– the original assigment (Dutch version, see below) was given a 7.5/10 by Peter Sperber, under Approval of Marcus Düwell

If Immanuel Kant states that we always have to act according to maxims of which we can at the same time will that they become a Universal law, how much does his conception differ from rule-utilism? In this summarized form there seems to be not difference: both principles order a certain way of acting without looking at the consequences per act. I here want to address this question, and argue why there is a difference.

Central in Kant’s ethics is the Categorical Imperative, a universal principle that applies to all reasonable beings. “Act only according to that maxim[1] whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”, it states.[2] If I can not wish a maxim to be a universal law applying to all reasonable being, it cannot be moral. It is, according to Kant, the only moral obligation, because all other thinkable imperatives serve a goal, and are therefore hypothetical imperatives. As long as an act is not done from the principle of duty, it has no moral worth, even when it brings happiness to you and to the other.

Utilitarianism (utilism in short) defends the so-called greatest happiness principle, which says that the right thing to do is the act that brings as much happiness as possible to as many as possible people.[3] This almost per definition requires the use of rules, because calculating for each act what the possible consequences are is theoretically and practically impossible. Utilism knows two main conceptions on how to deal with these rules. Act-utilism says that these rules may be broken when this causes more happiness in a specific situation, rule-utilism states that one has to accept a set of rules that one is not allowed to break, even if the exception would bring more happiness about. The fact that a number of rule-utilitarians uses sub-rules that make exceptions possible indirectly is left out of consideration here, because with these sub-rules, the distinction between act- and rule-utilism blurs so much that it would make answering the question impossible.

To the question whether there is a difference between the conceptions of Kant and rule-utilism I surely can say “yes, there is.”  In short, the two seem similar because both give strict rules for moral behavior, but in essence they differ strongly.

This difference lies in the fact that rule-utilism gives rules to block the possibility of bizarre exceptions. As an act-utilitarian it would not at all be problematic to cheat on your wife if that produced more overall happiness. Richard Brandt, among others, gives this as an argument against act-utilism.[4] Although the categorical imperative does not allow exceptions in a similar way, rule-utilism gives rules with a goal in mind, where the categorical imperative is characterized by its being a goal in itself. Because rule-utilism in the end judges the morality of a set of rules (not of the rules in themselves), it is a consequentialist (also teleological) ethical theory; a theory that states that the outcomes of actions determine the moral worth. Kant’s ethical theory morally judges actions on basis of their motivations, and therefore of a fundamentally different kind, a deontological: an ethical theory based on rules, that looks at the motivated action instead of only the consequence. The rule-utilitarian thus assumes that morality is a means to general happiness, whereas Kant states that morality exists in itself, has no external purpose. It is the expressing of the free will of the person. In short: rule-utilism says that happiness is the greatest good, Kant says the good will is.

Stephen Darwall formulates the underlying normative difference as follows: the rule-utilitarian believes that together we are all responsible for everyone’s happiness, where Kant states that together we are all responsible for the conditions that are necessary for supplying everyone in what they need for living their (moral) lives.[5]

A last difference is the following: a formulation of the categorical imperative that Kant names is that you must always treat people as ends, never as means. [6] Utilism puts everything in the service of the greater happiness, through which humanity (man-hood) automatically becomes a means.

So once again, yes, Kant’s view differs widely from utilism’s. Kant’s ethical theory is first of all a deontological, not a teleological. The set of moral rules of rule-utilism is given to promote a greater good, the categorical imperative has morality as a goal in itself. Then there are some differences in, for example, how the two treat acts concerning humanity (man-hood) and the conception of the greatest good. More than enough to separate the two.

[1] Subjective principle for acting

[2] Kant, Immanuel (1997) Fundering van de Metafysica van de Zeden. Amsterdam: Boom – p. 74

[3] Mill, John Stuart (1998) On liberty and other essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press – p. 457

[4] Brandt, Richard B. (1991) Philosophical Ethics: an Introduction to Moral Philosophy. New York: McGraw Hill – p. 152

[5] Darwall, Stephen (1997) Philosophical Ethics. Oxford: Westview Press – p.168

[6] O’Neill, Onora  in Singer, Peter (1993) A Companion to Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell – p. 178-179


– the original assignment (Dutch version, see below) was given a 9.5/10 by Rob van Gerwen

The hermeneutical and phenomenological approaches to aesthetics have in common that they, contrary to predecessors Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer (among others), did not set up a system but focused on a method, very probably mostly as a consequence of the philosophical goals they had in mind (hereunder explained). In short, the phenomenological method aims for the experience, while the hermeneutical is concerned with interpretation. I will here discuss several differences and resemblances between the two methods, at the same time showing how they differ from their aesthetic predecessors, the system builders. I will discuss phenomenology on basis of Edmund Husserl’s and Roman Ingarden’s thoughts, and hermeneutics on basis of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s.[1]

Husserl’s phenomenological method’s main feature is the use of direct intuition as a source and test of all knowledge, and the belief in the philosophical possibility and necessity of insight into essential structures. Here the Kantian background shows through: we have to go back “zu den Sachen”, with which he means the phenomena, not the “real” things (comparable to Kant’s Ding an sich, thing in itself). Husserl’s phenomenology presupposes thus the existence of essences, as well as that we are able to exercise a mental activity, Wesenschau, in which, through examples, universal notions can be “caught”, understood. These notions are built up by the subjective consciousness, assisted by the perception of concrete sachen, affairs. According to Husserl, the phenomenological method, research on the constitutive functions of our consciousness, follows the following steps:

  1. Research of concrete phenomena
    1. Observation
    2. Analysis
    3. Description
  2. Research of general essences and their relations
  3. Observation of modes of appearance
  4. Postpone the belief in the existence of phenomena

Ingarden worked out Husserl’s philosophical program in aesthetics. More generally, he rejected the idealism in Husserl’s philosophy. Ingarden assumed realism to be the correct stance in the debate, but never got his evidence together. That a philosophical discipline (phenomenology in this case) can be supported from an idealist as well as from a realist point of view shows well how this philosophy is much different from the approach of above mentioned system builders.

We find the first resemblance between the two in the fact that hermeneutics finds its origin in a reaction on the positivist movement as well (both as a method, even). The further refinement of these reactions shows us one of the biggest differences as well: Husserl thinks psychologism problematic in general. He does not agree with the statement that only facts are worthy of study, as well as with the proposition that moral problems are solvable by study of facts only. Hermeneutics is concerned with humanities solely, en thus on itself includes no attack on the physical sciences.

With the rest of both methods, we see that this distinction causes more differences: phenomenology is concerned with a much greater area, and its propositions are often of a very different category. Phenomenology speaks out on fundamental questions about the nature of reality. Husserl is an idealist, Ingarden a realist. Hermeneutics is not really concerned with these questions. The nature of reality at least does not play a notable role in the philosophy.

Thus hermeneutics also originates from a reaction on the physical sciences and the positivists, who claim that humanities’ field of study is better left to the physical sciences, whose method is much more precise and exact. Hermeneutics offers, as a reaction, the distinction between explanation and understanding. Explanation is the task of natural science; understanding is the task of humanities. The natural scientific method cannot explain reasons in the way they are used in human practice: it can only explain what follows (or seems to follow) laws. Reasons need to be understood. Gadamer’s hermeneutical method is not as clearly defined as the phenomenological method (another difference), neither does it claim to offer a method for unambiguous interpretation. It studies interpretation. According to Gadamer, the hermeneutical circle (we can only understand the details through the whole, but we can only conceive the whole through the details) describes interpretation as a movement of the tradition and the interpreter, starting from his or her embedding in it. This tradition is no final bias, but it constantly changed and adjusted by ourselves.

Digging deeper, we find less and less resemblances between the two. In aesthetics for example: Ingarden considers the aesthetic object as intentional product of the human mind, independent of the physical object we refer to, interpretations by the viewer/listener of intentions of the maker, while according to Gadamer, (the various forms of) works of arts, on the moment of the moments they are performed, (this is easiest understood with pieces of music) are simultaneous/concurrent, while all their simultaneous observations together constitute the aesthetic object, with which a certain sense of community is involved. (the terminology used here may be quite confusing, because the words are used in a remarkably different way from their daily use – some imagination may be needed in order to understand this) This, for him, correlates with human practices (play, festival, and ritual) and properties. The two also arrive at their conclusions in very different ways. Hermeneutics uses a historical approach, while phenomenology reaches its conclusions through the phenomenological concept of intentionality. Art here is a hermeneutical object. Here, the contrast with the system builders becomes clear once again: they often utilized a logical deduction, usually starting with fundamental epistemological/ontological claims. With hermeneutics, this has given way for research on interpretation, strongly correlating with the (very hard to translate word) werkingsgeschiedenis (I think effective history does it best). Phenomenology rather looks at practical experience: how do things appear to us?

[1] These thinkers may not be fully representative for the two methods in general

Dutch version:

De hermeneutische en fenomenologische benaderingen van (onder andere) esthetica hebben gemeen dat ze, in tegenstelling tot voorgangers Kant, Hegel en Schopenhauer (onder anderen) geen systeem opzetten maar zich focusten op een methode, wat veel te maken had met de filosofische doelstellingen die ze voor ogen hadden. Kort gezegd richt de fenomenologische methode zich op de beleving en richt de hermeneutische methode zich op de interpretatie. Ik zal de fenomenologie hier bespreken aan de hand van Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938) en Roman Ingarden (1893 – 1970), en de hermeneutiek aan de hand van Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900 – 2002). [1]
Husserl’s fenomenologische methode kenmerkt zich door het hanteren van de directe intuïtie als bron en test van alle kennis, en het geloof in de filosofische mogelijkheid en noodzakelijkheid van inzicht in essentiële structuren. Hier blijkt heel erg de Kantiaanse achtergrond: we moeten terug “zu den Sachen”, maar hier worden met ‘zaken’ de fenomenen bedoeld, niet de “werkelijke” dingen (vergelijkbaar met Kant’s Ding an sich). Husserl’s fenomenologie veronderstelt dus het bestaan van essenties, en ook dat wij in staat zijn tot een mentale activiteit, Wesenschau, waarin via voorbeelden universele noties gevat worden. Deze noties zijn opgebouwd door het subjectief bewustzijn met behulp van de waarneming van concrete zaken. Volgens Husserl volgt de fenomenologische methode, onderzoek van de constitutieve functies van ons bewustzijn, de volgende stappen:

1. Concrete fenomenen onderzoeken
a. schouwing
b. analyse
c. beschrijving

2. Algemene essenties en hun relaties onderzoeken

3. Verschijningswijzen aanschouwen

4. Geloof in het bestaan van de fenomenen opschorten[2]

Ingarden, die Husserl’s programma verder uitwerkte, onder meer in de esthetica, verzette zich tegen het idealisme in Husserl’s filosofie. Ingarden veronderstelde dat realisme de juiste positie was, maar heeft zijn bewijs hiervoor nooit rond gekregen. Dat een opvatting houdbaar is vanuit een realistische positie laat heel goed zien dat dit een hele andere soort filosofie is dan de aanpak van de eerder genoemde “systeembouwers.”

De eerste overeenkomst tussen de benaderingen vinden we in het feit dat ook de hermeneutiek zijn oorsprong kent in een reactie op de positivistische stroming (beiden in de vorm van een methode). De verdere invulling van deze reactie geeft direct ook het belangrijkste verschil aan: Husserl vindt het psychologisme (zoals hij de positivistische stroming noemt) in het algemeen problematisch. Hij is het niet eens met de stelling dat alleen feiten het bestuderen waard zouden zijn, net als met de stelling dat morele vraagstukken via feiten oplosbaar zijn. De hermeneutiek houdt zich slechts bezig met de geesteswetenschappen, en behelst op zichzelf dan ook niet een aanval op de natuurwetenschappen o.i.d.

In de rest van beide methodes zien we ook dat deze distinctie zorgt voor meer verschillen: de fenomenologische benadering beslaat een veel groter gebied, en de bijbehorende stellingen zijn dan ook vaak van een andere categorie/soort. Fenomenologie doet bijvoorbeeld fundamentele uitspraken over de aard van de werkelijkheid: Husserl is een uitgesproken idealist, Ingarden kiest voor het realisme. De hermeneutiek houdt zich hier niet zo mee bezig. De aard van de werkelijkheid speelt in ieder geval geen grote rol in die filosofie.

De hermeneutiek komt zoals gezegd eveneens tot stand als reactie op onder andere de natuurwetenschappen en de positivisten. Deze menen dat de geesteswetenschappen opgeheven moeten worden, omdat alles met de natuurwetenschappelijke methode verklaard kan worden. De hermeneutiek brengt als reactie hierop de distinctie tussen verklaren en begrijpen in. Verklaren is de taak van de natuurwetenschappen, begrijpen de taak van de geesteswetenschappen. Gadamer’s hermeneutische methode is niet zo helder afgebakend als de fenomenologische (nog een verschil), en claimt ook niet een methode voor eenduidige interpretatie te kunnen leveren. Ze bestudeert de interpretatie. De hermeneutische cirkel (we kunnen de details alleen vanuit het geheel begrijpen, maar dat geheel doorzien we alleen via de details) beschrijft volgens Gadamer het interpreteren als een beweging van de overlevering en de interpreet, startend vanuit diens inbedding daarin. Deze overlevering is geen vaststaand vooroordeel, maar wordt door onszelf aldoor gewijzigd en bijgesteld.

Op meer inhoudelijk vlak zien we niet zo veel overeenkomsten meer tussen de fenomenologie en de hermeneutiek. In de esthetica bijvoorbeeld: Ingarden ziet het esthetische object als intentioneel product van de menselijke geest, losstaand van het fysieke object waarnaar we verwijzen, interpretaties van beschouwers of intenties van de maker, terwijl volgens Gadamer de (verschillende vormen van) werken op het moment van de uitvoering “gelijktijdig” zijn en alle gelijktijdige beschouwingen samen het esthetisch object vormen, waarbij een zekere gemeenschappelijkheid betrokken is. Dit hangt voor hem samen met allerlei menselijke praktijken (feesten) en eigenschappen (spel). Tot deze conclusies komen de twee ook op geheel verschillende wijze. De hermeneutiek hanteert een historische benadering, waar de fenomenologie tot zijn conclusies komt via het fenomenologische concept van intentionaliteit. Kunst is hier een hermeneutisch object. Het contrast met de “systeembouwers” zien we hier wederom: de systeembouwers hanteerden vaak een logische deductie, meestal beginnend bij fundamentele epistemologische en/of ontologische claims. Bij de hermeneutiek heeft dat plaatsgemaakt voor het onderzoek naar interpretatie, in sterke samenhang met het onderzoek naar de werkingsgeschiedenis. De fenomenologie kijkt heel erg naar de praktische ervaring: hoe de dingen zich daarin aan ons voordoen.

[1] Het is dan ook niet per se zo dat hun ideeën representatief zijn voor de twee stromingen in het algemeen.

[2] Ik werk bij gebrek aan ruimte de stappen niet verder uit