Aristotle, Kant and Mills on Morals, Morality and Moral Philosophy

I. Introduction
The human social and personal life has become more and more complex. Over time, individual thinkers and intellectuals have consistently delved and investigated many important aspects of the human way of life. One of which is the investigation of how people rationalize their actions based on the socially-shared concept of right and wrong. Every time an individual acts, the deeply embedded instinct to question whether the action is right or wrong is influenced by the concept known as morality which is important in the society. Today, morality as an idea and as a practice and social feature remains unstable because it is still subject to change. This is the reason why morality is never cast in stone and that is why there is a saying that not all moral actions are legal and not all legal actions are moral. What morality affects is an aspect of life that greatly varies based on case-to-case situations and scenarios. It is difficult to define what morality is, and more importantly, what morality expects from the people. Helping the people understand that and manage this dilemma are the ideas of thinkers like John Stuart Mills, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle, who provided explanations and ideas regarding morality, what it is, what it entails, what to do with it, how to use it, etc. They are famous during their time and even in their present because of their intellectual gifts, how they used it and what resulted from it, these individuals proved to be instrumental in exploring and explaining the extent of morality and moral philosophy. They opened ideas regarding morality and moral philosophy that acted as guide for people to better understand it and live and act in accordance to what they believe are suitable tenets in their own way of life. History has viewed Kant, Mills and Aristotle as important pillars in the discussion of morality and moral philosophy. What people feel vis-a-vis what people are subjected to by law are all making its impact in how morality develops, shifts and change every day.  It is important that individuals have a solid understanding of what these ideas are, how they differ or are similar with other ideas and how it can impact human life.

II. Discussion
A. Morality
What is morality For the longest time, morality has been strongly debated by many of the worlds greatest thinkers in the hope of finding a concrete and definitive answer to this inquiry en route to a useful application of such ideas in practical everyday lives. In the past as well as in the present, morality has often figured significantly in the many different affairs and activities of human beings. It is a set of beliefs. It includes important aspects like punishment and reward system in societies as well as traditional practices among others. Society has been strongly dependent and influenced by the concept of morality especially those which are socially shared. Morality has long existed but in the past was hardly explored, explained and defined. With the works of philosophers like Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mills, among others, morality and the philosophy operating it has been explained and explored, especially in consideration to how people act or in anticipation of how people will and should act.

Morality is an important aspect of social and personal life that influences and dictates the actions of human beings and how the society and other human beings respond to it. It is hard to imagine world without the concept of morality as it is. It may be presented in another words or terms but the ethos of such idea will persist. The human nature is naturally attuned to discovering and exploring a natural aspect of human interaction such as morality. Through the established ideas of morality accepted by the society, an action is defined as right or wrong, moral or immoral (although in case to case basis it is often more complex than that).  Morality acts as a guide. The society hopes that through aspects like morality, people can have an organized set of actions and the social life will not fall into chaos. As an important indicator of what is right and what is wrong, morality and morals of the individuals have always been subjected to investigation. This is done to see if the existing parameter for the identification of morality and what is moral or immoral is acceptable, and if necessary, challenged to influence the entry of change.

Individuals like the thinkers Kant, Mill and Aristotle tried to find out and explain the implications of morality, as well as its scope and boundaries. They explained whether it is a simple code of conduct or is it something more, something reflective of the real and true character of the individual which is innate even without the influence of external rules. What is at stake is whether morality is essentially a system of rules, which persons can obey for whatever reasons, or something that is broader in its demands - a system that reaches to the ingredients of the characters or personalities of those who obey its rules.

B. Morality according to philosophers
i. Immanuel Kant  Immanuel Kant was a very insightful and talented thinker and intellectual who made his mark in history based on what he offered to the world as important ideas in many different fields of human way of life. His position on morality and moral theory is characterized by his creation of what is known as the Categorical Imperative or simply CI. For Kant, discerning what is moral or immoral is simply based on how the individual acts according to the Categorical Imperative. Being consistent with what the Categorical Imperative requires mean that the action and the individual is moral, while varying or deviating from the Categorical Imperative is equal to being immoral.

Basically, what Kant is trying to point out here via his Categorical Imperative is the idea that morality is something that should be hinged on a particular set of standards established and shared by the society pertaining to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable action. Kant rationalizes that the individual should be free to pursue or deviate from the Categorical imperative. The individual is a rational being and not a being that is merely driven by emotional motors without consideration to reason. He or she is free and endowed with autonomy to make the distinction in recognizing moral and immoral actions. The individual pursues what could be moral or immoral in the persons perspective and the perspective of other people or community.

Kants position on morality is found in his several published works which have been extensively read, critiqued and reviewed by other individuals, who, like Kant are also intently pursuing the philosophy of morality and the ideas affecting it. These include The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, followed by The Critique of Practical Reason, The Metaphysics of Morals, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. His writing entitled Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason also touches the topic of morality and is important in moral theories.

ii. Aristotle - Aristotle is a thinker who has explored many different aspects of human social life and has contributed many different important ideas. One of the things that Aristotle talked about in his works is morality. Aristotle is known for his contribution to the philosophy of morality. Despite the fact that Aristotle is well respected as a thinker, critical analysis of his works on moral philosophy still revealed some key holes and weaknesses in his overall concept. Some of the ideas that Aristotle explored with regards to morality and moral philosophy include the idea that the main consideration in morality is having people consider what is best for the many and not for the few. Aristotles discussion of morality is also focused on virtue, and the consideration and role of money and material consideration and the weighing of material and non material considerations when it comes to what constitutes happiness. In turn, it is an important consideration in assessing moral and immoral actions. It can be considered that Aristotle was practical and realistic in his approach to explaining morality, even giving ideas in simple construction, like how it is not easy to be good, as reflected in his work Nichomachean Ethics.

iii. John Stuart Miller - John Stuart Mill has been considered as one of the individuals in the nineteenth century who talked about morality and provided new ideas regarding morality and moral philosophy. Many believed that Mills ideas were actually off shoot from other ideas in the past like those presented by intellectuals like John Locke and David Hume among others. Critics and analysts believe that what Mill did was consolidate some of the important ideas of these philosophers and develop and new approach in understanding morality and moral philosophy to help guide people and their way of life and way of thinking. This results to a society in tune with moral paradigms and is assisted in defining what is right and wrong actions and way of life. Mill is identified with the utilitarian approach in moral philosophy. This means Mill believes in the idea that the morality of the action of the individual is assessed by the consequences of that action which makes considerations on action utilitarian. The society judges the actions based on what it can do to the people or society.

C. Similarities
The three philosophers provide moral philosophy outlooks that share similarities based on what they imply and based on its characteristics as well. For example, critics and analysts believe that the theories of the three in morality are considered as normative. These are the kinds of theories that people should value and put importance to. Kant, Mill and Aristotle are offering normative theories theories of what we should value. The moral philosophy design of Aristotle, Mill and Kant also shares the similar belief that part of the concept to be good which is important in morality is the recognition that it is difficult to act in such a way that is perceived by the society as good. The concept of what is difficult and what makes the actions difficult vary from one philosopher to the other. Also, morality plays an important part in Mill, Kant and Aristotles explanation of other related concepts integral to morality, like ethics, for example.

One of the similarities of the three individuals with regards to their pursuit of and contribution to the concept of morals, morality and the moral philosophy is that they are all responsible each for three different perspective, approaches and ideas on morals and morality based on what they have popularized. Aristotle has his Nicomachean Ethics while Kant has his Categorical Imperative. Lastly, Mill has his Utilitarianism. Kant and Mill, two philosophers whose lives are closer to one another compared to the differences in time span with that of Aristotle, has become a factor that resulted in the creation of similarities in their ideas regarding moral philosophy. Larmore explained that the moral philosophy of both Mill and Kant are considered as liberal theories. It is characterized by consistent similarities between the two moral philosophies that featured ideas such as the autonomy and independence of individual in relation to morality, among others. Liberal political theory since Kant and Mill has usually presented itself as an all-encompassing moral theory committed to overall personal ideals such as autonomy or an experimental attitude towards ways of life.

Both Kant and Mill also focused on the role and importance of virtue, citing the idea that virtue is a driving force behind achieving morality. Morality, in turn, is realized because of how virtue manipulates individuals towards action. Kant and Mill both wrote about the importance of virtues. Still, in their views of morality, what makes for a virtue is the fact that the agent acts in accordance with the fundamental principle of morality. Also, another similarity, this time between Kant and Mill, is their similar use and advocacy regarding human freedom regarding action and the pursuit of morality. For these two individuals and their moral philosophy, an important idea postulated is that of the role of autonomous human beings being empowered by freedom to choose their actions and by themselves consider what is moral and what immoral actions are.

An important characteristic of the ideas of Kant, Mill and Aristotle when it comes to moral philosophy is the shared similarity of the three which made them a collective whole in the analysis of moral theory and philosophy. Prinz, in his book The emotional construction of morals, explained that when moral philosophies are examined collectively, Mill, Kant and Aristotles ideas comprise a particular group from which other groups involving different ideas are compared and contrasted with. An example is how the approaches of Hume and Nietzsche are compared to the collective similar ideas of Mill, Kant and Aristotle. It is important to see that Hume and Nietzsche are doing something very different from Kant, Mill and Aristotle.

D. Differences
i. The different ideas - In many different ways, the philosophical approaches of these three individuals vary from one another. For example, both Aristotle and Mill put forward reasonable, practical and understandable constructs and designs for their moral philosophy and the expectations of the humans and the societies in this matter. In comparison, Kant appears to be extreme in his ideas and in his expectations of the people and the society if his approach on moral philosophy would be followed. For example, Kant was expecting that the rest of the society and other people will rigidly follow behaviors indicative of moral behavior when the truth is, it is more complex than this. Also, Aristotle and Mills moral philosophies are considered teleological while that of Kant is considered deontological. Others believe that Aristotle was developing something which differs from the point of focus of the works of Mill and Kant, especially in the idea that moral philosophy can be a guidebook for some, while for others simply the identification of the idea good person.

ii. Differences in lieu of God, religion and morality - In comparing the approaches, perspectives and moral takes of these three individuals on morality, morals and the philosophy of morality, it is noticeable how the concept of god and religion has often figured in this equation, and how the three individuals handled them differently. There is Kant who believes that the autonomous individual exercises free will and the belief that this act is a manifestation of Gods will and that reason is used to identify and understand morality. Mill, on the other hand, believes that morality does not include God in the equation and the identification of morality is dependent strongly on the consideration of the individual of his happiness or pleasure. Unlike Kant who believes that as morality is dependent on the individual, so is the individual answerable for his actions on morality and immorality. Mill believes that the individual is not the only entity answerable in morality but society as well.

It appears that Aristotle sides with the idea that morality is dependent on the conscious course of action of the individual. This creates moral virtues which in turn influences and determines actions and whether or not they lean towards morality or otherwise. In the idea of virtue, differences are found, especially in comparison to the moral philosophies of Aristotle, Kant and Mill wherein Mill and Kant are in similar standing in the idea and concept of virtue different from how Aristotle perceived it. For Aristotle, virtue is basic in a way which it is not for Kant and Mill. That is a crucial difference that is reflected in their theories as overall. Aristotle provides a very good model for morality, explaining that morality and the pursuit of moral living should be aided by other aspects of life, like education. By being educated, the individual can act better in a way that morality is being considered more significantly in the actions.  

E. Analysis
An important consideration to the understanding of, as well as appreciation, of the moral philosophies of the three moral philosophers is not just based on what the individual analyst or critic is experiencing at the moment and what the individual is biased for or against. Rather, it is based on the context by which they are trying to define and explain morality. It is important that regardless of their differences and similarities as ideas. All of these perspectives are based on an important foundation, and that is the reason through which the philosopher propels his or her ideas (in this case his since all three are male philosophers).

As Rosenstand explained it, analysis and criticism of any of these ideas first require the individual to be able to understand the point of reason of these philosophers, why they are trying to say what they are saying and why this is how they see things. If we were to ask Kant, Mill, Aristotle, or just about any moral thinker, he or she would say we must try to appeal to their reason. This phenomenon, in a way, is indicative of the social condition. Societies vary from one another when it comes to their collective idea of morality as well as the differences in the personal preferences on morality. They all have their reasons why their morality and their moral philosophies are designed as it is.

III. Conclusion
The philosophers Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and Aristotle are individuals and thinkers who explored and discussed morality and in the process helped people in defining standards for life and way of life. These individuals are important because people has the need to understand how they should act and under what considerations. It is an idea that is important and crucial in the concept of morality and moral philosophy. Through these individuals and their ideas which are similar and different in one or many different points, people are given the chance to assess their actions and see if they are good or bad depending on the moral guides that they follow. Kant, Mill and Aristotle are telling us what we should value.


Post a Comment