The argument for Kant’s
philosophical viewpoint is in explaining the basis for morality, he says that
morals should be universalized, forming a very good basis for judgment of what
is wrong or right. If the was the basis upon which we judged people who perform
bad actions was based on pleasure and emotion, then everyone would go
unpunished. This would mean that if an individual performed an action for
pleasure they would not be punished. This opposes Kant’s view because he
believes that individuals should still be punished for emotional actions
because there is moral framework upon which all actions must be judged.
Kant’s viewpoint emphasizes the
importance of rationality, consistency, impartiality, and respect for
individuals. The moral framework provided for his theory eliminates the
guesswork of the consequences of actions which are essential in Mill’s viewpoint.
Unlike Mill’s viewpoint, Kantianism is not responsible for the things you did
not do but could have to maximize happiness, preventing others from doing
actions that decrease overall happiness, or what you do the maximize pleasure.
The case study that is being
discussed today is the predicament of not telling the whole truth to an
individual. In the scenario Laura grew up in Puerto Rico with her three
sisters, and was raised by a single mother. When Laura was 29 years old, her
mother was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. After a long, hard battle involving
copious amounts of chemotherapy, and a plethora of prayers, Laura’s mother went
into remission. However, after 13 years of being in remission, Laura’s mother
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Laura’s mother was a fighter though, and
she did her best to remain optimistic despite the troubling statistics. After a
visit to the oncologist months later, Laura and her sisters received the news
that the cancer had metastasized, and that their mother did not have a lot of
time left to live. The oncologist left it up to the sisters to decide whether
or not to pass on the news to their mother.
This, then, was the morally
difficult decision that Laura and her sisters had to make. They were faced with
two options: tell their mother that her cancer had metastasized and that she
was going to die or keep their mother in the dark about the severity of her
condition, and not tell her. They did not want to further devastate their
mother and reasoned that by not telling their mother that her cancer had
metastasized, they would be allowing her to spend the last chapter of her life in
The possible outcomes of lying were
further explored. For instance, their mother might be happier if she thought
that there was a chance to overcome cancer a second time. Maybe this belief on
its own could encourage her to fight against the cancer harder, and somehow
extend her life, even if only for a little longer. If she lived just a while
longer, she could spend more time with her daughters and their families,
including her grandchildren.
Even if not telling their mother the
truth wouldn’t have any positive effects, Laura and her sisters figured that
telling their mother the truth wouldn’t improve anything either. Telling their
mother that she was going to die, they thought, would not ease her pain or make
her condition any more bearable, but it could upset her and increase the
likelihood of her giving up. There were doubts as well. Besides the fact that
their religious beliefs dictate that lying is wrong, perhaps their mother would
be happier with the peace of mind that she wouldn’t have to fight for her life
The considerations that are morally
relevant to what someone ought to do under the circumstances described in the
case is why the daughters chose not to tell their mother and the ends of each
individual involved. However the circumstances would be different if the mother
had specifically stated that she wanted the daughters to tell her if the cancer
returned. This would alter the situation because by not telling their mother in
that circumstance, they would be going against their mothers wishes. It is also
important to emphasize the difference between lying and not telling the truth.
In an absolute sense, you’re only lying if you’re deliberately deceiving
someone about something. In that sense, simply not telling someone something
doesn’t count as lying, you’re only lying if you make them think something else
is true. In the scenario provided we are not informed on whether the mother
specifically asked her daughters if the cancer returned. In this situation, had
the daughters told the mother she was healthy, would be immoral. However,
because the mother never specifically asked, then the daughters never lied to
their mother, therefore enforcing the morality of their decision.
Mill’s response to the case would be
that he would argue that a lie of omission in order to maximize the happiness
of society is a moral action. By allowing the mother to live out the rest of
her life in peace and increase the overall happiness of the family by leaving
them in the dark, then this typically immoral action is not morally reprehensible.
Mill appeals to what people desire as an end to justify whether an action is
moral or not. This indicates that the source of moral rightness is oftentimes
dependent on the situation and the consequences of each individual action.
On the other hand, Kant would argue
that an individual with a good will and strong religion like the daughters
would find this action immoral. This is because rational beings would not use
their mother as a means rather than as an ends. The mothers ends might include
but are not limited to happiness, a long life, and to be successful in her job.
By not informing their mother of the cancer, the daughters are putting their
own happiness before their mothers therefore making their actions immoral.
There is no conceivable circumstance in which we regard our own moral goodness
as worth forfeiting simply in order to obtain some desirable object. Kant
appeals to reason to legislate whether an action is moral or not. What is
crucial in actions that express a good will is that in conforming to duty a
perfectly virtuous person always would, and so ideally we should, recognize and
be moved by the thought that our conformity is morally obligatory. The
motivational structure of the agent should be arranged so that she always
treats considerations of duty as sufficient reasons for conforming to those
requirements. In other words, we should have a firm commitment not to perform
an action if it is morally forbidden and to perform an action if it is morally
required. The concept of morality for
Kant is traditionally static in that it is self-imposed on a rational being.
This allows for minimal allowance for exceptions to moral rules. The source of
moral rightness comes from the maxim which is the individual’s subjective rule
Mill and Kant Both appeal to rationality to evaluate morality, in the sense
that they reason from a fundamental principle about what is morally right or
wrong. Both recognize the existence of moral compass, although neither regards
it as the basis of morality and both extend the scope of moral responsibility
to all rational beings. Although the two philosophers may have fundamental
differences in their theories, they
provide ways for determining whether an act we do is right or wrong.