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Explain the main differences between Act and Rule Utilitarianism

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Introduction

Explain the main differences between Act and Rule Utilitarianism The theory of Utilitarianism takes its name from the Latin word 'utilis', meaning 'useful'. It was first developed by Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and legal theorist of the 18th century. Bentham sought to produce a modern and rational approach to morality which would suit the changing society of the industrial age. Utilitarianism basically says that happiness is the key to life's conquest, and happiness that is the determination of right or wrong. So if an action's consequence causes happiness, then the action is right, if it causes pain, or destroys happiness then the action is wrong. Utilitarianism may be regarded as a relativist, consequentialist and teleological system of ethics, giving no fixed moral rules and judging an action by its consequences or end result. ...read more.

Middle

Happiness was thus equated with moral goodness. This idea further identifies Bentham as a 'psychological hedonist', since he regarded humans as being primarily motivated by pleasure and the avoidance of pain. A contented society would be a good society. This was similar to Ancient Greek philosophers, who used the term 'eudemonia' ('well being') to describe it. To bring reason and evidence to the field of ethics, Bentham then put forward what he regarded as a scientific or empirical process for making moral decisions, known as the 'Hedonic Calculus'. This consisted of seven key criteria one must consider when making a moral choice: intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, succession, purity and extent. Later in the 19th century, Bentham's God son John Stuart Mill modified his theory. Mill was a leading politician and philosopher of his day, advocating radical and liberal causes such as the equality of women. ...read more.

Conclusion

Mill meanwhile proposed that one should make rules based upon the consequences which tend to follow from certain actions. Rule Utilitarianism focuses on general rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for that community. Utilitarianism shouldn't be limited to a community. It should count all people. Unlike Act Utilitarianism, it establishes the best overall rule that would be pursued by the whole community. Rule Utilitarianism, states that you must follow the rules even if it doesn't lead to the greatest pleasure for the individual at the time. It focuses solely on the idea that you should follow the rule that will bring about the greatest good within the community. So, despite advocating the same underlying idea (the promotion of happiness), we can see that Mill and Bentham arrived at two very different approaches to morality, with Mill avoiding some of the more radical and controversial ideas put forward by Bentham. ...read more.

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