Motive: Hume’s position is that an action has no merit deemed in itself nor has consequence but it is motive, with act acquiring merit only derivatively after having been caused by a virtuous motive. This is echoed by Kant, who considers character to be fundamental. Kant asserts that the moral value of an act is determined by two characteristics: the mental states of the agent involved in the performance of the acts; and the intrinsic character of an act itself; to have positive moral worth, an agent must perform an intrinsically right act for the right reason. For Kant, a good will is good not in virtue of wanting to bring about happiness; it is good in virtue of being motivated by a sense of duty. He said, “An act is right if it is consistent with the demands of reason and human dignity.” Socrates believes that virtue is a kind of knowledge, and if virtue is knowledge, then it should be able to be both defined and taught. Act: Aristotle does not just consider motivations and their consequences, but the acts themselves. He states the rational principle upon which ethics or morality is grounded—the principle of truth in conformity with right desire, rather than truth in conformity with what or what does not exist. Aristotle lays it down that most virtues are middle grounds between opposing vices. His middle ground ethics is between Mill’s utilitarianism where only consequences count and Kant’s grounding where none of the consequences count. Consequence: Mill’s utilitarianism claims that intention or consequence can justify any act. For Mill, the rightness or wrongness is dependent wholly upon the intention whereas the motive makes none in the morality if it makes no difference in the act. This runs opposite Kant’s grounding, because for Kant, consequences are not relevant in judging the moral quality of an act.
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