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Act and Rule Utilitarianism

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1 Act and Rule Utilitarianism
Author: John Waters Act and Rule Utilitarianism Socratic Ideas Limited © All Rights Reserved

2 Act and Rule Utilitarianism
Compare / Contrast / Compare / Contrast / Compare / Contrast Assess each individual situation on its own merits with the aim of promoting the greatest happiness for those involved. Act Utilitarian (1) People should follow and be guided by moral rules Rule Utilitarian (2) which in the past have shown to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

3 Act and Rule Utilitarianism
Some examination boards label Bentham an act utilitarian, and Mill a rule utilitarian. However such labels are crude and have two major faults: The terms Act and Rule utilitarianism are anachronistic when applied to Bentham and Mill. Robert Arrington has mentioned that such labels came into use after Bentham and Mill had died. 2. They do not do justice to the subtleties of Mill’s philosophy – who many consider being more akin to `Weak Rule Utilitarianism.’

4 Bentham and Mill Social Reformer: criminal, judicial, penal
Compare / Contrast / Compare / Contrast / Compare / Contrast BENTHAM J.S. MILL Principle of Utility Greatest Happiness Principle Emphasis on pleasure Emphasis on happiness Concerned with QUANTITY of pleasure “Push-pin [a simple child's game] is as good as poetry” Concerned with QUALITY of pleasure “…better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” Social Reformer: criminal, judicial, penal Social Reformer: equality for women Labelled an act utilitarian Labelled a rule utilitarian

5 Problems of Act Utilitarianism or Benefits of Rule Utilitarianism

6 Consequences Are Difficult To Predict
Rule Utilitarian Has the benefit of receiving guidance from past rules which have shown to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number. May predict consequences accurately. Act Utilitarian No guidelines to help the individual when facing a moral decision other than the Felicific Calculus, which many consider to be too impractical. Unable to predict consequences accurately.

7 Consequences Are Difficult To Predict Bounded and Perfect Rationality
When explaining this weakness of act utilitarianism in an examination it is helpful to refer to the terms `bounded’ and `perfect’ rationality. Bounded rationality – is when someone is unaware of the full facts – as Professor John Rawles stated, they are acting under a `veil of ignorance’. On the other hand Perfect rationality refers to the situation where all the facts are known. Act utilitarianism suffers the draw-back of bounded rationality more than rule utilitarianism as it has no guidelines from which it may predict outcomes.

8 Act Utilitarianism is Self-Defeating (Peter Singer)
Peter Singer illustrates this problem with the example of promise keeping. Promises are made on the understanding that they will be kept, something the rule utilitarian recognises as promoting happiness. Peter Singer However, whilst Act utilitarians (AU) may make a promise in a particular situation there can be no guarantee that the AU will always uphold promise keeping; and so one can never take seriously a promise from an AU – as there is no confidence they will keep their promise!

9 Act Utilitarianism Is, By Definition, An Inconsistent Philosophy
Act utilitarians make decisions which promote the greatest pleasure for the greatest number for a particular situation, without following any principles, other than utility. But if EVERYONE followed Act utilitarianism it would be impossible to predict consequences. So by definition one could not will that everyone follow AU – for if they did the ethical theory would not work. Rule utilitarians however recommend following rules, which in the past have promoted happiness, and so their approach to ethics can be universally applied and consequences predicted; thus avoiding the inconsistency of Act utilitarianism.

10 Act Utilitarianism Does Not Take Account Of Professional Or Contractual Obligations
Society functions by people recognising their obligations once they have signed a contract. For example a doctor has an obligation to uphold a patient’s medical confidentiality. An Act utilitarian doctor (thinking it would produce the greatest happiness) might report her patient’s condition (e.g. a teenage pregnancy), to the girl’s parents. (Even though the doctor would be breaking the trust and code of the medical profession.) Rule utilitarians however recommend following the professional code of patient confidentiality as in the past such a code has promoted the greatest happiness; i.e. teenagers are happy to go to doctors for help and support as opposed to dealing with the situation on their own.

11 Act Utilitarianism Does Not Take Account Of Family Relationships
Utilitarianism has been accused of undermining family relationships as it adopts an impartial approach – the overall happiness for the greatest number is all that matters. Bentham’s Act utilitarianism states that “Everybody is to count for one, and nobody for more than one.” An implication being that when it is your mum’s birthday it would be better to donate money to Oxfam than to buy her a present. Rule utilitarians might reply that whilst the spirit of utilitarianism is to be impartial, past experience teaches that when preferential treatment is offered to those who are close (e.g family and friends) then those societies function well – producing the greatest happiness.

12 Utilitarianism: Undermines Justice
Instrumental Approach Utilitarians think that justice is only important if it serves the principle of utility. Justice has no intrinsic value. e.g To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee Tom, a black farm-hand, is made a scapegoat and is unjustly accused of having raped a young, white woman. If the racist, white, jury adopted an act-utilitarian approach it would be justified in finding Tom guilty of a crime he did not commit, on the grounds that the predominantly white townsfolk would have justice “seen to be done” and so the majority of people would be happy.

13 Utilitarianism: Undermines Justice A Response: Rule Utilitarianism
To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee Tom – an innocent man unjustly treated A rule utilitarian might reply that it has been shown that societies which uphold justice are those which make for happy citizens. The long term implication being that by upholding the rule of justice people have confidence that they will not be found guilty of crimes they have not committed… ….even if a guilty verdict meant that in the short-term the majority of people were happy.

14 It is worth analysing Mill’s understanding of justice.
“Justice is a name given for certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively stand higher in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than any others.” (Utilitarianism) So in the true spirit of utilitarianism Mill concedes that justice is not of intrinsic value, but is important due to the instrumental (consequential) value it has for society by upholding principles which make for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

15 J.S. Mill Recognised Other Goods Besides Happiness
“Now it is palpable that they do desire things which, in common language, are decidedly distinguished from happiness. They desire, for example, virtue, and the absence of vice, no less than pleasure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue is not as universal, but it is as authentic a fact, as the desire of happiness.” (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism)

16 not as a means to happiness, but as part of their happiness.”
“the ingredients of happiness are various, and each of them is desirable in itself…besides being means, they are part of the end. Virtue, according to the utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally part of the end, but it is capable of becoming so; and in those who love it disinterestedly it has become so, and is desired and cherished not as a means to happiness, but as part of their happiness.” (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism)

17 “The ingredients of Happiness are various.” Happiness Virtues
Like baking a cake – there are many different elements which constitute Happiness Virtues Integrity, Honesty, Courage, Fortitude, Prudence Does Mill show he is not a strict utilitarian or that “The ingredients of Happiness are various” ?

18 Does Mill show he is not a strict utilitarian or that “The ingredients of Happiness are various” ?
J.S. Mill was a clear believer in utilitarianism but, as has previously been mentioned, following his nervous breakdown Mill was greatly influenced by the writings of Aristotle. In understanding `the ingredients of happiness are various’, which include the importance of virtue, are we seeing Aristotle’s influence of Virtue ethics at work?

19 Application of Utilitarianism To Moral Issues
Case Studies Application of Utilitarianism To Moral Issues

20 Should One Use The Eggs Of An Aborted Foetus To Help Infertile Couples?
The scientist Roger Gosden thinks it is possible to use eggs obtained from an aborted foetus to be used to help infertile women who suffer from genetic abnormalities, such as Tasachs. By the 11th week of foetal development all the eggs that a woman will have during her life-time are present. What might a utilitarian think? Give reasons to support their views. Professor Roger Gosden

21 Using Eggs Of An Aborted Foetus…?
Some further points to consider… Pope John Paul II Roman Catholic Church Roger Gosden Scientific Researcher A gift from God, created imago dei, sacred from the moment of conception. Abortion is contrary to natural law. Killing of innocent life. Human beings are stewards of the world - should not play God. Issue of permission / consent? Unknown long-term physical and psychological affects on the child Science: challenging God given definition of `family’. Life begins at birth, not conception. Relief to suffering of infertile women / couples. Overcomes shortage of egg donors. Benefit of scientific technology. Consequences of restrictive laws? If banned in the UK scientists will go to the Ukraine with no regulatory bodies, such as HFEA, to monitor research. Ability to predict consequences?

22 The Survival Lottery (by Professor John Harris)
14 6 12 27 22 3 Patients Y and Z will die unless they receive organ transplants – in which case they will live for a further 20 years. There is a lack of donor organs. Faced with the prospect of imminent death patients Y and Z propose a `National Survival Lottery’ – where each week a person’s number would be pulled out at random, he or she would be killed, and their organs donated to help those in need of a transplant; saving a greater number of lives. Explain a utilitarian response to the suggestion of a National Survival Lottery. Professor John Harris

23 The Survival Lottery Some further points to consider…
14 6 12 27 22 3 Is there a difference between killing and letting die? (Patients Y and Z do not think so!) Is one’s individuality undermined? Would the ‘National Survival Lottery’ create a climate of fear, or would people become accustomed to the unlikely probability? What about those who have brought their illness upon themselves, e.g through heavy smoking, should they benefit equally? How would a sub-class of people be protected from not being victimised? Can society take away the intrinsic right to life? Where does its authority lie? Professor John Harris

24 Legalise Voluntary Euthanasia?
Public Opinion Polls in the UK show that the majority of people would like to see voluntary euthanasia legalised. e.g. 82% 2001. The UK is an increasingly secular society where the Quality of Life is considered to be more important than the sanctity of human life. 20% of patients in Intensive Care Units are being treated with no likelihood of survival. Would a utilitarian agree with the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia?

25 Legalise Voluntary Euthanasia? Some further points to consider…
Would voluntary euthanasia undermine the role of the doctor? (cf. the Hippocratic oath, the medical duty to preserve innocent human life.) Is the current law of `the principle of double effect’ satisfactory in a secular society? Consequences of restrictive laws? Will people pursue a policy of illegal euthanasia? Would legalising voluntary euthanasia pressurise vulnerable members of society? (The Church of England’s concern, On Dying Well 1993) Is voluntary euthanasia a private, or a public, act? (How does it differ from suicide?) Hippocrates Pius XII Kevorkian Williams J.S. Mill

26 Homosexual Bishops? In 2003 the Anglican Church did not ordain Canon Jeffrey Johns Bishop of Reading because he was homosexual; despite his investiture being supported by the Bishop of Oxford. Evangelical Christians claimed that homosexuality is condemned by scripture whilst more liberal Christians claim this is not the case (The interpretation of scripture being the contentious issue.) Would a utilitarian agree with the right of a homosexual to become a Bishop? Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury

27 Homosexual Bishops? Some further points to consider…
How would utilitarians view the authority of scripture? Should Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, refuse the ordination of homosexual Bishops in order to avoid a schism within the World Wide Anglican Church? As is being threatened by some influential African Bishops. Is there a lack of consistency? Many Christians claim scripture condemns female ordination but the Church of England has ordained women priests since 1992. How might J.S. Mill’s classic liberalism influence the decision. Is homosexuality a private, or a public, act? Pius XII J.S. Mill

28 Socrates Says Links

29 Greatest Happiness Principle
Principle of Utility Greatest Happiness Principle The good is that which will bring about the greatest sum of pleasure, or the least sum of pain, for the greatest number Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote unhappiness. These principles have been compared to Jesus’ Golden Rule, “Love your neighbour as yourself” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Utilitarianism upholds the message of a benevolent God showing interest for the well-being of human beings; but utilitarianism avoids reference to the metaphysical God! Both Bentham and Mill were concerned with producing the greatest aggregate happiness (irrespective as to how that happiness was distributed.)

30 Pleasure is not the same as happiness!
There are two main differences between pleasure and happiness PLEASURE HAPPINESS 1 Gratification Satisfaction PLEASURE Pursued as an end in its own right HAPPINESS An indirect by-product of another activity 2

31 Pleasure is not the same as happiness!
Hedonistic utilitarianism – “a pig philosophy fit only for swine.” (J.S Mill) A person may have a lot of gratifying, pleasurable experiences but see life as pointless and superficial and so be very unhappy. e.g, A divorced, wealthy, young man may seek pleasure from drugs, alcohol and an active sex life with many partners, but lack the happiness of true friendship and the love of his family.

32 Quantity or Quality? J.S. MILL: Higher and Lower Pleasures
Analysis/Evaluation/Analysis /Evaluation/Analysis /Evaluation BENTHAM J.S. MILL: Higher and Lower Pleasures INTELLECTUAL H I G E R For Mill intellectual pleasures are intrinsically more valuable than physical pleasures. Those who have felt both kinds will prefer QUANTITY of pleasure. All pleasures are of equal value. “Push-pin [a simple child's game] is as good as poetry” QUALITY of pleasure “…better to be a dissatisfied human being than a pig satisfied; and better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” L O W E R PHYSICAL / BESTIAL

33 J.S. MILL: Higher and Lower Pleasures
Analysis/Evaluation/Analysis /Evaluation/Analysis /Evaluation INTELLECTUAL H I G E R Does Mill show that he is not a strict utilitarian? By bringing in quality of pleasures does Mill not bring in additional factors other than pleasure? Is Mill right? Or merely an intellectual snob? Do you agree with the ranking of the following pleasures? Studying Philosophy Reading Shakespeare Listening to Mozart Going out with your partner L O W E R Playing pub darts Drinking 5 pints of beer PHYSICAL / BESTIAL

34 Higher and Lower Pleasures
In 1996 a shocking trial was heard at the Old Bailey A female Austrian tourist, in her mid-thirties, found herself lost in the King’s Cross area of London late at night. On seeing 6 young male teenagers she asked them if they knew the way back to her hotel. The youths agreed to take the tourist to her hotel. However, instead of taking the tourist back to her hotel they led her on a side-road, to a canal, where they repeatedly raped the woman, before attempting to drown her in a canal. Mill’s utilitarianism would assert the quantity of bestial pleasure of the teenage boys does not outweigh the quality of suffering endured by the Austrian tourist.

35 Nineteenth Century Social Reformers
Reform of Parliament As an M.P. Mill campaigned for sexual equality; proposing votes for women. Penal Reform Judicial System On Liberty (1859) Freedom of the individual, other than when it harms anyone else. “Your liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” (Mill) Animal Rights Cheap Postal System Registration of Births and Deaths

36 Aristotle distinguished between pleasure and happiness.
Mill’s utilitarianism has been referred to as being eudaimonistic (human well being) utilitarianism, as opposed to Bentham’s hedonistic (pleasure) utilitarianism. The rationale of Mill’s eudaimonistic utilitarianism is found in the writings of Aristotle. Aristotle distinguished between pleasure and happiness. Life of Material Pleasure Life of contemplation offering Happiness Held by the many Held by the few For Mill the difference in happiness over pleasure is significant; happiness having a higher qualitative edge over the quantity of lower, bestial, pleasures.

37 J.S. Mill: Weak Rule Utilitarianism
Three Key Influences on Mill’s Philosophy Aristotle and the Lake Poets Wilhelm von Humboldt Classical liberalism Weak Rule Utilitarian Click on any of the above boxes for more information.

38 Influences on Mill: Aristotle and the Lake Poets
Following his nervous breakdown at the age of 20 Mill was heavily influenced on his path to rehabilitation by the writings of: The Lake Poets Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley Aristotle Emphasis on a well rounded individual through: Phronesis (practical wisdom) working in accordance with Emotions put into practice through a `Golden Mean’ Appetite – leading to Eudaimonia – individual human flourishing. Through an appreciation of natural beauty Mill came to realise that the utilitarianism of his father, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham was too restrictive as their narrow and mechanical conception of humanity missed the vital importance of individuality, self cultivation and the inner life in the promotion of happiness.

39 Influences on Mill: Wilhelm von Humboldt
German philosopher and educationalist Perceived that, “as the demands on each man’s nature are so special and peculiar, so each man’s happiness has features that are unique and which distinguish it from any other man’s.” (John Gray, Plato to Nato, p.152) Mill adopted classical liberalism for social policy which respected the rights and individuality of each person.

40 Influences on Mill: Classical liberalism
In On Liberty (1859), Mill defends individual freedom of thought, association and life-style on the grounds that only in a context of liberty in which competing `experiments of living’ may be tried can each of us hope to seek and find his own distinctive happiness. On Liberty is directed against repressive laws which inhibit voluntary association and are oppressive to the expression of human spirit and individuality. Classical liberalism: Mill’s criticisms of legal moralism and state paternalism altered public opinion and have informed legal reforms in the field of votes for women, divorce, censorship and homosexuality.

41 Mill: Weak Rule Utilitarian
Mill respected the sovereignty of the individual over himself and the importance of an individual’s freedom to express themself, so long as it was not detrimental to society. RULE Equally, J.S. Mill argued that people should come up with, and be guided by, general principles which over the passage of time have promoted the greatest happiness. Summary Generally speaking people should follow rules which have stood the test of time in promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number. However, individuals should have the right to self expression and the freedom to pursue their own creativity. e.g. “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than if he had the power, would he be justified in silencing mankind.” (Utilitarianism 229)

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