Briefly distinguish between act and rule utilitarianism

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Last updated: November 18, 2019

Two people brought about act utilitarianism.

First, Jeremy Bentham who is said that “an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. ” Bentham thought that if you got more pleasure from an action than pain then it was alright to do it e. g. (if 10 people got pleasure out of an innocent man dying then that action would be just according to Bentham’s rule). John Stewart Mill was the second man to talk about act utilitarianism, however he believed that it wasn’t the amount of pleasure you get it’s the quality of pleasure that mattered the most.Mill also thought that pleasures of the mind mattered more than pleasures of the body.

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So reading classical literature would generate more pleasure than playing sports and writing a poem would produce greater pleasure than dancing. Act utilitarianism is based on the ‘Principle of Utility’ which says, “an action ought to be done if it brings out the maximum possible happiness for those parties affected by the action”. Its theories are based on ‘Hedonism’ and the ‘Hedonic calculus’ which adds up human pleasure and human pain in a kind of ‘moral maths’.It is also based on teleological ethics, which are based on consequences and the idea that an action is only right depending on the consequences that the action had. For example, If I broke a vase and then tried to put it back together then I did the right thing because no one saw me break it in the first place.

Rule utilitarianism is a modified version of act utilitarianism as it applies the ‘principle of utility’ only this time it is applied to rules. So if everyone obeyed a rule then it should maximise pleasure for everybody.Such as the question ‘should people steal from the rich to give to the poor’.

A rule utilitarian would say that you shouldn’t steal as it is a rule that shouldn’t be broken but giving to the poor would maximise pleasure for the majority. Another one is “should I drive on the left or right side of the road? ” Obviously I should drive on the left-hand side because on the right hand side I will have an accident which will cause me pain along with everybody else involved in the crash.The difference between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism is that act utilitarianism deems an action to be right as long as it gives more pleasure than it does pain to the people affected but rule utilitarianism only deems an action to be right only if the consequences of the action are good. 2. Outline and explain one circumstance in which a positive utilitarian could support abortion and one circumstance in which a negative utilitarian could support abortion. A positive utilitarian is someone who tries to maximise his or her pleasure.

A negative utilitarian is someone who tries to minimise pain. A situation in which a negative utilitarian could support abortion is if a 16-year-old girl got pregnant through being raped. Firstly the young girl may not be ready to face the pain of childbirth. Also if the girl decided to keep the child then everytime she looked at the child then it would be a very painful reminder to her of the actual rape itself.

Seeing as the girl is young she may not want to have a child.Along with that the girl is still young having an abortion would seem like a sensible option, as it would minimise pain for the girls family aswell. A lot of unnecessary pressure would be put on the relationship between the girl and the girls parents as they will have to probably have to pay for all the babies expenses. The girl will now also have lots and lots of extra pressure on her and especially at a time when she should be out enjoying herself but instead has to care for a child.Her future education is also in ruins as she may well have had ambitions to go to university and study for a successful career. Seeing as the baby would have been an unwanted one then its upbringing may be affected by the fact that the mother might not be able to care for it in the proper manner and will always look at it as the cause of her pain.

So I think in this case a negative utilitarian could support abortion as it would minimise pain mentally for the mother and also that it would minimise pain for the child aswell because it could be neglected.A positive utilitarian could support abortion if the expecting mother’s life was in danger when the birth would take place. As some people think that life is the most pleasurable thing on earth and should be preserved, as it is so precious. Especially if the mother is a young woman who has not yet fully experienced life she may not be able to appreciate how much pleasure can be achieved by having a family. Later on in her life when she is prepared to have and support a family she will be able to enjoy it more.So by having the abortion now which will obviously cause her some pain at the thought at having to lose her child but later on in her life it will give her more pleasure when she has experienced more of her life.

By having the abortion she will feel lots of pain and guilt in the immediate future however when she looks back at on it late on in her life she may well feel that the decision to have the abortion made her determined to get as much pleasure and fun out of her life as possible. You have to think about the child aswell.If the mother goes through with the birth and does unfortunately die then the child will have no mother to nurture and bring it up. It may be possible that it will be adopted but it will not have a proper mothers care and affection so it will not be able to maximise its pleasures of childhood.

I feel that both the positive utilitarian and the negative utilitarian would have to look at the reasons for the abortion very carefully and also from the viewpoint of the mother and also child to decide whether the right action is to support the abortion.

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