Utilitarianism - Act and Rule

Topics: Utilitarianism, Ethics, Jeremy Bentham Pages: 2 (741 words) Published: November 11, 2012
Explain the differences between Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Since it began, there have been two main exponents of Utilitarianism. They are Jeremy Bentham and J S Mill, and both of them base their own individual theories on the principle of utility, which defines something (an act, etc) dependent on if it achieves "the greatest happiness for the greatest number". This makes Utilitarianism a relativistic and consequentialist argument, as it takes into account only the outcome of events rather than the act itself as means to determine whether it is good/right. Also it holds no absolutes - it takes the best interests of the greatest number of people no matter if the way of doing seems morally wrong. Bentham and Mill were both generally harmonious in their understanding that the general happiness of a human being is linked to their personal fulfillment of pleasure. Nevertheless, the two clashed when it came down to the understanding of what true pleasure is, and whether it holds different values under different circumstances.

It was due to this that Bentham started Act Utilitarianism. Bentham thought that situations were to be treated completely differently to any and every other situation, and developed the Hedonistic Calculus as a means of measuring the pleasure and pain of those directly involved in it. The calculus consists of seven aspects which Bentham believed could answer to whether something is pleasurable/painful or not - they are Purity, Remoteness, Richness, Intensity, Certainty, Extend and Duration. It is possible for me to use an example to make this all seem clearer. There are five sadistic guards in a prison who don't like the new inmate and want to give him a roughing up. One can argue that the pain the inmate will suffer is huge (purity) but the calculus is focused on quantity rather than quality. Also, the happiness of the guards will be fulfilled due to their sadistic means of pleasurement (certainty) however, the guards might get caught and...
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