The Act of Utilitarianism

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Act utilitarianism states that, when faced with a choice, we must first consider the likely consequences of potential actions and, from that, choose to do what we believe will generate the most pleasure. The rule utilitarian, on the other hand, begins by looking at potential rules of action. To determine whether a rule should be followed, he or she looks at what would happen if it were constantly followed. If adherence to the rule produces more happiness than otherwise, it is a rule that morally must be followed at all times. The distinction between act and rule utilitarianism is therefore based on a difference about the proper object of consequential calculation — specific to a case or generalized to rules. 'Also to achieve the greater good for the greater number of people.' Rule utilitarianism has been criticized for advocating general rules that, in some specific circumstances, clearly decrease happiness if followed. Never to kill another human being may seem to be a good rule, but it could make self-defense against malevolent aggressors very difficult. Rule utilitarians add, however, that there are general exception rules that allow the breaking of other rules if such rule-breaking increases happiness, one example being self-defense. Critics argue that this reduces rule utilitarianism to act utilitarianism and makes rules meaningless. Rule utilitarians retort that rules in the legal system (i.e., laws) that regulate such situations are not meaningless. Self-defense is legally justified, while murder is not. However, within rule utilitarianism there is a distinction between the strictness and absolutism of this particular branch of utilitarianism. Strong Rule Utilitarianism is an absolutist theory, which frames strict rules that apply for all people and all time and may never be broken. John Stuart Mill proposed Weak Rule utilitarianism, which posits that, although rules should be framed on previous examples that benefit society, it is possible, under specific...
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