Immanuel Kant

Start Free Trial

What would Kant and Mill argue you should do if you discovered a friend and VP at your nonprofit was embezzling funds?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kant and Mill would take very different approaches to this ethical problem. Kant would argue that a "categorical imperative" or universal law prohibits stealing. This law is rational and applies to everyone without exception. He would argue that the friend of the embezzler has a moral obligation to expose the embezzler without worrying about the consequences. The friend should not consider what it might do to this embezzling single mother and her children to lose her job and perhaps face jail time. The case is cut and dried, according to Kant: the embezzler is breaking a moral law as well as a judicial law and must face the consequences.

Mill, a utilitarian, argues from a different set of ethical premises. For him, the goal of society and moral law is to maximize happiness. He wrote in his book Utilitarianism that

actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

This creates a more difficult ethical situation for the friend to unravel. She must, according to Mill, determine what produces greater happiness: continuing to allow the friend to embezzle or turning her in. In this case, she would have to determine how much her friend is embezzling and then do the moral calculus to decide if her friend benefits more from having the money than do the people she is depriving of the money.

For example, if she is not taking much, and it is keeping her and her children from a dire situation, such as homelessness or paying for a child's medical care, it might be morally best to look the other way. On the other hand, if she is taking a lot of money and spending it on designer clothes and luxuries while depriving others in need of necessities, her friend would be morally obligated to expose her.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial