What is the Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism

The main difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is that Kantianism is a deontological moral theory whereas utilitarianism is a teleological moral theory.

Both Kantianism and utilitarianism are ethical theories that express the ethical standard of an action. However, these two philosophies take on different standpoints on ethics. Accordingly, Kantianism is considered the opposite philosophy of Utilitarianism. Thus, this article looks at this difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism. 

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Kantianism
     – Definition, Theory, Characteristics 
2. What is Utilitarianism
     – Definition, Theory, Characteristics
3. What are the Similarities Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Ethics, Morals, Kantianism, Utilitarianism, Theories, Philosophy

Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism -Comparison Summary

What is Kantianism

Kantianism is the ethical theory put forward by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in the 18th century. According to him, the morality of an action is not based on its consequences. Hence, this theory belongs to deontological moral theories. Deontology or deontological theories are those that focus on ethics involving responsibility, moral duty, and commitment.  Kant postulated this theory to give ethical guidelines to people when making ethical decisions or actions.

Kant described that duty, goodwill, and moral worth are vital to determine the morality of an action. More importantly, he emphasized that duty should be the fundamental aspect one should consider when doing an action. Moreover, he further explained that humans, being rational beings, should use their reasoning ability or rational thinking when making ethical decisions. Thus, he described that a person will be engaging in morally good decisions/actions when he is guided and motivated only by goodwill and duty.

Main Difference - Kantianism vs Utilitarianism

Figure 1: Immanuel Kant

Likewise, Kant described two fundamental questions to consider when one is doing any action:

  1. Can I rationally will that everyone act as I propose to act?  If the answer is no, then we must not perform the action. 
  2. Does my action respect the goals of human beings rather than merely using them for my own purposes?  Again, if the answer is no, then we must not perform the action.  (Kant believed that these questions were equivalent).

The main reason for Kant to not consider the consequences of actions when determining its morality is that he believed that actions such as theft, lying, murder, crimes etc. have to be prohibited even though sometimes such actions will also result in more happiness than other alternatives.

What is Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy introduced by pioneering figures such as Jeremy Bentham (introduced the classical utilitarianism), John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and G.E Moore. Utilitarianism is based on the principle of utility, which emphasizes on the idea of being more useful and beneficial for a majority. Also, this theory was developed as a result of an attempt to direct the lawmakers of England to consider the common good rather than the welfare of their social class when formulating laws.

Moreover, utilitarianism considers the ethical good of a decision or action by locating its moral goodness in the feelings of humans in order to generate greater happiness and pleasure on the majority. Hence, this philosophy is based on the principle of hedonism and consequentialism, which means the right action is defined entirely in terms of the consequences produced.

Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism_Figure 2

Figure 2: John Stuart Mill

Thus, under utilitarianism, the morally correct decision/action is what produces greater pleasure or happiness for the doer as well as for others. Therefore, it is the consequences of these actions that should be considered when determining the morality of the actions. In other words, if more people benefit from a particular action or decision, then it is considered ethical.

Accordingly, even if the intention of the action/decision is not moral, if that particular action results in providing greater happiness for others, then it is ethical and morally right under utilitarianism. Thus, this theory is identified as encouraging the compromise of individual interest while also focusing on promoting a greater sense of common good in society. 

Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is considered one of the most powerful approaches to normative ethics in philosophy. Moreover, there are two branches on utilitarianism as an act and rule utilitarianism.

Similarities Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism

  • Kantianism and Utilitarianism were introduced during the 18th
  • Both are ethical philosophies that focus on describing the morality of an action or a decision.

Difference Between Kantianism and Utilitarianism


Kantianism is a moral philosophy introduced by Immanuel Kant that emphasizes that morality of an action/decision is not determined by its consequences but by the motivation of the doer whereas Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy introduced by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, etc. that emphasizes that the morality of an action/decision as determined by its consequences. Thus, this is the fundamental difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism.

Introduced by

Moreover, Kantianism is postulated by Immanuel Kant while Utilitarianism is postulated by Jeremy Bentham, John Sturt Mill, Henry Sidgwick, et al. 


The main difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is that Kantianism is a deontological theory while utilitarianism is a teleological theory.


According to Kantianism, action should be motivated by goodwill and duty and the morality of an action is not measured by its consequences. However, according to utilitarianism, an action is considered moral and good if it results in providing greater happiness for others, regardless of its intention; hence an action is measured by its consequences. Hence, this is another difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism.


Kantianism and Utilitarianism are ethical philosophies that give moral guidance to individual actions and decisions. Both of these theories were introduced during the 18th century. However, these two diverge in their focus. Accordingly, the main difference between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is that Kantianism is a deontological moral theory whereas utilitarianism is a teleological moral theory.


1. “Kantianism > Utilitarianism.” Postcolonial Studies, Curbside Consult, Available here.
2. “Kantian Ethics. “California State University Sacramento, Available here.
3. “Kantianism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2018, Available here.
4. Vleeschauwer, Herman Jean de. “Kantianism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 Mar. 2016, Available here.
5. Driver, Julia. “The History of Utilitarianism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 27 Mar. 2009, Available here.
6. Pecorino, Philip A. “Chapter 8: Ethics; UTILITARIANISM .” What Is Philosophy?, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Immanuel Kant 3” By “Masters of Achievement” text (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c1870” By London Stereoscopic Company – Hulton Archive (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
3. “947574” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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