Arguments against Act Utilitarianism

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Opponents of Act Utilitarianism attempt to argue that Act Utilitarianism (henceforth AU) does not account for justice when applied to ethical dilemmas. It is the authors opinion that these claims are factually incorrect and this essay shall attempt to prove this through analysis of common arguments against AU, and modifying AU to allow for justice to be more readily accounted for. AU is an ethical theory credited largely to Jeremy Bentham. AU attempts to assign every action a value, or utility. The principle of utility means the “principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which is appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question” (Bentham,1781) In contemporary terms, the utility of an act x is equal to the total quantity of pain that would result from act x, subtracted from the total quantity of pleasure that would result if x was performed. A positive utility value would indicate an act produced more pleasure than pain, and inversely, a negative utility value would show an act produces more pain than pleasure. Under AU, an act x is said to maximize utility if act x produces at least as much utility as any alternative to x. This shows that AU simply states, an act x, is morally right if and only if x maximizes utility, or no alternative to x would produce a greater amount of pleasure-minus-pain than x would produce. AU then, treats all agents equally and looks only for the greatest amount of pleasure, or good to be found in any situation. Critics of Act Utilitarianism argue that AU cannot be a correct ethical theory, as it can present unjust answers to ethical dilemmas, which a rational being can see as incorrect, and no correct ... ... middle of paper ... ...s, and common arguments against AU are in themselves incorrect. Because of this, it is the authors opinion that AU provides a good standard for ethical thinking. Works Cited V. Druidess. 2009. Organ Donor, Fat Man, and Sophisticated Act Utilitarianism. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 May 14]. Heathwood, C., 2012. A Reply to the Organ Harvest Argument. Philosophy 1100: Ethics, [Online]. 1, 5-11. Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2014]. Neilsen, K., 1995. Against Moral Conservatism,. 1st ed. US: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Thomson, J. J., 1976. Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem. 1st ed. US: The Monist. Bentham, J. , 1789. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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