Since the documentation of the studies on philosophy, there controversial conclusions have been made about the nature of morality. None of these conclusions could be perceived as the absolute fact. In this regard, some of key philosophers, including Emmanuel Kant, John Stewart Mill, and Aristotle, attempted to provide their analytical view of the subject giving an insight about the nature of morality. These three philosophers illustrated their perceptions of the concept and provided their thoughts about the manner in which morality related with reason and feelings. In the effort to indentify the most accurate opinion of philosophers, it is essential to understand what morality entails. Morality is a quality that relates to the degree to which one’s deeds or behaviors can be recognized as achieving the ideal standards of right or good. This implies that the ideal standard of good or right varies from one philosophical approach to another depending on the focus, results and precision of the conduct. Despite this notion, three philosophers come to a consensus concerning the degree of ideal standard of being good that is understandable and practical in various aspects and settings.
Positions of the Philosophers
According to Emmanuel Kant, the nature of morality depends on the ability to perceive common knowledge of morality as a philosophical knowledge. In this case, it is essential to adopt the practical reasoning to comprehend this concept of morality clearly. This entails the derivation of concepts out of what reason can inform us and not out of what is known from experience. In this regard, conclusions can be used in addition to other experiences. In this case, Emmanuel Kant adopted the categorical imperative theory, which defines the nature of moral obligation based on the concept of responsibility. He asserted that importance of moral responsibility is attributed to categorical imperatives. In this case, he outlined that categorical imperatives are standards that are fundamentally acceptable since they are appropriate as per their structure and applications (Green, 1994). Hence, people must follow and adhere to these standards if they want to observe moral law and act in accordance to the expectations in this regard. This implies that categorical imperatives are the root cause of moral judgment and they form a measure by which any other form of moral status can be assessed in the society.
Categorical imperatives adopt moral ends and means. Thus, a human being can seek to attain justified ends by using appropriate means in various undertakings. In this case, ends associated with physical needs provide the basic form of theorized importance. In certain incidences, it is meaningful to perceive categorical imperatives as the right ends needed by individuals. This implies that an end is a means to itself based on the desire of the concept.
Individual’s feelings vary depending on perceptions of one’s intention as to guide him or her to the right end. Since the nature of means influences expected ends, it implies that feelings are influenced at the initial stage of determining what has to be done. In this regard, people will adopt morally appropriate manners if the perception of good intention is instilled in them. However, failure in this regard will have reverse effects. As a result, outcomes of events influence feelings of people with regard to these outcomes.
After his detailed analysis, Emmanuel Kant concluded that moral obligation is a principle of reason. Based on this notion, the moral law aims at being cheerful. Therefore, it implies that the basic experience of the world is attributed to moral obligation if it makes people happy. In this regard, moral obligations only suit rational individuals who wish to be happy.
John Stewart Mill focused on the nature of morality based on utilitarianism. This is a philosophy that encourages impartiality beyond prudence. As a result, prudence demands that people consider every event in their lives as being similar and attempt to get satisfaction from their lives. In this regard, Mill asserts that action’s consequences that cause happiness or suffering is what determines morality of that action. Therefore, morality involves the impartial treatment of all people. This implies that an individual must consider himself or herself equal with other people when adhering to the concept of morality. In this regard, in order to be happy, people have to pursue happiness since it results in ultimate satisfaction and absence of misery. In Mill’s philosophy, moral goals entail impartiality where individuals believe that if a good deed is done to the other person, it can be reciprocated back to him or her at the time of need. Considering this notion, morality of rational individuals is concerned with the maximization of the overall human happiness (Rachels & Rachels, 2010).
In the effort to determine the relationship that exists between morality and reason, Mill describes the need for happiness as a driving force that motivates people to gain knowledge. This implies that as people search for knowledge, they learn what makes them happy by adopting impartiality. Initially, people have to realize that no action or deed is fundamentally right or wrong. This perception allows for freedom to decide what is right or wrong based on what makes everyone happy without any biases. In this regard, the goal of deriving satisfaction makes people realize that their individual interests or preference do not outweigh other people’s needs. As a result, the need for rationality is instilled in minds of people. According to Mill’s philosophy, utilitarianism reflects the importance of democracy and the need of adoption of sound economic principles.
Morality has an ability to influence feelings of people. According to utilitarianist perspective, people are instilled with the need of impartiality which results in happiness. In the effort to attain happiness and avoid misery, people exhibit high levels of consideration. This implies that the need for happiness emanates from the need of attaining equality among all people in a particular set-up. For this reason people attempt to create a peaceful environment that would guarantee the achievement of the desired goal - happiness. Similarly, the need for equality impacts the way people divide their resources to ensure they have necessary sustenance to achieve happiness. Generally, according to ideas of utilitarianism, the feeling of happiness depicts the relationship that exists between morality and feelings. On the contrary, when people have less regard for themselves, it breeds inequality, which results in lack of morality and creates feelings of misery.
According to Aristotle, the universe conception is teleological. This implies that anything within the universe has its sole purpose of existence and can be analyzed according to its definitive purpose. In this regard, people, being one of the components of existence, exhibit ethical virtues, which cause them to behave in a morally right manner. This implies that ethical conduct is the manner of behavior that proves the selflessness of an individual. Therefore, doing something in contrast to one’s self-interest defines what is right or wrong. The philosophy that is opposite to this concept is called ethical egoism. As a result, Aristotle demonstrated that morality is a central concept of realistic reasoning that compels people to act in a manner of limiting their self-interests (Vetlesen, 1994). Meanwhile, genuine altruism promotes the highest level of morality among people. Based on natural characteristics of a man, he acts in selfish ways. Ethical egoism entails manners in which people postpone current pleasures to realize some of their long-term objectives. In regard to helping other people, ethical egoism refers to the desire of human beings to help others only if it benefits their self-interests, but not because of the need to help others.
The concept of reason from Aristotle’s perception of morality emanates from the highest human faculty of motive driven by contemplation. Similarly, a need to satisfy self-interest within individuals has a considerable impact on reasoning. Because of the need to improve social status, an individual acquires knowledge that assists him in his attempts to achieve his objectives. Naturally, this need exists within everyone, although the need to constrain one’s self-interest becomes the point that defines morality. When shifting away from the self-interest drive, people begin to value the concept of altruism, which boosts the degree of morality. If people value the act of altruism, knowledge will be disseminated uniformly boosting the level of morality.
Regarding the nature of morality and feelings, the philosophy of ethical egoism presents selfishness as the driving force of man. Through this act, people wish to improve their social status to achieve the much-needed respect. This implies that morality which respects feelings of people requires the elimination of personality which acts according to its self-interests and adopting possible ways of enhancing impartial relationship with others.
Criticism of Philosophers’ Thoughts
The theory of categorical imperative presented by Emmanuel Kant poses some major criticism on the perception of morality. This theory is based on the need to have good intentions in every undertaking to be able to perceive this undertaking as moral. As a result, there occurred a challenge in people’s minds about whether all good intentions have the path to morality. Similarly, are good intentions the only prerequisite to good morals? This implies that the theory does not clearly show that all intentions of a man can account to morality. In this regard, a controversy arises, since good intentions do not necessarily result in moral deeds due to variation in the mindsets of people across any society (Raphael & Monk, 2000).
Another crucial issue with the categorical imperative is its tendency to ignore good consequences. This is because only good intentions behind individuals’ undertakings define whether the deed is moral. This demonstrates one of the weaknesses of this philosophy. In addition, the theory holds that no matter what are the consequences of the undertaking, the initial intention behind the deeds indicates their morality. For this reason, people have to ignore ultimate consequences to uphold morality. Therefore, challenge emanates from the need to ignore the good consequences. Despite the deliberation that good consequences might be vital for the benefit of the society, categorical imperative negates this consideration.
Categorical imperative illustrates the notion that people are not a means to an end. In this regard, the theory claims that a means to an end does not apply, but a means can be equated to an end. As a result, intentions that definitely lead to a good consequence solely depict morality. This assumption is not proved and its validity is questionable. This implies that the theory can be challenged by assuming the opposite of its assertion that people are not means to an end. In this case, it could depict that by using people as a means to an end, morality illustrated insofar and good intentions uphold.
The application of Mill’s concept of utilitarianism to evaluate the nature of morality and its relationship with reason and feelings leaves many unanswered questions. Initially, it is reasonably difficult to determine the accuracy of actions without focus. Mill’s proposal on the need to pursue happiness in all actions is unclear, since people might not have the consent that whatever they are doing will definitely lead them to happiness and not to misery. This is attributed to the fact that the end always justifies the means. Considering this phenomenon, Mill argues that the end and the means are the same thing. Thus, the pursuit of the driving force that ensures equality is no longer attractive (Green, 1994).
Similarly, the pursuit of utilitarianism in the definition of morality becomes a challenge. This is because there are no means to determine whether individual rights may be overridden by the group’s interest. In illustrating the concept of utilitarianism, Mill claims that the need for a happy society necessitates the pursuit of goals that will ensure that all people are equally able to achieve desired happiness, which increases morality. In this case, people will focus on the needs of other people to conform to the norms of morality. This implies that individual efforts to create change that do not please the group will be abandoned if the need for morality is to be upheld. As a result, the utilitarian theory becomes futile for the growth of a society, where principles of morality have to be adhered to.
Aristotle’s philosophical thoughts can be challenged regarding the degree to which ethical virtues should be employed. In this case, it is essential to determine which virtues can possibly lead to morality of a particular society in qualitative aspect. Therefore, Aristotle’s theory does not demonstrate what virtues have to be developed and what are the outcomes of developing these virtues. Similarly, considering the self-interest factor, there exist other factors, which influence morality.
The position of John Stuart Mill seems to be the most reasonable. The utilitarian approach of depicting the nature of morality reveals the value attached to making people happy. By adopting the general happiness principle, John Stewart Mill claims that the basic element of morality is to do something that makes everyone happy. In this regard, actions will indicate the degree of morality which will be generally acceptable. Mill, having borrowed the idea of utilitarianism form Bentham’s theory, further improves the initial development of the quantitative aspect to a qualitative aspect. This implies that the qualitative conduct would change people because it influences behavior more than the quantitative aspect. As a result, the quality of happiness will improve in the struggle to impress numerous people (Raphael & Monk, 2000).
During the struggle for happiness people will adopt ethical practices, which will ensure conformity to the desires and preference of all people. Since the observation of ethical virtues will limit self-interest within individual’s behavior, people will be considerate about needs of others when handling any task. On this note, pursuing individual’s goal is not hindered as long as other people are impressed by creativity and innovation in this regard. Thus, utilitarianism seeks to provide guidance in the means of improving the society while giving the best returns in terms of ethics. Contrary to principles of Kant’s and Aristotle’s theories, the utilitarian approach embraces the need to improve the quality of life without removing the focus from development in accordance to personal interests.
On the other hand, the utilitarian approach does not specify definitive roles that seek to encourage individuals to make others happy. In this regard, it entails both qualitative and quantitative approaches. With the view of these benefits, Mill encourages adoption of utilitarianism when enhancing morality in the society. However, the weakness is that it may not clarify exactly the anticipated outcome since it gives no room for prediction. The idea that the means to an end are similar, thus having no impact on one another, supports this notion.
Philosophical thoughts of Kant, Mill, and Aristotle demonstrate the nature of morality that exists within the society and its influence on reason and feelings. Although these approaches are different, the main need of the accepted standards of conduct, which is an important concept, is incorporated. Kant, adopting the categorical imperative, illustrates the need for practical reasoning to portray the influence of morality on people. In this case, by having good intention, it is definite that the outcome will positively affect other people. On the other hand, Mill illustrates the importance of quality of happiness in boosting morality. In this regard, if one’s action can impress other people, this implies that people will become morally upright. For this reason, people would adopt generally accepted virtues to influence others positively. Aristotle by his philosophical thought illustrated the need of humanity to observe ethical values. He depicted the morality of people by avoiding the self-interest factor. In this case, if people adopted altruism, it implied that morality would increase since no one would be victimized in any way.
Based on the analysis of philosophers’ thoughts, it is possible to say that their theories have several weaknesses regarding the concepts of morality. This implies that in the course of their application, it is essential to evaluate the most desired outcome that relates with morality. In this case, it is possible to observe strengths and contributions of the theory to enhancing morality. Therefore, people can build a morally upright society by adopting appropriate approaches.