According to the meaning we give to actions', we get two different theories under Utilitarianism. And there is a great debate between those two schools of utilitarianism about how exactly the individual utilitarian should make their moral decisions.
The choice for the individual is between the principles of act-utilitarianism, which tells that the rightness or wrongness of a single action is to be judged by the action's consequences, and those of rule-utilitarianism, which tells that the action should be judged by a set of established rules, which are designed to produce the best consequences.
In this essay I will first highlight the differences between act- and rule-utilitarianism, defining those two theories, before showing how they differ; then I will try to identify if rule utilitarianism can succeed where act- utilitarianism failed, identifying objections made to each of them
[...] On the contrary, for act- utilitarianism, if secrecy were guaranteed, the overall consequences might be such at in this particular instance greater utility is produced by hastening the depth of the homeless person and using his organs for the transplants. Thus we can see there is also an important distinction to make between act- utilitarianism: the theory that one should always do whatever act will produce the most utility in the circumstances; and rule- utilitarianism: the theory that one should always abide by a set of rules that will generally tend to maximize utility. Now that we have identified the differences between act- and rule utilitarianism, we can consider if rule utilitarianism succeed where act- utilitarianism fails. Rule-utilitarianism was created as a refinement upon act-utilitarianism, to bypass some of the objections to act-utilitarianism. [...]
[...] This led the American philosopher David Lyons to argue, that a plausible formulation of rule-utilitarianism would make it recommend the same actions as act-utilitarianism, so the two kinds are 'extensionally equivalent' and there is no practical difference between the two. Indeed the rules take into account more and more exceptions, rule- utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism”. In this case, even if there are plenty of problems with act- utilitarianism, one can wonder if rule- utilitarianism can really succeed as being the best utilitarianism form as act- utilitarianism appears as more flexible. [...]
[...] That is why we can suppose that it was designed to answer the objections made to act- utilitarianism, such as rule-utilitarianism can succeed where the first fails. That is the issue I will try to tackle in this second part of my essay. Let's consider three objections made to act utilitarianism, and the answers brought to them. The first objection to act-utilitarianism is that it seems to be too permissive, capable of justifying any crime, and even making it morally obligatory, if only the value of the particular consequences of the particular act is great enough. [...]
[...] So let's now identify the distinctions between Act-utilitarianism and Rule- Utilitarianism, before considering an example to make those distinctions clear. The first distinction between act- and rule- utilitarianism has to do with what the principle of utility is applied as I have explained in the definitions of both utilitarianisms. Rule utilitarianism differs from act utilitarianism, as it applies the idea of maximizing total happiness to rules governing behaviour, and not to independent and specific actions, as act utilitarianism does. Another distinction between act and rule utilitarianism lays in the universalization principle, developed by Stout. [...]
[...] or ‘optimific' -in Stout's word- as referred to in J.J.C Smart, ‘Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism' in Foot Theories of Ethics Stout highlights that the difference between the two Utilitarianism lays in A.K. Stout, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol 32 pp 29, as referred to in JJC Smart, Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism, p 173 ethics.sandiego.edu/presentations/Theory/Utilitarianism/Utilitarianism.ppt ethics.sandiego.edu/presentations/Theory/Utilitarianism/Utilitarianism.ppt Bernard Williams, Critique of Utilitarianism' in Smart and Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80130/part2/sect9.html or in J.J.C Smart and Bernard Williams, ‘Utilitarianism: For and Against' that is in Hare's word if human beings were Archangel- in this case act utilitarianism could be a valid moral theory- as referred to in R.M. [...]
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