Among different theories that were implemented in XIX-XXs century the concept of utilitarianism and deontology are still the matter to discuss. Although firstly the suppositions of utilitarianism appear in the writings of the British moralists of XVI-XVII centuries, the modern theory of the concept is most often associated with the British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806- 1873) who elaborated the theory from a hedonistic version proposed by his mentor Jeremy Bentham (1748- 1832) who thought a person should experience a lot of pleasure and avoid suffering. As most clearly stated by Mill, the basic principle of utilitarianism is that actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.
All reasonings of Bentham and Mill are based on the fact that all human beings seek happiness. Morality, therefore, should be based on this desire and serve to implement it. However, Bentham believed that there is nothing more to say about happiness than that it consists of presence of pleasure and absence of pain. The "matter" of happiness is specific in each case. Mill believes that happiness is based on person's development as inherently "noble" creature.
Bentham is looking for a way to find an action that leads to the realization of the interests of the greatest number of people and that's why discusses the happiness of individual groups while Mill is trying to find a way to achieve universal happiness. The condition of the latter, in terms of Mill, is to respect the autonomy of the individual.
As the most general formulation of the principle of utilitarianism one should take the following: it is a moral theory in accordance to which the act is morally correct if it results, in comparison with possible alternatives, in the largest possible benefit («utility») for the largest possible number of people. This utility can be understood as pleasure (as opposed to evil - suffering), and - in a modern version of utilitarianism - as the satisfaction of personal preference.
Recently utilitarianism has been the dominant trend in world ethics and had a major influence on the choice-making in public policy. However, the theory itself has been heavily criticized. Early versions of it boiled down to the fact that in each particular case the moral choice is dictated by the principle of utility. In this case, strictly speaking, we cannot assess with moral principles such deeds as lying or keeping promises until we understand the situation, in which the act will be done, and only then we are able to evaluate the consequences of acts. Some scientists argued that this would lead to moral judgement, contrary to common belief. If two options provide the same preponderance of good over evil, but one assumes a lie, and the other - the truth, utilitarian does not know which one to choose because their effects are equal.
For many modern scholars the self-defence of utilitarian ethics does not seem too convincing and is perceived as unreliable. According to some researchers, utilitarianism transfers without sufficient explanation the principles of rational choice, that typical for individual life plans, to society as a whole. That's, what seems to be quite justified in utilitarian point of view, the infliction of suffering or death to one or more people in order to save or improve the situation of the majority.
The answer to the fatally flawed utilitarianism is an attempt to build a model of nonutilitarian normative ethics, known as deontological. Its main feature is the assertion that some of the actions (sometimes the motives, state of consciousness, etc.) are morally unacceptable not because they lead to the minimization of certain benefits, but because of its substantial irregularities. Not surprisingly, the major historical and philosophical character of this tradition in modern ethics has become the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who introduced the concept of the categorical imperative.
Kant developed the concept of autonomous ethics, according to which the moral principles of human existence are independent from the ambient environment and must be in close connection with each other. The categorical imperative defined the strict basic principles governing human behavior.
A person, according to Kant's teachings, is the highest value. Each person has a sense of self-esteem, which they carefully preserve. But another person also has a sense of self-esteem. Accordingly, a person has the freedom of choice of actions in the framework of understanding another person's feelings. All human actions are evaluated on the basis of good and evil concepts
A person can't be perfect and be a model of good and evil. Therefore, the concept of good and evil are given to us from above, from God. The moral consciousness of a person must accept God as an ideal moral perfection.
Based on the determination that the person is the main moral value and God is the moral ideal for their self-improvement, Kant formulates his law, called the categorical imperative. This law contains the following provisions:
- In life you need to act on such rules that have the force of law for themselves and the people around them;
- Treat others as you want them to treat you;
- Neighbor can not be viewed from the standpoint of one's personal benefit.
According to Kant, the categorical imperative should take the form of law. The moral person must follow it, regardless of external circumstances, and be guided by a sense of duty.
The founder of the English analytical philosophy J. Moore has put forward more serious objections against Kant's ethics. Moore argued that as a measure of good and the very concept of good is subjective, vague, and unclear. Moore points out that Kant understands the moral law as an imperative. Such an understanding is a common mistake.
Moore stands for, as it seems to him, more free, more specific ethics, which can not be reduced to the imperative, especially to the categorical, i.e. absolute one. He therefore objects the absolute duty that is the basis of Kantian ethics.
In my opinion, there is no "golden mean" between two concepts.
While the utilitarian system of ethics is selfish and has to justify the fact that it indirectly promotes altruistic deeds, then the ethics of the categorical imperative requires unselfishness in almost superhuman proportions, actually even denying the sense of pleasure from the completed duty. It's hard to say what concept is better for me, because I do not support any of them.
According to the concept of ethical egoism, a person should act under one's own self-interest. Ethical egoist, as states Ayn Rand, takes aim in their own personality. In other words, ethical egoism is genuine concern about defining the scope of self-interest, responsibility for the actions leading to their satisfaction, the rejection of their betrayal by acting under the influence of a blind whim, mood, impulse or transient emotion, and uncompromising faith in one's own system of judgments, beliefs and values.
Medlin provides critical argument to Rand’s ethical egoism. He claims that ethical egoism is changeable. Unlike individual egoism, ethical egoism promotes that one must follow an ethical theory according to which, a person must do whatever promotes their interests. Ethical egoists think that “moral principles should be universal and categorical” and Medlin parries putting a reasonable question – for why should egoists want other people to look out for their interests?
I’d rather agree with Rand’s argument than that of Medlin’s because I do think that being an individual egoist and thinking about your own interest is not always good and may sometimes lead to bad consequences as it depends on person’s nature (i.e. bad or good person). Being an egoist mustn’t suppose being that bad person. Everyone ought to always think about their acts and the consequences of such acts.