Rule Utilitarianism sample essay
?Utilitarianism was developed in the 18th century by Hutchenson, who used the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” to describe his theory. His idea of Utilitarianism, however, seeks to find a rational means of assessing how best to put this promotion of happiness into practice, and is split into two types; Act Utilitarianism is the earliest form, in which what is deemed right is based on the assessment of results of a particular action, and Rule Utilitarianism, which allows to be taken into account the general benefit to society that occurs when people follow general rules.
Bentham and Mill each argued respectively for these types of Utilitarianism, and thus their beliefs differ. Bentham was born in London at a time of great scientific and social change. He argued for Act Utilitarianism, and maintained that human beings were motivated by pleasure and by pain. He believed that everyone had an equal right to happiness, irrespective of their situation or status in life and argued that everyone counted equally in the assessment of the benefits of an action.
He believed that overall, this would also benefit the individual who did so and this would lead to that person’s greatest happiness as well. His theory is democratic as pleasure cannot be for one person and one person alone. Bentham wrote down his beliefs in his major work, ‘The principles of morals and legislation’, written in1789, which is divided into three sections; The motivation of human beings and the concept of good and bad – “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.
It is for them alone to point out what we shall do, as well as to determine what we shall do. ” ; The Principle of Utility -The greatest good for the greatest number (The most useful course of action if trying to maximise pleasure and minimize pain and in a given situation, one must examine the consequential pain/pleasure resultant for all concerned. ) ; and lastly, his Hedonic Calculus – this weighs up the pain and pleasure generated by the available moral actions to find the best option. It asks us to consider(s)several factors: a. Intensity b. Duration c. Certainty or uncertainty d.
Nearness or remoteness e. Consequences f. Purity g. Extent If the probable pain of an action outweighs its pleasure then Bentham says that it is morally wrong. He believed that this was the way of calculating happiness as a result of the course of an action and by this he was making the basis of deciding whether an action should be considered right or wrong. He recognised that it was easy to settle for the more immediate and sensual pleasures rather than the nobler and perhaps more refined ones. Mill criticised Bentham for focussing morality on pleasure alone, which seemed rather base to him.
Thus, he decided to introduce a theory of utility for the common person , which replaced pleasure with happiness and moved away from mere quantity to the quality of happiness as well. Although he believed that the wellbeing of the individual was of primary concern, happiness is best achieved when it is subject to the rules that protect the common good. For Mill, happiness was defined as something which is cultural and spiritual rather than just physical, and he distinguished between lower pleasures and higher pleasures.
He famously wrote “It is better to be a human being satisfied than a pig satisfied, better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. ” Mill recognised that there were different ways of assessing the value of happiness and was keen to link his theory with Jesus’ teachings. He did this by claiming that to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ constitutes the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. Mill, unlike Bentham, suggested a positive place for rules within an overall utilitarianist approach, and thus believed in Rule Utilitarianism.
He argued that society needs the basic principles such as truthfulness for without people telling the truth then nobody can be happy. Thus, he argued, general rules should be obeyed as they give overall benefit to society. However, they may be broken in exceptional circumstances and consequently Mill argued there was strong and weak rule utilitarianism; Strong Utilitarianism is one where one should never break a rule that is established, and Weak Utilitarianism is one where there may be situations when the assessment of the rules in a particular case of a particular act may take precedence over the general rule.
Mill and Bentham each believe in their own type of Utilitarianism and have their own theories. Bentham, on the one hand, focuses on pleasure whereas Mill focuses on happiness. Similarly, in the search to maximise happiness, Bentham is concerned for the individual alone, but Mill suggests we should protect a common good. Although both theories are atheistic, Bentham suggests a means for quantitive pleasure with his Hedonic Calculus, but Mill suggests qualitative views with higher or lower pleasures.
Utilitarianism may not necessarily result in happiness as happiness is a personal choice. Something that makes one person happy may not make another happy. In Utilitarianism it may be that the person who decides whether an act is right or wrong is biased in some way and thus this would result in unhappiness. The act of deciding the right- or wrongness of an act is in itself an act and somebody must therefore decide if the decision to make an act right is right and thus a circular argument is created.
However, there are different weaknesses for Bentham and Mill’s separate theories. Bentham’s theory has problems when the number of offenders outnumbers the victim. For example, if there were a group of rapists planning to attack one woman, then according to Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus the offenders’ pleasure would outweigh the woman’s pain and thus make the attack justifiable. This is known as the Swine Ethic. Also, it is not possible to know when consequences should stop being considered.
Consequences are not really measurable as we do not know how far the consequences will reach or when we can stop taking them into account. Also, in Bentham’s theory there is no protection for minority groups; as with the victim and offender example, if a whole community were fighting to banish a small group of gypsies from land that nobody owned and that the gypsies were actually looking after, then by the Hedonic Calculus, the gypsies should be made to go no matter how much they were actually making the ground better.
Similarly, Mill’s theory has its own weaknesses. Three people have publicly shown these weaknesses and the first was Sidgwick who suggested that “In practice it is hard to distinguish between higher and lower pleasures”. This brings to the front the subjectivity of “pleasure”, as what is pleasurable for one person is by no means necessarily pleasurable for another. The second weakness was noted by WD Ross who argued that “Single-factor” moral theories don’t work because life is too complex. He suggested that we have “prima facie” duties.
For example, if a person had to choose who to save and the choice was their son or a man with the cure to AIDS, then the answer would be the son because their prima facie duty is to him. Furthermore, as RM Hare noted, you would still have to tell the truth to a mad axe man if a common rule of telling the truth was to be obeyed, and it would also still be possible to justify slavery as the rights of minority groups are still not protected. Bentham’s Utilitarianism is a type of Act Utilitarianism.
It is a teleological, relative and consequential argument that uses the outcomes of an action to assess whether it is right or wrong and thus there are no necessary moral rules except one; that we should always seek to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. For this type of Utilitarianism, it is difficult to predict the consequences as there is a potential to justify any act, defining pleasure itself is subjective to the person who is asked, there is no defence for the minorities and it is impractical to suggest that we should calculate the morality of each choice that every single person on the world ever makes.
On the other hand, Mill’s Utilitarianism is often linked to Rule Utilitarianism, and the belief that rules should be formed using Utilitarian principles for the benefit of the whole society. This itself has weaknesses. For example, similar to Bentham, it is difficult to predict the consequences of every action that could occur. Also, there is a difficulty in defining what constitutes happiness as this would differ depending on who you asked.
Once again, there is no defence for the minorities. In general, Utilitarianism is weak as it is difficult to predict consequences, as the theory disregards motivation and goodwill, as it suggests that the majority is always right which causes issues when the Nazis are the majority, and it does not protect the minorities. In general the single criterion for morality is far too simplistic to deal with the complexity of life.
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