Utilitarianism of act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act
Utilitarianism is, in a WWII bombshell, using your better judgement to pick a course of action, that in the words of John Stuart Mill, “results in the greatest good for the greatest number”. The theory of Utilitarianism comes under the umbrella of Consequentialism, and the principle of Utility states that an action is morally required just because it does more to improve overall well-being than any other action you could have done in the circumstances. Utilitarianism is complicated to categorically define because different versions of the theory exist. The main cause of division amongst Utalitarians is the contrasting sub-theories of act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism is morally flexible in the belief that sometimes it is necessary to do something morally wrong if it will result in a ‘greater good’. Rule utilitarianism is the belief that actions must follow a set of moral rules, and that even if following these rules does not appear to the lead to the ‘greater good’, breaking these rules is immoral and will not lead there either.So, what is intrinsically good? There are many different opinions on this matter. Hedonists believe that the only real good in itself is pleasure, and despite their acceptance of other things such as shelter, sustenance and happy relationships, as being good, they see these moreso as ‘contributory’ goods to the ‘greater good’. Others argue that pleasure is just a feeling and that ‘good’ is not limited to just feelings and sensations, there are other things, like physical health that are just as important. There are those too that take into account desire and taste; different people put a different value on different things, according to their own personal desires. Utilitarians can all agree that anything that increases well-being is of value, they just differ in opinion on what exactly constitutes well-being.Utilitarians, when faced with a morally challenging decision, examine every option and pick the one that is optimific (greatest number of positives over negatives). A common misconception about this theory, is that in order to increase the overall balance of joy over misery, your decisions must benefit the greatest number of people. However, justice and equality must be taken into consideration; the benefit to the majority of people could be small, whereas the benefit to the minority could be huge. Another misconception is that we must always act according to what will create the greatest amount of happiness; a decision that results in the most happiness may also result in the most misery. Ultimately, the decision that yields the greatest overall balance of happiness over misery, is the correct one. Utilitarians are divided on the topic of moral knowledge. The morality of actions based on actual results vs expected results. Most people hold the first view: the right action is the one that brings about the best ‘actual’ result. The problem with this point of view, is that the results of our actions are always in the future, so how can we ever be sure that we are doing the right thing? Truthfully, we can’t; allowances must be made for some degree of moral ignorance. Others take the view that the correct action to take, is the one with the best ‘expected’ result. We can, using our own past experiences and those of others, predict to some extent, the consequences of our actions. We usually know whether what we are about to do is ‘right’ or wrong’. Utilitarians consider all members of the moral community (including animals) to be morally equal, and consider the importance of everyone’s well-being to be equally valuable, regardless of species, race, gender, sexuality, etc. In this way, utalitarianism is impartial. The ideal situation is for people to leave all personal likes and dislikes, prejudices and interests aside and to objectively pick the best course of action with the highest overall benefit. However, it is hard for mankind to be entirely impartial, because in order to be completely impartial, one must disregard one’s own welfare (or hold it to the same value as all other persons involved) in the decision making process. It is human nature to hold the value of the well-being of our close family and friends above the well-being of people we have never met.