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Explain how Act and Rule Utilitarianism differ. How far can Utilitarianism help in making decisions about euthanasia?

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Assignment 16 Utilitarianism a) Explain how Act and Rule Utilitarianism differ Utilitarianism put simple judges the morals of actions by looking at consequences. Utilitarianism says that an action is good if it results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, this is know as the principle of utility. Utilitarianism was founded by Jeremy Bentham. He famously said, "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do." For Bentham an action is good if it produces more pleasure than pain and he rated this on his hedonic calculus. Act utilitarianism deals with individual actions and their consequences. Act Utilitarians assess the morality of an action purely on its consequences and have no universal or absolute moral rules. For example Act Utilitarians would not say lying is wrong but that lying is only wrong if the lie does more harm than good and that in many situations it is morally right to lie (in everyday society these lies are known as white lies.) ...read more.


It is associated more with John Stuart Mill, a pupil of Bentham who slightly modified utilitarianism. He was less preoccupied by the amount of basic pleasure and pain. It is also very similar to Kant's idea of universal maxims; only do actions that can be universally applied and still have a good outcome. b) How far can Utilitarianism help in making decisions about euthanasia? Utilitarianism does not have any absolute rules, which must be followed and unlike religion does not focus on the sanctity of life but rather the importance of happiness. Christians faith, mainly the catholic church, states that under no circumstances should a life be taken but if a loved one in pain asks for you help in ending their suffering many people find that a hard rule to stick to. Utilitarianism, however, allows for human compassion and will to end suffering. For many a utilitarian approach makes much more sense when making decisions about euthanasia. ...read more.


Act Utilitarians can take this relatively simple process by looking at individual circumstances to come to a decision. Rule utilitarianism can say that usually this is the case and therefore euthanasia is right. However rule Utilitarians could also believe that euthanasia is wrong. By assessing many situations an act utilitarian can come to the decision that in most cases the killing of another human being does not bring about the most happiness and so live by the universal rule that ending the life of a human is wrong and so euthanasia is wrong. There is also no way of truly looking at the consequences on each individual involved; some family or friends may strongly disagree with the act and so would be caused pain, some may feel guilt about what they have done or, in countries where euthanasia is not legal, may be subjected to the pain of having to face the legal consequences. This ambiguity and the lack of ability to ever truly know the outcomes of actions are the main problems with utilitarianism. Dr Culbard Emily Oelrich Ethics 12RTR 1 ...read more.

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