Epicurus and Kant: a comparison of their ethical systems

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2010
Kutan, Ali Haydar
In this Study, the empiricist ethical system of Epicurus and idealist ethical system of Kant will be compared. Kant maintains that as Epicurus’ ethics regards morality as a means for the attainment of happiness, it is nothing but a self-love ethics. He, for this reason, calls Epicurean morality “selfishness.” According to Kant, the maxims of happiness can be known only through experience but he says, experience can never produce a law which is universal and necessary. He contends that as Epicurean ethics has happiness as its ultimate goal (i.e., the highest good), it cannot be able to produce an objective morality, valid for all rational beings. Kant, on the other hand, tries to found his ethical system on an a priori moral law of pure reason which borrows nothing from experience. This Study would, in a sense, be a defense of Epicurean ethical system against Kant’s claims. The main argument of the thesis is that Epicurean ethics is not a self-love ethics, but rather a system which propounds happiness for all. I will be arguing that for Epicurus, one’s own happiness is necessarily bound up with the happiness of others, and that his system is sound and consistent. I will also try to show that Kant is not successful in deducing a transcendentally ideal (a priori) law of reason and that his system has some inconsistencies.