for his metaphysics but less so for his ethics. I've felt sort of compelled to try to agree to his categorical imperative schema, but much of the time I feel it's an overreaching, impractical aspect of his philosophy which, imo, doesn't necessarily follow from his metaphysics.

Back to rule utilitarianism:

...The Kingdom of Ends is certainly an ideal in which everyone is happy and lovey-dovey, and it could be taken as a ground for saying that Kant is being overly utilitarian; we should remember, however, that Kant himself realized full well that it was an ideal, and says merely that we should act as though the moral of our maxim could be made into a universal rule for a Kingdom of Ends. That is to say, it's a guide for action, but since it says nothing about the will behind that action, it can't properly be called a rule. The rule comes in with the concept of duty, which "commands obeisance," as he puts it. Duty (and the consequent discussion of autonomy and heteronomy) has got a whole lot more to do with will, but it also speaks to action: our actions should conform with our will, but their outcome is largely morally irrelevant


I'm not sure why will would be relevant to rule utilitarianism; rather I had thought it would be irrelevant. Is not the distinction between "duty" and "rule" the important point of this thread's OP question? Rule utilitarianism, it seems, wouldn't be concerned with one's will, correct? Except perhaps inasmuch as something like Kant's Kingdom of Ends (or Bentham's Greatest Happiness Possible) is resolved, in the first place, by the acting/willing agent, to be the general "ends" which is to be his/her goal.

But someone very snide like Nietszche, I think, would ask something like, Who decides that to "will" a Kingdom of Ends (or Greatest Happiness Possible) is, in fact, to have a good will? Sure, intuitively (or per our sentiments, as Hume might say), to wish for the welfare of others feels good, but it seems the presumption of this emotional state is more or less exactly what Kant means by "good will." But exactly why is this type of will "good" yet other types are not (excepting the simple intuition or sentiment that it simply just is so)?

The main problem here, I think, is that autonomy is so far left out of the discussion. Kantian deontology explicitly requires autonomy, which in turn entails things like "simple" intuition, sincerity, thoughtful introspection, etc. This is where "will" and good will come in. In other words, strictly speaking, for Kant, even though he was a western philosopher, there is no way to engage his ethics without first conceding that, at some level, a profound subjectivism is necessary in order to decide whether something is morally right.

This extreme attention to autonomy, to will, must be the key difference between deontology (or at least Kantian deontology) and rule utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism, strictly speaking, at least implicitly claims to be completely objective: That is, all rules can be established purely by objective observation and common agreement. Kantian Deontology, on the other hand, implicitly requires and assumes that a rational agent will be able to evaluate, at some level completely privately and indeed subjectively, without reference to other people or even to objective observation, but simply from a-priori intuition, what is actually moral.

(One could respond to the above Nietzschean-type comment by arguing that an agent is not actually rational or autonomous until s/he has developed emotionally & intellectually into adulthood well enough to finally appreciate the simple intuition or sentiment that "to will for the good of all" (Kingdom of Ends, etc.) is good will.)
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