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Utilitariansim is a better ethical theory than Kantianism (Deontological Theory)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/22/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,529 times Debate No: 68757
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In this debate I intend to discuss which ethical philosophy (Kantianism/Deontological Theory vs Utilitarianism) is better to live by.

I would also like to "share the burden of truth".

Therefore, my opponent will be arguing why "Kantianism is a better ethical theory than Utilitarianism" .

I wish to take this debate very seriously, anyone that is knowledgeable on the subjects at hand and is confident in their debating skill, should accept immediately.


Utilitarianism -
1. A doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically : a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

Kantianism -
1. A type of ethical theory that maintains that some features of actions other than or in addition to consequences make the actions right or wrong. A major postulate is that we may not use or mistreat other people as a means to our own happiness or to that of others. Deontological theories guide action with a set of moral principles or moral rules, but it is the actions themselves and their moral properties that are fundamental.

First round is acceptance only. Second round will be for arguments only. Third round and on is for arguments and rebuttals.

A forfeit is an automatic loss.

By accepting this debate, you accept all the definitions and rules. If you would like to question a rule or definition, please specify in the first round.

Thank you and happy debating.


I accept, and anticipate a great debate!

To clarify, I will be arguing that Kantian deontology is a 'better' ethical theory, by which I mean it is more pragmatic and veridical than utilitarianism.

Judging by Pro's definition of utilitarianism, I presume he will be advocating Classical Utilitarianism. However, I will argue against all consequentialist utilitarian theories.
Debate Round No. 1


To start off, I believe Utilitarianism is a better ethical theory primarily because unlike Kantian theory it doesn"t judge whether or not a decision/action is moral by societal or personal rules/guidelines. Therefore making it difficult for a society to decide which actions should be considered immoral and moral. However according to Utilitarianism, with everything being equal, though people have many different and conflicting moral beliefs, an overwhelming majority of people agree that pain/sadness is bad, and pleasure/happiness is good.

For example, Imagine if you lived in a home in Germany during the Holocaust, you were the head of your household and were hiding 15 Jews in your basement but you or your family considered lying immoral. According to Kantian philosophy if a group of Nazi soldiers came to your home and asked you if you had any jews living within your domain you should tell them the truth because lying would be immoral while Utilitarianism promotes that lying in this situation would be morally permissible since you most likely saved the lives of 15 humans. If you followed Kantian philosophy chances are you, your family, and whoever you were hiding would be dead because your only options would be to lie or withhold the truth by not saying anything thus raising suspicion and prompting a very thorough search of your home.

That is my primary issue with Kantian ethics. Kantianism would prefer you make "subjective" moral decisions even at the cost of human life. Kantian philosophy promotes doing what you or society considers moral even at the cost of human suffering and death.

Many actions in our society are not always strictly labeled right or wrong, moral or immoral.
Actions like murder. Murder is sometimes permissible depending on the motive and "consequence" or end result. If a terrorist was about to detonate a bomb and kill hundreds of people, would it be wrong if a civilian killed him? Most people would say no, especially if that was the only option for survival. But once again, according to Kantian theory, if murder is considered an immoral act then you should keep the terrorist alive and allow the death of hundreds of civilians. Or what if you lived in poverty and you had a child who had diabetes but needed insulin but you could not afford it and your only option was to steal medicine for your child, would you steal in that case or let your child die?
Kantian theology fails to address how people are supposed to cope with choosing the death or suffering of loved ones for the sake of laws, societal rules and norms.

And I can say with confidence that the majority of humans will almost always agree that "life" is more important than "rules" or "morals".


To begin the debate, I will give a rough overview of the theories we are actually debating:
(note that I have gone over Kantianism in a lot more detail, because it is a lot more complex as a theory than classical utilitarianism).


In a given situation, the morally right action is the action that has the consequences of the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people. The moral worth of an action is not contained within its own essence, but an action is good/bad insofar as its consequences are pleasurable/painful.

The morally-right act can be derived by rationally deducing the consequences of all the different courses of action and using the 'felicific calculus' (1) to decipher which action will cause the most amount of pain and the least amount of pleasure.


The morality of an action is contained within the essence of the action; an action is moral or immoral even if there are particular situations where more pleasure will come about if we do not follow these universal norms.

Pleasure cannot be the criteria in which we define morality because there are some cases where an increase of pleasure is intuitively immoral (more on this later). The same can be said of attempts to establish knowledge or virtue as the criteria for morality. Kant therefore concluded that there is only one thing that is intrinsically good - a good intention.

Intending to act morally is fundamentally good - it is inconceivable that having an intention to act morally is immoral in itself. As a good intention is therefore the only intrinsic good, it is reasonable to base our morality upon intention as opposed to pleasurable consequences, which are contingently good.

An intention-based ethic is compatible with a morality grounded with 'universal norms' - which are rules that must be always obeyed if one is to act morally. The universal norms are called 'categorical imperatives', which means that they are unconditional moral commands. For example, in Kantianism the moral command 'do not kill' is a categorical imperative because it ought to be obeyed unconditionally.

How do we find out what the categorical imperatives are? Well, for command X to be a categorical imperative, we must ask ourselves three questions:

1. Would we rationally wish that everyone would adhere to this command?
2. Does it treat people as beings with intrinsic value?
3. If we were law-makers, would we rationally wish that this command be a law in an ideal kingdom?

If the answer is 'yes' to all three questions, then command X is a categorical imperative. If a command does not fulfill this free criteria then it is not moral to obey it.

For example, the command 'do not kill innocent people' is a categorical imperative because:

1. We would rationally wish that everyone would follow this command.
2. It treats people with intrinsic value
3. If we were law-makers, it would be rational to instigate this law when governing an ideal kingdom.

As rational beings, we ought to obey categorical imperatives. This is how we act morally.

What Kantianism is not

Before I continue, I noticed that Pro slightly misunderstands what Kantianism is.

It is not...

1. Based on societal or personal rules, this is cultural relativism (2) or subjectivism (3). Instead, Kantianism uses pure reason to decipher moral rules.

2. Supportive of 'subjective moral decisions', Kantian morality is very much objective because reason is objective.

3. Promoting the view that what society or yourself subjectively believes is moral, as social and personal moral beliefs are not always entirely rational.

4. Theological. Whilst Kant did believe that God must exist, his theory is perfectly sound in a secular universe.

Now I have clarified misunderstandings, I will argue that utilitarianism is an inadequate ethical theory and therefore that Kantianism is the superior ethical theory. As per the debate rules, I will refrain from refuting Pro's arguments until round 3.

Why Utilitarianism is inadequate

The fundamental premise of utilitarianism is that pleasure or happiness is the sole criteria of morality. Why is this premise maintained? Because supposedly we all desire pleasure/happiness in all situations.

However, this premise fails because it is conceivable that in some situations we will prefer to minimise pleasure. Robert Nozick's thought experiment postulated:

'Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? Of course, while in the tank you won't know that you're there; you'll think that it's all actually happening. Would you plug in?' (4)

The act of choosing to plug in will cause more happiness than the act of choosing not too, but many people would prefer not to plug in. It logically follows that pleasure or happiness is not the only thing we desire, and so therefore we should not base our morality on an ethical theory that maintains that pleasure or happiness is the only thing we desire.

Furthermore, the premise that we ought to do whatever increases the amount of pleasure/pain can lead to some absurd implications:

For example, let us suppose that two men are terribly injured in a car crash, they are rushed to hospital where it is apparent that one of the men requires an urgent heart transplant and the other man requires an urgent lung transplant. If they do not receive these transplants immediately then they will both die and their families will suffer terribly.
However, the doctor spots a recently-sedated but otherwise healthy man in a nearby hospital bed. The doctor could easily use the man's healthy heart and lung as the urgent transplant. There are no other available organ donors. The sedated man has no family and will not be terribly missed if he was to die (as he would, if his heart and lung were to be taken out).
According to utilitarianism, the morally correct act would be to use the healthy man's organs to save the lives of the two dying men.
But, intuitively, is this not a seriously immoral act?
An ethical theory that says that this act is moral is surely a flawed one.

Therefore, utilitarianism is flawed. There are many other examples like this but I do not have enough character space to write any more in this round.

Finally, utilitarianism asks us to calculate the amount of pleasure/pain that will result from all the possible courses of action and then make the right decision. It is a tall order to expect people to do this every time they act. Utilitarianism assumes that everyone is responsible enough to decide the morally-right action in all situations.

Why Kantianism is an adequate ethical theory

1. It is based on reason, which has fairly axiomatic veracity.

2. It is conducive to a law-based society as it emphasises adherence to absolute laws. All societies must be based on laws (the fact that there are no surviving lawless societies is testament to this) and so Kantianism is pragmatic in society.

3. It places moral worth on intention and not just consequence, this gives people more freedom to choose to act morally, due to the fact that we have more control over our intention than we have over the consequences of our actions.

I will now pass over to my opponent!

Debate Round No. 2


ReubenT13 forfeited this round.


I extend all arguments.
Debate Round No. 3


ReubenT13 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


ReubenT13 forfeited this round.


The debate has ended with no attempt by Pro to respond to my arguments. It's a pity, because this had the potential to be a really interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 5
No comments have been posted on this debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by lannan13 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture
Vote Placed by Valkrin 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: FF from Pro.