The Kantian ethical perspective touches on the notion that man should not be treated as a means to an end but rather as the end itself. This principle can be reflected in cases where an individual is used by others in order to achieve their personal interests, or when companies use their power in order to force workers to toil to the extremes in order to make the company more productive. Thus, the Kantian ethical perspective denounces acts which seek to treat humanity as objects rather than as human beings who deserve the treatment of a human being.
Rule-utilitarian ethics, on the contrary, may allow the treatment of human beings as objects so long as the act committed is able to result to the greatest happiness or utility for the greatest number while abiding by the established rules. That is, when a rule identifies certain actions as permissible and when such a rule is able to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number, then the mistreatment of a few is permissible. An example to this is the instance when a certain rule such as the death penalty is imposed on a few convicts in order to deter crime and promote the greatest safety for the greatest number. While the rule validates death penalty as permissible, it nevertheless mistreats the individual under punishment where the sanction is seen as a gruesome form of inhumane retribution.
To the extent where particular human lives are concerned, it appears that Kantian ethics is a better moral theory than rule utilitarianism. The reason to this is that the latter moral theory allows certain immoral acts from taking place whereas the former does not. In this sense, it can be stated that a moral theory should not promote actions which are immoral even to the slightest degree possible. Hence, if it is indeed the case that a moral theory should be ‘moral’ in all possible ways, then it should be the case that the Kantian ethical perspective is better than the rule utilitarian ethical theory.
Teuber, A. (1983). Kant’s Respect for Persons. Political Theory, 11(3), 369-392.