Ethics There are obvious problems with both Act and Rule Utilitarianism. Both theories share the common goal of achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people.
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Utilitarianism is teleological or consequentialist approach to ethics, which argues that something is good or bad according to its benefit for the majority of the people.
So an individual action is only right if it promotes happiness. Rule utilitarianism argues that moral rules, also based on the principle of Utility, should be kept by everyone in similar circumstances. Act Utilitarianism states that one must decide what action will lead to the greatest good in a particular situation and apply the principle of utility directly.
You need to look at the consequences of a particular act and what will bring about the greatest happiness. This makes it teleological as it focuses on the consequences and end point telos.
Act Utilitarianism is also very flexible due it being relative to a situation, rules can vary.
There are no necessary moral rules except one: An example of where Act Utilitarianism would be imposed is if you were a bodyguard protecting the President and you tackled him down to the floor to save him from being shot, it can be argued that you tackling him down brings little good or happiness, however the consequence of saving his life brings a greater happiness.
Rule Utilitarianism is commonly linked with John Stuart Mill. Rule utilitarians believe that rules should be formed using utilitarian principles for the benefit for everyone in society.
Your action would be judged either right or wrong by the goodness or badness of the consequence of a rule that everyone would follow in similar situations. Though the formation of these rules would be based on the consequence making it consequentialistthe appliance of Rule utilitarianism would be deontological because it looks at the action that has been already established into a rule.
Strong Rule utilitarians believe that these rules should never be disobey no matter what, while more lenient and weak Rule utilitarians believe though there should be widely accepted guidelines, they should not always be followed in a situation where disregarding a rule would bring greater happiness.
However, there are many differences of these two forms of Utilitarianism, one being that Act Utilitarians is applied directly to a particular action in a particular circumstance, while Rule Utilitarianism is applied to a selection of set of rules which are in turn used to determine what to do in particular situations.
Another key difference is that Act Utilitarianism is flexible as it holds no more rules, other than the principle of Utility in all situationsas the action that should be applied to every situation is relative in comparison to Rule utilitarianism which has an established set of rules that cannot transition from age to age.
For example, Act Utilitarianism would allow for changes in moral rules over centuries while Rule Utilitarianism would have already established rules, which, if followed properly, should not be broken.
For example, over years ago slavery might have been accepted and considered socially moral, over the years Act utilitarians would have changed their views on this due to the flexibility of their principle, while a Rule Utilitarian would not break the set of rules established for this particular situation.
To conclude, though both Act and Rule utilitarianism are linked to the principle of Utility, one must not confuse the two as similar at all.
This is because Act Utilitarianism refers to Laws as rules of thumb that can be disregarded if the circumstance will result in the greatest good for the greatest number. Rule Utilitarianism argues that moral rules deriving from the principle of utility, should be kept by everyone for a society to prosper and be happy.
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Mill’s Utilitarianism brings an extended concept of Bentham’s philosophy and a response to Kant’s deontological philosophy. The basic concept of utilitarianism is to act in such a way as to create the most pleasure or the least pain. In my opinion, there is a greater problem with Act Utilitarianism ersus Rule, because it Justifies not only ethical but also unethical actions in order to achieve the desired results.
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Act Utilitarianism The theory of Utilitarianism was first developed by Jeremy Bentham who was a philosopher of the 18th century. Bentham developed this theory to create a modern and rational approach to morality which would suit the changing society.