The history of humanity can be summed up, in a very simple way: the permanent search for happiness. Even though every human being is constantly searching for their own happiness along their life, the definition of happiness varies from one person to another. Happiness is quite a complex term to define, due not only to its subjective nature but also to the ever changing societies, cultures and nations that aim at it. For most people, who don’t really deepen into the true meaning of happiness it can be substituted with hedonism, for them, pleasure is a synonym for happiness. It is no surprise then, that even Hemingway wrote in The Garden of Eden the following:
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“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know” (Hemingway, n.d., translated into the modern cliché of is Bliss, for the ones that truly understand happiness know that the superfluous pleasures of life do not encompass this very debated feeling, happiness can be found in suffering, responsibility, nobility and a virtuous way of life. This, of course is no exact science, which is why
I will be focusing on the theories proposed by Kant and Mill regarding his blissful and long searched for experience, I will even go as far as to explain why and when both theories may fail and when they can be proved correct. Instead of tiring the reader with deep metaphysical discussions I shall explore these theories through a much more entertaining, and indeed modern example: That of Batman and the Joker, specifically the one we find Crash Course’s Youtube Channel. Batman has had multiple opportunities to kill the Joker, but he has decided not to. Based on his decision of not killing the Joker, we can say he shares the same ideas than Kant. Batman is the Kantian ideal, following not only the categorical imperative to its most extreme consequences, but also, as Kant would have it appreciating all human life, they are all worth the same and of infinite value, and as any mathematician would tell us; one cannot ponder with infinities. It doesn’t matter how much pain the joker causes, there are some lines that a good individual would not dare cross. (CrashCourse. “ Utilitarianism: Crash Course Philosophy #36”. 2016). But because of this the Joker will continue to have limitless opportunities to kill people, and wouldn’t this be Batman’s fault. Because if he had killed him once and for all, he would stop them from terrorizing people. So in this situation, would Batman be a good individual, even if he killed someone, in order to save huge amount of people? Based on the thinking of Mill, he will be making the correct choice, killing the joker will bring the most happiness to most people (good consequences= good actions).
Mill is better known for the idea of Utilitarianism, based on his theory, must consider the ultimate consequences of their actions and what gives the greater good the most common good. He argued that in order to reach maximum happiness, the individual needs to apply utilitarianism to their actions, the ultimate end of life should be just that, happiness. Mill established that the greatest good for the number of people is the correct formula for calculating overall happiness. An example for this can be seen when your parents take you to the movies, and you want to see a romantic movie, but then you realize your parents don’t enjoy these types of movies, so after all you decide to watch an action movie, which you know they like more. This is the utilitarian philosophy at its best. The theory made by Mill is often referred as Hedonistic Theory, which means that good is equal to pleasant, and that morally we pursue happiness, and pleasure which help us to avoid pain. But how can an individual be sure if the action he or she is committing is right in the eyes of others? Well, Mills explained, that whenever the good side exceeds the bad side, the action is correct and moral. According to Mill a good action will help us increase happiness and reduce pain. On the other hand, a bad act will increase suffering and reduce happiness. Utilitarianism ideas takes a lot into consideration the outcome of any situation. Now let us think about a very common example used in explaining utilitarianism theory: The Trolley problem. In which a runaway trolley is going toward five people, which will immediately kill them, but you have the chance of pulling the trigger and instead of killing 5 people, it will only kill one person. If the person doesn’t do anything his hands will get dirty, but if he pulls the trigger to only kill one people his hands will get dirty as well. In this case he needs to think that killing only one individual creates a greater amount of good than killing five. Another example I want to use in order to explain this theory is the one in which there is a homeless person, who does not have a family and no one will miss him if something happens to him. On the other hand there are five patients which need different organs transplant, by coincidence the homeless person is match for the transplant patients. So according to utilitarian idea, the best choice will be to kill the homeless person in order to save the other five individuals, again: the greatest good for the greatest number. According to Utilitarianism before you commit an action you will need to think in what brings the greatest happiness or good to the greatest amount of people. This is why an utilitarianism will make the choice of killing just one person. Another example we can use to explain the theory may be the following: Imagine that a very intelligent person whom brings large amounts of benefits to the society, is shot, and needs a heart transplant. In that same hospital, there is terminal ill patient, which will just have 2 days more of life. So the medical staff decide that they will transplant the heart of the terminal ill patient to the gun victim. For an act utilitarianism, this choice will be correct, because it will bring the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. On the other hand for rule utilitarianism, no one in the society would approve a general law to kill a patient in order to save another’s life. Based on this example and in the ideas given by Mill, utilitarianism is ideas may conclude that utilitarianisms make emphasis in the consequences of an action, not on the intentions. The main purpose of utilitarianism, is the one of reducing or eliminating moral conflict.
Now, let us think, about the ideas, proposed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, Kant believed that in order for any individual to make a correct and rational he needed to use his reasoning. The act of reasoning according to Kant is one of the most important capacity we have as individuals. Kant also believed in the supreme principal of morality, which made him come up with what he called: The Categorical Imperatives. The Categorical Imperatives as he explained are the commands we must follow in order to fulfill our moral obligations. Categorical Imperatives can be better explained in terms of various formulations, he came up with various formulations of the Categorical Imperative, I will be explaining two of them. The first one and the most important one is commonly known as: The Universalizability Principle. Which assumes “ Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals). Based on this principle, in order to achieve total happiness, we need to take into consideration whether any action we cause will take into consideration the fulfillment of duty. So this means that before making a decision, I will need to think what is the general rule that stands behind the particular action I am considering to do. To explain better this idea, I will use as an example an individual who needs money to pay some of his debts, in order to pay his debts, he decides to ask one of his friends for money. He makes the promise to his friend that we will pay him back as son as he gets the money. The individual makes this false promise because he already knows he will not be able to pay him back. Is it morally okay to do this? If you approve the maxim of lying then what you are doing is universalizing that action. Which means you are saying everyone should lie. Because as Kant proposed, if you are able to do it, everyone should be able to do it. The second formulation talks about how we should treat other people: “treat humanity always as an end never merely as a meant to an end” (Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals). By this he meant to not use a person according to our own benefit. But the truth is that we use people all the time, but the difference is that we use them as a means for something but not as mere means. The only thing that Kant argues is not correct is that “ we should not be manipulated, or to manipulate other autonomous agents for our own benefit”(Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals) . Making reference to the example I made earlier about the individual asking for money the individual will be treating his friend as a mere mean in order to accomplish his goals, which will be a violation of the Second Categorical Imperative. The idea of this theory, is that if an individual expects people not to do an action, he will not do it either. Being that said we can now understand that the ideas proposed by Kant are all about sticking to the moral rulebook, which means always trying to make what morality tells us to. But what happens when in order to perform the moral thing to do, you will have some negative consequences. An example of this may be the one I gave during class, in which there two individuals whom both are poor, one of the is asking the other one for money in order to feed his family. But the other poor guys is counting on that money to feed his family as well. If we take into consideration Mills theory in order to solve this problem, he would say to give the five dollars to the person, but by doing this action, you will be contradicting your own benefit, so that is why Mill doesn’t give us a solution for this type of example.
To conclude, as we have seen in this paper. Happiness is a very ambiguous term, because its significance depends on each individual. Along the years, there have been a lot of philosophers, like Mills and Kant whom have tried to define what happiness means, or which type of actions an individual should perform, in order to achieve total happiness, after all we decide what to value. It doesn’t matter what you decide with your life, all that matters is that is meaning making for you.
In order to fulfill the goal of happiness we may use some of their theories, but in some situations some of the theories can not be apply, such as the example I gave about the poor individuals. In this case, it will depend on the individual to make a choice taking into consideration both of the ends. In my opinion the numerous theories made by philosophers may help us a base to achieve happiness, but we also need to take into consideration the dreams and desires of each individual. As some philosophers have argued we also need to take into consideration the happiness of others, by this I mean that in order to be happy, we also need to bring joy to the people around us. We need to find a balance between our own happiness and the ones around us. In my opinion, that is the secret for anyone who wants to achieve happiness. Being happy without taking the happiness of others away from them, or on the other hand, helping them in order, to achieve their happiness.