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When doing service, should one emphasize material/physical needs over spiritual needs?

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Critical Reflection #5: Applying Kantian and Utilitarian Ethics to Service

<br />“Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” –-Immanuel Kant

<br />“[T]he happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. [The] standard is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.”

<br />–-John Stuart Mill

<br />Think about how Immanuel Kant’s moral theory and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism might help you think about service and how the experience of doing service might help you assess, understand, and critique their moral theories. Kant’s theory is deontological; it assesses right and wrong by whether or not the action is in conformity with duty (which can be determined by applying the two forms of the categorical imperative) and whether or not it has a proper motive. The only acceptable motive for Kant is that the right act be done out of a sense of duty; if one does one’s duty from any other motive (love, compassion, self-interest, etc.) it may be the right thing, but it lacks “moral worth.” Is this true of service? Conversely, utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism (or teleology) where the results or outcomes matter most (not the act because “the end justifies the means” nor the motive because motive is irrelevant if the result is good) and the right thing to do is whatever maximizes overall happiness. Which is a better theory? Which is a more helpful for thinking about service? Is it more important to follow Kant (to respect persons as persons, not “use” them or treat them as things or means) or Mill (to give people pleasure and make them happy)? Do “results rule” or not? Would Kant say we have a “duty” to serve? When doing service, should one emphasize material/physical needs over spiritual needs? Be sure to illustrate your answers with specific examples from your service work.

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