Classical utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory which holds that an action can only be considered as morally right where its consequences bring about the greatest amount of good to the greatest number (where 'good' is equal to pleasure minus pain). Likewise, an action is morally wrong where it fails to maximise good. Since it was first articulated in the late 19th Century by the likes of Jeremy Bentham and later John Stewart Mill, the classical approach to utilitarianism has since become the basis for many other consequentialist theories such as rule-utilitarianism and act-utilitarianism upon which this essay will focus (Driver, 2009). Though birthed from the same utilitarian principle of maximising good, rule-utilitarianism and act-utilitarianism provide two very different accounts on how the maximising of good should be approached. This essay will compare these two approaches and try to ascertain whether rule-utilitarianism is indeed preferable to act-utilitarianism.
Act-utilitarianism is a direct form of consequentialism in that its principles are applied directly to ones actions under particular circumstances and the action is then judged as morally permissible or impermissible based solely on whether your action achieved or failed to maximise pleasure. In contrast, rule-utilitarianism is considered indirect because your actions are carried out according to a set of accepted moral rules of which compliance with which would ensure maximum aggregate good. Whether an action is morally permissible or impermissible is judged on your adherence to the agreed set of moral rules as opposed to the direct outcome of your actions. It would seem already that rule-utilitaria...
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...ough its own capacity as a theory of both decision making and moral judgement, and by default- as act-utilitarianism has been proved too demanding and often immoral by our common sense intuition- I conclude that rule-utilitarianism is indeed preferable to act-utilitarianism.
Driver, J. 2009. The History of Utilitarianism. [online] Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/#JerBen [Accessed: 14 Mar 2014].
Hooker, B. 2003. Rule Consequentialism. Read in: Shafer-Landau, R. 2013. Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Second Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.
Hooker, B. 2003. Rule Consequentialism. [online] Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism-rule/ [Accessed: 14 Mar 2014].
Sinnott-Armstrong, W. 2003. Consequentialism. [online] Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism/ [Accessed: 14 Mar 2014].
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