Type: Review
Pages: 7 | Words: 1804
Reading Time: 8 Minutes

Philosophers live and always encourage the human race to live in accordance with the rules of wisdom. Aristotle and Emmanuel Kant were two philosophers who tried, and somehow succeeded, in solving complex ethical dilemmas. These two philosophers wrote theories about different human actions, and tried to explain the ethical thing to do in certain situations. While Kant, observed obligation and duty from a law perspective, Aristotle envisioned on the aim of life. Their unique points of view towards human behavior offer different answers to the question of good.

Despite having many differences, Kant and Aristotle, a host of similar ideas binds them together. Both of them were always optimistic, always believing that all human beings are ethical naturally. Both of them also always applied the concept of reason. In addition, they encouraged people to live and act well by employing good character and virtuous behavior. Both of these philosophers believed in the concept of self-actualization, which refers to being and living the best a person can be. To them, an ethical, human being must be responsible for his or her actions, and ethical. Every human being has an obligation to the world and towards a certain society. The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast the ethical theories of Kant and Aristotle. The paper will also highlight which of the two theories is superior and why.

Aristotle’s Theory

Aristotle was alive before the times of Jesus, and he established the theory of teleological ethics. Teleological ethics means that ethics has a purpose or a reason. Aristotle emphasized the doctrine of the mean highly; always citing that there is a need to maintain a balance in everything a person does or says. In addition, Aristotle theorized that happiness is the main goal of the human race and discussed the notion that people develop virtuous habits in order to build good character. Aristotle in his theories explained the way that reaching individual potential, acting well and living well ultimately leads to happiness (McKeon 99). Aristotle theorized that people should be always basing their actions on reason; reason controls desire at all times.

To understand Aristotle’s theory better, it is vital that someone understands the way of life of the Greeks. Their view of the world is different from the way that we see the modern society today; they saw the world as a whole, with an unending connection of everything to everything. A macro cosmos exists, which is the unity of everything. This cosmos consists of the sun, planets, the world and the galaxy. In this colossal macro cosmos, man is a micro cosmos, a part and a reflection of the whole.

Aristotle looked at the ethics from the point of view of the Greeks. Ethics operate in the realm of opinion and meanings, evolving within the limits of human observations. After looking at creatures, he had a belief that all living things have internal goals (Ferguson 270). All human beings thus work to achieve their goals. Happiness results when somebody is successful in achieving his or her lifetime goals. Some of the examples of good that Aristotle gave are honor, good health, pleasure and having friends. Aristotle pointed out that if humans took the time to question good actions, they would find that all good actions lead to happiness. Thus, man will always associate good things with happiness. A sick person wills that he becomes healthy because he or she believes that good health brings happiness.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Emmanuel Kant in his theories tried to move away from what he termed as flawed theories from rationalists and empiricists.  Empiricists argue that the root of knowledge is experience while rationalists argue that reason is the root of knowledge. Kant argued that the goal of these philosophers was to make their concepts equal the nature of objects. Kant argued that certain forms of knowledge are due to a priori, i.e. they happen before experience. After making this distinction, Kant goes on to discuss the theory of morality. According to him, the categorical imperative is the single moral obligation of all human beings. Kant goes on to say that, all other moral obligations rise directly from the categorical imperative. Categorical imperative refers to a set of good principles. Self-thinking paves way for duty; duty is the driving force to act out in obedience of the law. Kant was thus a deontologist, who is a person whose moral obligation rests solely on duty and not consequence (Audi 271).

Kant lived in the 18th century when scientists were trying to atomize the world. Scientists were discussing the theory of free will. They viewed the brain as consisting of atoms that are in constant bombardment with each other. Human thoughts were thus because of the bumping process. From a mechanistic approach, thought are accidental happening due to collision and somebody cannot evade them. Therefore, somebody stealing, according to the mechanistic approach, is accidental. Scientists were facing this strange discussion. Kant did like the notions of mechanistic and rational approaches, but not the idea that humans do not have a free will. Humans always have a choice in everything they attempt to do. Kant advocated that human beings have five senses that aid them in sensing their surroundings i.e. smell, taste, sight, feeling and listening. These senses send stimuli to the brain; the brain then produces an image of the world, as we perceive it.

Kant’s theory is an impartial theory, meaning that it makes no exceptions nor favors any side of morality. The rules of morality advocated by Kant this apply to all human beings regardless of their color, taste, class, creed, race, gender, blood type, etc. Kant’s theory has a weighty strength, that of the categorical imperative; it is also one of the weaknesses of his theory.  According to him, all actions result directly from this principle. Kant does not give an opportunity for moral actions to stem from other factors. Kant’s theory is also too general as it theorizes that, for an action to be moral, it should have an aspect of universality.

Comparing these two theories and choosing the stronger one is a difficult and daunting task. However, I would say that Kant’s theory, despite the weaknesses above, has a better view of morality that Aristotle’s theory. This is because Kant addresses ethics from a universal point of view through the categorical imperative.

Difference Between Aristotle and Kant

Aristotle defines the highest good as happiness. To achieve happiness, every man must use the virtues that are within him or her. Virtue, according to Aristotle is that urge, readiness and inclination to excel in everything that humans attempt to do; it is the fear of failure (Ferguson 32). Excellence then falls between deficiency and excess. There are a dozen ways that a man can employ virtue to achieve happiness in his life. Since all humans have different personal characteristics, Aristotle did not define virtue strictly; his definition was a loose meaning of the term. The individual characteristics of a man define his or her individual excellence. For example, a generous person has a deficiency in taking and an excess in extravagance. Such a person must act opposite to a frugal man in order to attain the mean. To attain such a mean will require the right man to apply virtue in the right extent for the right reason. From the foregoing, virtue is thus a hard thing to achieve; being virtuous throughout one’s life will make somebody happy.

While Aristotle combines good acts with virtue, Kant has a different idea. Kant proposes that a good will is good in itself and not because of its accomplishments (Broad 7). The highest morals of a person’s life rest on the good will. Thus, all individuals of good will achieve complete their actions using the greatest moral worth. Moral worth is not related to the activities preceding the completion of a certain activity. In contrast, the moral worth of an act depends on the principles underlying the completion of the act. Good will is thus the object and subject; it is never a product of some other act. Good will, according to Kant, is the ability complete actions successfully for their sole purpose and duty.

Duty can be either hypothetical or imperative. Hypothetical imperative motivates a person to complete a certain task for its end; they constitute the human error in our actions. Kant pointed out that we should not confuse happiness and self-preservation. A seller who groups his merchants in several groups does not do so for the purpose of the prospective buyer, but so that he can fix different prices for his goods. The seller is not interested in the happiness of the consumer, but does this as a means of making a profit. This is self-preservation on the part of the seller.

Categorical imperative, on the other hand, motivates a person to complete a certain task for the sake of the act itself and not for the end. Such duties are universal in themselves and are never unique. Categorical imperatives can thus be universal laws. Kant encourages people to act in such a way that their act is universal (Broad 30). For a man who chooses to help others because he is living a comfortable life, Kant says such a man betrays the rights of man. Such a person reasons that everyman should make his own happiness. However, the same man will require the help of others, and thus according to categorical imperative, his reasoning is contradictory.

If a person is to be virtuous always in his or her actions, as Aristotle says, he shall have to tell lies at some time so that he can reach a mean of his actions. Extending this argument would mean that all humans would have to lie, and there would be no truth in the world. However, Aristotle retorts that such a man would have to consider the circumstances. In situations where kindness arises, somebody can lie, if his lie would bring good to his life.


Kant’s philosophical theory creates a standard way for all beings to achieve goodness. His theory is universal in nature. On the contrary, a person can only be termed as good under Aristotle’s theory after living many years virtuously. Kant had a belief that by making use of good will, humans can complete their categorical duties. The completion of categorical duties them make man good. A call to duty is the driver of all our actions.  This does not mean that we ignore the concepts of Aristotle; nobody can. We can apply Aristotle’s theory of happiness to understand why individuals do risky activities; all of them are searching for happiness. Without a doubt, happiness will result if a person realizes his or her goals in this world, but the period within which the happiness arises is exceedingly large. Thus although, Kant’s theory has several weaknesses, it is more superior to Aristotle’s.

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