As a result, they cannot support the right answers to crucial moral problems. Ben… Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action (or type of action) is right if it Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, “Consequentialism,”. It can be used both for moral reasoning and for any type of rational decision-making. Earlyprecursors to the Classical Utilitarians include the British Moralists,Cumberland, Sh… Among the things that can be evaluated are actions, laws, policies, character traits, and moral codes. Accident victims (including drivers) may be killed, injured, or disabled for life. Because Bentham and other utilitarians were interested in political groups and public policies, they often focused on discovering which actions and policies would maximize the well-being of the relevant group. Genesis 1:26 states that all humans were created in God’s image making them equal, therefore all humans require equal treatment which Utilitarianism fails to deliver. They argue that rule utilitarianism retains the virtues of a utilitarian moral theory but without the flaws of the act utilitarian version. According to Singer, a person should keep donating money to people in dire need until the donor reaches the point where giving to others generates more harm to the donor than the good that is generated for the recipients. (See egoism.) [Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter 2]. Although forms of utilitarianism have been put forward and debated since ancient times, the modern theory is most often associated with the British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806- 1873) who developed the theory from a plain hedonistic version put forward by his mentor Jeremy Bentham (1748- 1832). This article gives a good historical account of important figures in the development of utilitarianism. In such cases, the “maximize utility” principle is used to resolve the conflict and determine the right action to take. Many thinkers have rejected hedonism because pleasure and pain are sensations that we feel, claiming that many important goods are not types of feelings. The contrast between act and rule utilitarianism, though previously noted by some philosophers, was not sharply drawn until the late 1950s when Richard Brandt introduced this terminology. Act utilitarianism, however, provides a method for showing which moral beliefs are true and which are false. Like other forms of consequentialism, its core idea is that whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects. For this reason, they claim that the person who rescued Hitler did the right thing, even though the actual consequences were unfortunate. Either we can shut down the system and punish no one, or we can maintain the system even though we know that it will result in some innocent people being unjustly punished in ways that they do not deserve. See especially chapter II, in which Mill tries both to clarify and defend utilitarianism. In a famous article, Peter Singer defends the view that people living in affluent countries should not purchase luxury items for themselves when the world is full of impoverished people. All utilitarians agree that things are valuable because they tend to produce well-being or diminish ill-being, but this idea is understood differently by hedonists, objective list theorists, and preference/desire theorists. According to this perspective, we should judge the morality of individual actions by reference to general moral rules, and we should judge particular moral rules by seeing whether their acceptance into our moral code would produce more well-being than other possible rules. In response, actual consequence utilitarians reply that there is a difference between evaluating an action and evaluating the person who did the action. Act utilitarians acknowledge that it may be useful to have moral rules that are “rules of thumb”—i.e., rules that describe what is generally right or wrong, but they insist that whenever people can do more good by violating a rule rather than obeying it, they should violate the rule. While it does not forbid devoting resources to other people’s children, it allows people to give to their own. Children need the special attention of adults to develop physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Smart’s discussion combines an overview of moral theory and a defense of act utilitarianism. Instead, they accept and use these concepts but interpret them from the perspective of maximizing utility. Troyer’s introduction to this book of selections from Mill and Bentham is clear and informative. One advantage of act utilitarianism is that it shows how moral questions can have objectively true answers. Mill’s Rule Utilitarianism versus Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism In addition to a difference in views regarding the importance of the quality of a pleasure, Mill and Bentham are also separated by reference to Act and Rule Utilitarianism and although such terms emerged only after Mill’s death, Mill is typically considered a rule utilitarian and Bentham an act utilitarian. It can be argued that David Hume and Edmund Burke were proto-Utilitarians. There are two ways in which act utilitarians can defend their view against these criticisms. Foreseeable consequence utilitarians claim that the action with the highest expected utility is both the best thing to do based on current evidence and the right action. Bentham found pain and pleasure to be the only intrinsic values in the world, and this he derived the rule of utility: that the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Mill said that having a noble character leads to the world’s greater happiness. For these reasons, partiality toward specific children can be impartially justified. An influential rights-based discussion in which Jarvis Thomson uses hypothetical cases to show, among other things, that utilitarianism cannot explain why some actions that cause killings are permissible and others not. The problem with act utilitarians is that they support a moral view that has the effect of undermining trust and that sacrifices the good effects of a moral code that supports and encourages trustworthiness. Wendy Donner, “Mill’s Utilitarianism” in John Skorupski, ed. Their method for determining the well-being of a group involved adding up the benefits and losses that members of the group would experience as a result of adopting one action or policy. People who seek medical treatment must have a high degree of trust in doctors. Nonetheless, these discretionary actions are permitted because having a rule in these cases does not maximize utility or because the best rule may impose some constraints on how people act while still permitting a lot of discretion in deciding what to do. A rule utilitarian evaluation will take account of the fact that the benefits of medical treatment would be greatly diminished because people would no longer trust doctors. Because they do not maximize utility, these wrong answers would not be supported by act utilitarians and therefore, do nothing to weaken their theory. The most common argument against act utilitarianism is that it gives the wrong answers to moral questions. As an example, consider a moral rule parents have a special duty to care for their own children. Information and translations of Rule utilitarianism in the most comprehensive dictionary definitions They do not have the authority to do whatever they think will lead to the best results in particular cases. The right action in any situation is the one that yields more utility (i.e. They argue that it is a mistake to treat whole classes of actions as right or wrong because the effects of actions differ when they are done in different contexts and morality must focus on the likely effects of individual actions. Peter Singer. When individuals are deciding what to do for themselves alone, they consider only their own utility. Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher and reformer who was born in England in 1748. This would occur if unforeseen bad consequences reveal that the option chosen did not have the best results and thus was the wrong thing to do. Critics also attack utilitarianism’s commitment to impartiality and the equal consideration of interests. J. J. C. Smart (49) explains this difference by imagining the action of a person who, in 1938,saves someone from drowning. Because act utilitarians are committed to a case by case evaluation method, the adoption of their view would make people’s actions much less predictable. Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools. Stephen Nathanson Moore criticizes aspects of Mill’s views but support a non-hedonistic form of utilitarianism. One involves the justification of moral rules and the other concerns the application of moral rules. The same reasoning applies equally to the case of the judge. the disutility) of accidents can be very high. While rule utilitarians can defend partiality, their commitment to maximizing overall utility also allows them to justify limits on the degree of partiality that is morally permissible. Similarly, public officials can and should be partial to people in the jurisdiction in which they work. the ones the rescuer could reasonably predict), then the rescuer—who could not predict the negative effects of saving the person from drowning—did the right thing. It is these effects that determine whether they are right or wrong in specific cases. Overall these rules generate greater utility because they prevent more disutility (from accidents) than they create (from “unnecessary” stops). The following cases are among the commonly cited examples: The general form of each of these arguments is the same. At a minimum, rule utilitarians will support a rule that forbids parents to harm other people’s children in order to advance the interests of their own children. Chapter 2 discusses Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick while chapter 6 focuses on act and rule utilitarianism. To speak of justice, rights, and desert is to speak of rules of individual treatment that are very important, and what makes them important is their contribution to promoting overall well-being. (For predecessors, see Schneewind 1997, 2002. Help support true facts by becoming a member. A more plausible rule would say “do not lie except in special circumstances that justify lying.” But what are these special circumstances? Singer, a prolific, widely read thinker, mostly applies a utilitarian perspective to controversial moral issues (for example, euthanasia, the treatment of non-human animals, and global poverty) rather than discussing utilitarian moral theory. A clear discussion of Mill; Chapter 4 argues that Mill is neither an act nor a rule utilitarian. Meaning of Rule utilitarianism. Bentham was a very prolific writer who left behind a vast number of papers. Being healthy or honest or having knowledge, for example, are thought by some people to be intrinsic goods that are not types of feelings. Shaw provides a clear, comprehensive discussion of utilitarianism and its critics as well as defending utilitarianism. In such cases, people may act in the manner that looks like the approach supported by act utilitarians. In their view, whatever defects act utilitarianism may have, rule utilitarianism will have the same defects. The rule “drive safely”, like the act utilitarian principle, is a very general rule that leaves it up to individuals to determine what the best way to drive in each circumstance is. The origins of Utilitarianism are often traced back to the Epicureanism of the followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. For example, so-called “ethical egoism,” which says that morality requires people to promote their own interest, would be rejected either as a false morality or as not a morality at all. For example ‘Do not kill’ can be broken if during WW2 someone was to kill Hitler, as this would fulfil the Principle of Utility Rule utilitarianism does not have this problem because it is committed to rules, and these rules generate positive “expectation effects” that give us a basis for knowing how other people are likely to behave. For these reasons, rule utilitarians support the use of stop signs and other non-discretionary rules under some circumstances. “The Moral Opacity of Utilitarianism” in Brad Hooker, Elinor Mason, and Dale Miller, eds. According to this criticism, although rule utilitarianism looks different from act utilitarianism, a careful examination shows that it collapses into or, as David Lyons claimed, is extensionally equivalent to act utilitarianism. Rule-utilitarianism The principle of utility in rule-utilitarianism is to follow those rules which will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Brian Duignan is a senior editor at EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica. Once we embrace the act utilitarian perspective, then every decision about how we should act will depend on the actual or foreseeable consequences of the available options. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the case of punishment, for example, while we hope that our system of criminal justice gives people fair trials and conscientiously attempts to separate the innocent from the guilty, we know that the system is not perfect. Chapter 6 focuses on utilitarianism and justice. Utilitarianism appears to be a simple theory because it consists of only one evaluative principle: Do what produces the best consequences. While a utilitarian method for determining what people’s interests are may show that it is rational for people to maximize their own well-being or the well-being of groups that they favor, utilitarian morality would reject this as a criterion for determining what is morally right or wrong. E.g. To end the practice of punishment entirely—because it inevitably causes some injustice—is likely to result in worse consequences because it deprives society of a central means of protecting people’s well-being, including what are regarded as their rights. One reason for adopting foreseeable consequence utilitarianism is that it seems unfair to say that the rescuer acted wrongly because the rescuer could not foresee the future bad effects of saving the drowning person. (People who think there are many such goods are called pluralists or“objective list” theorists.) 1 But the difference between these is not relevant to Ridge's argument. 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