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Mains Practice Questions

  • Q. Explain Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative and compare it with the Utilitarian principle of ethics given by Jeremy Bentham? (150 words)

    07 Nov, 2019 GS Paper 4 Theoretical Questions


    • Briefly describe Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperatives.
    • Differentiate it with Bentham’s utilitarianism with examples.


    • Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperatives prescribe a standard of rationality to which all moral and rational agents are held. It places significance on the duty aspect rather than the consequences of the actions.
      • It suggests that any human action should be such that it can be universally applicable to all.
      • It also suggests that human beings should be treated as ‘ends in themselves’. Thus, for Kant, ‘human dignity’ is a value in itself. If a person is an end-in-himself, it means his inherent value doesn’t depend on anything else. We exist, so we have value.
    • This is in contrast to Bentham's utilitarianism, which allows for the use of individuals as a means to benefit the many or the greatest good for the greatest number.
    • For eg: Bentham’s utilitarianism would approve of active euthanasia, as it would not only relieve the suffering of the terminally ill patient but also would be beneficial for the family, both monetarily as well as emotionally.
      • However, Kantian ethics would not approve this as it treats humans as an end in itself. Future technological advancements may even improve the patient’s condition.
    • Similarly, slavery is justified from a utilitarian perspective as it benefits agrarian economy; however, it is unjust as it undermines the universal moral principle of ‘human dignity’.

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