This essay will compare and contrast the moral philosophies of three people: St Augustine, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle. Everybody has their own concept of what good is. Most people agree on certain things such as the morality of murder, stealing, etc. , however, as our conceptions are looked at with greater detail, why we do good, how we do good, and basically what good stands for, varies. I believe that the essence of morality is the variety of interpretations / understandings. How these conceptions vary is a different story than the conceptions themselves.
In order to compare the moral philosophies of three different people, you must take several things into consideration: 1) surrounding / area the person lives in, 2) how the person was raised, and 3) degree of objectivity of the person’s perception. For the first consideration, the political / social system that a person lives in may affect their views of society, and what their definition of good is. With the second consideration, how the person was raised in some ways can determine their perception and intake of knowledge regarding moral and ethical issues.
However, some people are not always so predetermined by means of upbringing as others. Lastly, with the third consideration, number’s one and two are combined in order to factor the degree of independence a person has from seeing the truth of morality. This independence is different within all of us, as our opinions are different from each other. I will now describe what three philosophers thought was the truth, purpose, or essence of morality. St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430 CE.
He lived in North Africa in the city of Hippo (already you can see how the first consideration mentioned earlier might affect Augustines perception). Before becoming Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine lived a licentious life. This previous phase in his life can be said to have had a large affect on his later philosophies of morality, good, and virtue (although for some of his views, he could be held as a hypocrite). According to Augustine, in order to achieve perfection of the soul, one must have virtue in 2 their lives.
He defines virtue as a perfect love of God, and that there are four forms of love: Temperance – “love keeping itself entire & incorrupt for God”Fortitude – “love bearing everything readily for the sake of God”Justice – “love serving God only and therefore ruling well all else, as subject to man”Prudence – “love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God, and what might hinder it” For temperance and fortitude, they are both directed at the individual’s love towards God. For justice, “man must serve God whom he loves, the highest good, the highest wisdom, and the highest peace”.
As for prudence, it “belongs to discern between what is to be desired and what is to be shunned”. Another way Augustine incorporated love into his philosophy was the love of God by loving oneself and ones neighbour. According to Augustine, it is impossible for one who loves God, to not love oneself; “he alone has a proper love for himself who aims diligently at the attainment of the chief and true good; this is nothing else but God”. He also believes that loving oneself and ones neighbour does good partly to the man’s body and partly to his soul.
Basically, loving God yourself and your neighbour, helps you to become more virtuous, and as well helps your mind and body; psychologically helping yourself by putting faith in God. Following this, I come to Aristotle. Aristotle lived from 384 to 322 BCE, and lived for a portion of his life in Athens. The core of Aristotles account of moral virtue is his doctrine of the mean. According to this doctrine, moral virtues are desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean between more extreme character traits.
Also, he believes that morality requires a standard which will not only regulate the inadequacies of absolute justice but be also an idea of moral 3 progress. In other words, this conception can be looked at as laying the groundwork for a religion like Christianity – having a moral standard which regulates the inadequacies of absolute justice by following Gods law’. Since absolute justice is abstract in nature, in the real world, it must be supplemented with equity, which corrects and modifies laws of justice where it falls short.
Like Augustine, Aristotle believes that the truly good person is at the same time a person of perfect insight, and a person of perfect insight is also perfectly good. Insight, according to Augustine would be understanding or knowledge of God. Aristotle goes further to say that our idea of the ultimate and moral action is developed through habitual experience, and this gradually frames itself out of particular perceptions – which can be compared to my three considerations said earlier (habitual experience – the area you live, and particular perceptions – degree of objectivity).
When it comes to the purpose or will of morality, Aristotle mentions two factors: reason stimulated to act by desire, or desire guided and controlled by understanding. These two factors according to Aristotle, then motivate the willful moral action. Moral weakness of the will then results in someone doing wrong, knowing it is right, and yet follows his desire against his reason. So basically ones reason is what motivates a willful action, and ones desire motivates an action of moral weakness.
This notion is not different from Augustine’s view that in order to love God, one must love oneself – in order to love God, you must be strong with your self; have a strong will. Also like Augustine, Aristotle believes that pleasure is found in the consciousness of free spontaneous action; God cannot be conceived as practising the ordinary moral virtues and must therefore find his happiness in contemplation. Therefore God is pure good, while man can strive to be that good, he cannot avoid his consciousness of free spontaneous action. 4 Lastly, I bring myself to Immanuel Kant.
Kant lived from 1724 to 1804. He lived in Konigsberg, East Prussia (now Russia). Kant’s philosophy of morality outlined in Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative’, as a method for determining the morality of actions. There are two tests for Kant to determine the morality of actions: 1) create a general truth and consider whether it could be universal law for all rational beings, and 2) determine whether rational beings would will it to be universal law. Basically Kant believed that reason dictated to itself the moral law.
Kants views on morality are somewhat different than Aristotle and Augustine, mainly because Kant considered himself to be a revolutionary thinker. He believed that he brought into philosophy a new method, which he called criticism. The morality in Kant’s situation is strict in its application of moral conduct. Because of this, there is no wavering in individual cases to determine whether an action is moral or not. An action is moral in itself not because of its consequences but because any rational being wills it to be a universal law and it does not contradict itself.
Utilitarianism according to Kant, states that an action is moral if it increases the total happiness of society. This could be compared to Aristotle, who believes that morality requires a standard which will regulate the inadequacies of absolute justice, but definitely not Augustine who strictly believes in Gods law, not peoples law. For Kant, however, morality is based on consequences. Kant rejects utilitarianism because it produces immediate gratification and allows man exceptions to common sense moral codes; the answers it gives are unfulfilling and unrealistic.
Kant’s solution, I believe, is much better than utilitarianism, or any of the other moral philosophies stated in this essay. Kant’s resonates my moral sensibilities to consider that actions are moral or immoral regardless of their immediate consequences. I am willing to accept that sometimes the moral action is harder to perform, but I am unwilling to accept that morality rests within the specifics of a situation and the possible consequences. Therefore, again, I consider Kant’s test and view of morality to be what I believe the strongest.