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Explain the difference between act and rule Utilitarianism.

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Utilitarianism Explain the difference between act and rule Utilitarianism. (33 marks) Utilitarianism, in its most basic form is ' the greatest happiness for the greatest number'. Coming from the Latin word, 'utilis', which means useful. Jeremy Bentham wrote, in one of his books in 1789, that utility is, 'a property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness...or... to prevent the happenings of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness'. It is easy to assume that utilitarianism is based on the fact that if something is useful, then it is moral. However, this is very wrong, the theory is much more complex than this, being involved in decisions, actions and consequences. The theory of Utilitarianism was developed by Jeremy Bentham, in his work, 'The principles of morals and legislation', which was a mix of ethics and politics, both of which he was very interested in. Bentham was hedonist, and felt that happiness and pleasure was the main ethical measure. He believed that if an action is pleasant, bringing about happiness for the individual and others, then it is morally right. Bentham attempted to better the 'Golden rule' taught by Jesus, which was to love out neighbour as ourselves. He wanted to better this as he felt that in loving our neighbour, and in a moral situation, resolving a problem by loving a neighbour could leave to harm to a minority. ...read more.


Therefore, there is only one main rule, which is that one should always seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Act utilitarianism is teleological, coming from the Greek word 'telos', meaning the result or end. Weaknesses of act utilitarianism are that it is difficult to predict consequences of actions, which makes it hard to know whether an action is good or not. It also allows a justification for any act, on the basis that one could argue that was intended to seek happiness or pleasure. It leaves little room for minorities, considering the theory is based upon the good of the majority, and also, that the majority is not always right. The clearest example of this being the Nazis and their regime. Act utilitarianism fails to be absolute, allowing most decisions and actions, and meaning nothing is truly right or wrong. John Stuart Mill was a critic of Bentham's theory. He argued that he focussed morality on pleasure alone, which seems basic. He extended the theory by examining not just the quantity of please and happiness, but also the quality of it. John Stuart Mill saw pleasure as just not physical, but spiritual and mental as well. He went on to distinguish 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures. ...read more.


Discuss. (17 marks) It could easily be said that utilitarianism has serious weaknesses. A huge weakness is the fact that is does not include the minority. With the 'greatest happiness for the greatest number', the minority is left out. With the majority enjoying the happiness and pleasures, the minority is left without anything, and little defence in any situation. Utilitarianism also is weak in the fact that one is able to justify any act, by arguing that is was done for the greatest good and happiness. One is able to say that, using act utilitarianism, they were convinced that they were going to achieve happiness from their actions, and therefore were right. This could be simply an excuse. Utilitarianism presents a difficulty when defining pleasure. Pleasure and happiness for one person could be very different to that of another person. This could lead to conflict, where a certain individual or group could be enjoying their happiness or pleasure, but on the other hand, a certain individual or group could be enduring pain or displeasure as a result of the same actions. Most importantly, and bizarrely, a weakness is that we can claim to be able to 'calculate' the quantity and quality of happiness and pleasure. With the Hedonic Calculus, it could be said that it makes the use of Utilitarianism simple and easy to use. One is able to gauge the actions and decisions against it and make a judgement. ...read more.

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