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Utilitarianism Essay

1084 words - 5 pages

Explain how moral decisions should be made according to Act utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. (30)
The crucial difference between Jeremy Bentham's Act and John Stuart Mill's Rule Utilitarianism is their usage of the hedonic calculus. Bentham's Act Utilitarianism requires the use of the calculus in every single situation whilst Mill abandons it altogether. For example, a true Act Utilitarian would use the hedonic calculus to decide whether he should eat eggs, waffles or both for breakfast.
He would need to input figures for each of the 7 for each of the three options and then choose the ones suits best based on the product of the calculus. This means that Act Utilitarianism takes a ...view middle of the document...

Another difference between the two types of Utilitarianism is that Mill said "children and savages" should not be considered when making moral decisions with Rule Utilitarianism. This is because both children and savages cannot make educated decisions and so do not really know what they want. Act Utilitarianism on the other hand does not take into account people's abilities to decide unless it will affect purity and treats all people as equals, each person's happiness is as valuable as any other's. This can be seen as a strong point to Act Utilitarianism but at the same time a weak point, because it ignores the fact that some members in society truly do not know what they want and will regret their desires later in life.
For example, a severely drunk person may want to burgle a local store so much so that it will bring him more pleasure than the shop owner's displeasure, at least initially. Afterwards however, the now sober burglar could be very ashamed of what he did and the prison sentence he would face would bring him and his family trouble. Rule Utilitarianism would not have allowed for this because a drunken person cannot make an informed decision and not committing theft is a general rule. Act Utilitarian’s could justify it on the grounds of it bringing the most pleasure. The last statement can be criticised however, because a good Utilitarian would have considered the after effects of the robbery in the 'purity' section of the hedonic calculus, although even then the 'purity' might not overrule the high 'intensity' number chosen and the theft would have happened anyway.
To conclude, Act Utilitarianism uses the hedonic calculus and its criteria to make moral decisions whilst Rule Utilitarianism uses general rules formed over time through an overall accepted view of the 'best' decision in that general case. Both types have different criticisms as well as sharing some with each other: Act Utilitarianism is more accurate but less practical whilst Rule Utilitarianism is the opposite.

‘Utilitarianism is only concerned...

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