No Choice is Still a Choice

The saying “no choice is still a choice” is a prevalent theme in not only philosophy but throughout life as well. The experiences that we as human beings encounter forces us to make choices whether we willingly decide to or not. The biggest lesson is deciding what we individually place importance on and being at peace with the decisions we choose to make or not make in general. The two philosophers that I will explore is John Stuart Mill (J.S. Mill) and Immanuel Kant regarding Mill’s utilitarianism theory and Kant’s deontological theory.

John Stuart Mill was one of the most influential thinkers in the history of liberalism and he contributed greatly to the social theory, political theory, and political economy. He is most known for his theory of utilitarianism which is also known as “the greatest-happiness principle.” In Mill’s perception it means that one must always act to produce the greatest aggregate happiness among all sentiment beings, within reason” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The alternative way to view this definition of the theory is to think about which choice would provide the greatest total happiness in the world. Mill defines happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. Mill’s feels that the idea of happiness should be determined based off an individual’s personal choice. The prominent and driving moral agent should be if the person experiences more happiness following an action than they do a second option. The utilitarianism theory is based upon the idea that the means are justified based solely off the result of said actions. Ultimately Mill’s believed that “happiness is the sole end of human action” The term to define this option the “principle of utility” which states that actions or behaviors are right as they promote happiness or pleasure, wrong as they tend to produce unhappiness or pain.

Regarding the scenarios of Rescue, I or Rescue II provided by Phillipa Foot, John Stuart Mill’s recommendation would be similar in both situations due to his emphasis on personal satisfaction and personal choice. Mill’s outlook is primarily based on an individual’s happiness and what that individual deems pleasurable and an act of happiness. In Rescue I the choice is to be made between a course of action that would leave one person dead and five people alive at the end of the day whereas Rescue II would leave one person alive and five people dead. In Rescue I it is believed that Mill would tell the rescuer to save the group of five from drowning and leave the single guy to die. Being that in this first scenario I am the moral agent my decision would hold more of a greater impact on the group of five then it would the one guy. The group that is affected the most is the five individuals and the single individual who needs rescuing from some other disaster. The options that are presented is to save the group of five or let the single person die or the opposite. John Stuart Mill would choose this action due to the theory of utilitarianism states that saving the five would maximize happiness and prevents much more suffering. In Rescue II, Mill would tell the rescuer to run the guy in the pathway over to save the group of five from drowning. Mill would choose this action because the theory of utilitarianism states that saving the five and running over the one person would maximize happiness and prevents much more suffering. If we based the decision off the principle of utility then it would state that our decision was right due to the condemnation of the action produces benefits, advantages, pleasure, good, happiness, or prevents mischief, pain, or unhappiness. In simpler terms we should condemn an action if it does the opposite. According to Mill, an action is said to have positive utility when it augments happiness more than it diminishes it. The second philosopher I will explore is Immanuel Kant and his deontological theory.

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is considered a central figure in modern philosophy. Kant’s primary belief was that reason is the source of morality and that “ethics develop from a faulty of disinterested judgment” (Seven Pillars Institute). He is most known for his deontological theory and the categorical imperative. The deontological theory argues that the morality of an action should be based off whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequence of the action. A simpler way of describing the theory is that action is more important than the consequences. A moral obligation may present itself from an internal or external source, such as a set of rules that apply to society, religion, cultural values, or the universe. These sets of rules automatically make a person obligated to act in accordance regardless of the outcome. The terms that were explored through these two philosophers was moral agent, maxim, and will. In general Kant’s theory is based on the idea that hum beings have a special and capacity for rationality. The moral worth of an action is determined by the human will, which is the only thing in the world that can be considered good without qualification. The moral duty is associated with good will and being in accordance with one another. These duties are organized by a set of maxims entitled categorical imperatives. The first imperative is to “act only according to the maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction” (Seven Pillars Institute). Kant states that a true moral decision should not be tied to any conditions especially from the moral agent. The person must be unbiased and disconnect from attachments surrounding the decision. The second imperative is “act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely to an end but always at the same time as an end” (Seven Pillars Institute). This states that every rational action must be considered not only a principle but also an ultimate end. The free will is the source of all rational action. The third imperative is “every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends” (Seven Pillars Institute). Kant states that people treat themselves and others always as ends and never merely as means.

In Rescue I and Rescue II scenarios, Kant would tell the rescuer that any decision to save the individual will be regarded and deemed as being an ethical action. One criticism I developed of Kant and Mill is that Mill is not as rational as I feel he should be when it comes to his theory. I feel that Mill should have incorporated more logic in his theories since everything is not necessarily meant to be a personal choice. It cines a time where something other than yourself must play a role in decision making and to not be based off one’s idea of happiness. The one criticism I developed of Kant that he is too rational and concerned with rules of life and societal values that makes his theory biased to an extent and lacks a personal belief system. I feel that Kant has a very black or white outlook on things and that could diminish one’s obligation to staying true to what they deem morally “right or wrong.” Personally, I would argue for Mill’s approach regarding the Rescue I and II scenarios because of the decision I would make if I was the rescuer. I had to look at the situations from my judgment and how based off that which philosopher would suit my way of thinking. Mill’s idea that decisions that we as individuals make should be based off happiness and what brings us pleasure is an idea I agree with in life. I feel that in the end each of us must be at ease in all aspects mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically and that we owe it to ourselves to grant those wishes to our lives. The decisions that I decide could be different from my peers but what matters most is the decision we make for us. The reality is that in life and experiences we have the ultimate decision remains ours and, in the end, we are the ones that must live through our decisions. Overall, both philosophers have valid theories and forms their own yet similar principles of what is morally right or wrong that causes us to apply it not only to ourselves but life’s journey as well.

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