Utilitarianism, Act and Rule | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
claims—as Rawls states, justice is the “first virtue of social institutions. in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamental terms of their association” ( p. In the notion of consequences the Utilitarian includes all of the good and bad to derive their worth from their relation to this intrinsic good as a means to an end. . an alternative to theories of natural law, natural rights, or social contract. 1See Murphy () for a discussion of the relationship between the principles of social justice and the principles that guide individual conduct.
That part of his personality that harbours these hostile antisocial feelings must be excluded from membership, and has no claim for a hearing when it comes to defining our concept of social utility. Negative utilitarianism In The Open Society and its EnemiesKarl Popper argued that the principle "maximize pleasure" should be replaced by "minimize pain".
He thought "it is not only impossible but very dangerous to attempt to maximize the pleasure or the happiness of the people, since such an attempt must lead to totalitarianism. A further criticism of the Utilitarian formula "Maximize pleasure" is that it assumes a continuous pleasure-pain scale that lets us treat degrees of pain as negative degrees of pleasure.
But, from the moral point of view, pain cannot be outweighed by pleasure, and especially not one man's pain by another man's pleasure. Instead of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, one should demand, more modestly, the least amount of avoidable suffering for all The actual term negative utilitarianism was introduced by R.
Smart as the title to his reply to Popper  in which he argued that the principle would entail seeking the quickest and least painful method of killing the entirety of humanity.
Negative total utilitarianism, in contrast, tolerates suffering that can be compensated within the same person. Applying carefully selected rules at the social level and encouraging appropriate motives at the personal level is, so it is argued, likely to lead to a better overall outcome even if on some individual occasions it leads to the wrong action when assessed according to act utilitarian standards.
Criticisms[ edit ] Because utilitarianism is not a single theory but a cluster of related theories that have been developed over two hundred years, criticisms can be made for different reasons and have different targets.
Utilitarianism - Wikipedia
Quantifying utility[ edit ] A common objection to utilitarianism is the inability to quantify, compare, or measure happiness or well-being. Ray Briggs writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: There may be no good answer to the question of whether the life of an ascetic monk contains more or less good than the life of a happy libertine—but assigning utilities to these options forces us to compare them.
Utility understood this way is a personal preferencein the absence of any objective measurement. Utility ignores justice[ edit ] As Rosen  has pointed out, claiming that act utilitarians are not concerned about having rules is to set up a "straw man". Similarly, Hare refers to "the crude caricature of act utilitarianism which is the only version of it that many philosophers seem to be acquainted with.
Nevertheless, whether they would agree or not, this is what critics of utilitarianism claim is entailed by the theory. A classic version of this criticism was given by H. In such a case the sheriff, if he were an extreme utilitarian, would appear to be committed to framing the Negro.
By "extreme" utilitarian, McCloskey is referring to what later came to be called "act" utilitarianism. He suggests one response might be that the sheriff would not frame the innocent negro because of another rule: Another response might be that the riots the sheriff is trying to avoid might have positive utility in the long run by drawing attention to questions of race and resources to help address tensions between the communities.
In a later article, McCloskey says: An older form of this argument was presented by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his book The Brothers Karamazov. In it, Ivan challenges his brother Alyosha, a utilitarian, to answer his question: Tell me straight out, I call on you—answer me: And can you admit the idea that the people for whom you are building would agree to accept their happiness on the unjustified blood of a tortured child, and having accepted it, to remain forever happy?
Daniel Dennett describes this as the Three Mile Island effect. He suggests that it would have been a good thing if plant operators learned lessons that prevented future serious incidents. Russell Hardin rejects such arguments. He argues that it is possible to distinguish the moral impulse of utilitarianism which is "to define the right as good consequences and to motivate people to achieve these" from our ability to correctly apply rational principles that, among other things, "depend on the perceived facts of the case and on the particular moral actor's mental equipment.
The moral impulse of utilitarianism is constant, but our decisions under it are contingent on our knowledge and scientific understanding. Moorewriting insaid: Demandingness objection[ edit ] Act utilitarianism not only requires everyone to do what they can to maximize utility, but to do so without any favouritism. Mill said, "As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. The well-being of strangers counts just as much as that of friends, family or self.
This is the view taken by Peter Singer, who says: Few could stand by and watch a child drown; many can ignore the avoidable deaths of children in Africa or India. The question, however, is not what we usually do, but what we ought to do, and it is difficult to see any sound moral justification for the view that distance, or community membership, makes a crucial difference to our obligations. In Satisficing Consequentialism, Michael Slote argues for a form of utilitarianism where "an act might qualify as morally right through having good enough consequences, even though better consequences could have been produced.
Samuel Scheffler takes a different approach and amends the requirement that everyone be treated the same. Kagan suggests that such a procedure might be justified on the grounds that "a general requirement to promote the good would lack the motivational underpinning necessary for genuine moral requirements" and, secondly, that personal independence is necessary for the existence of commitments and close personal relations and that "the value of such commitments yields a positive reason for preserving within moral theory at least some moral independence for the personal point of view.
He suggests that many of the problems arise under the traditional formulation because the conscientious utilitarian ends up having to make up for the failings of others and so contributing more than their fair share.
This means that utilitarianism, if correctly interpreted, will yield a moral code with a standard of acceptable conduct very much below the level of highest moral perfection, leaving plenty of scope for supererogatory actions exceeding this minimum standard. The concept is also important in animal rights advocate Richard Ryder 's rejection of utilitarianism, in which he talks of the "boundary of the individual", through which neither pain nor pleasure may pass.
But this is absurd. Individuals have wants, not mankind; individuals seek satisfaction, not mankind. A person's satisfaction is not part of any greater satisfaction. A response to this criticism is to point out that whilst seeming to resolve some problems it introduces others. Intuitively, there are many cases where people do want to take the numbers involved into account. As Alastair Norcross has said, "suppose that Homer is faced with the painful choice between saving Barney from a burning building or saving both Moe and Apu from the building…it is clearly better for Homer to save the larger number, precisely because it is a larger number… Can anyone who really considers the matter seriously honestly claim to believe that it is worse that one person die than that the entire sentient population of the universe be severely mutilated?
His conclusion was that the poor meaning the working class should be taxed by taxing their luxuries. What about the irresponsible poor? Though the advanced price of the luxuries of the poor, therefore, might increase somewhat the distress of such disorderly families, and thereby diminish somewhat their ability to bring up children, it would not probably diminish much the useful population of the country.
David touches on a number of points worth addressing, so let me take them in turn. The appendix to that book was one of the first things I read that started moving me away from the kind of Randian natural rights position that first attracted me to libertarianism.
And I heartily agree with and endorse much of what David says in the main body of the book as well. And we find much of the canonical libertarian analysis of social and economic issues pretty convincing.John Stuart Mill on Justice and Utility - Philosophy Core Concepts
Like David, I take this seriously, and think that it is important to recognize the ways in which social institutions are spontaneous orders, and the way in which this fact undermines certain kinds of moral critique. David says that not all moral judgments are about justice. I agree, and would go further. Not all moral judgments are about justice, and not all judgments about justice are about social justice. Regarding the first of those claims, I think that sometimes it would be virtuous of me to aid another person, but not obligatory.
But I do believe that there are other cases in which it would be obligatory, not merely supererogatory. Arguments for Rule Utilitarianism i. It says that we can produce more beneficial results by following rules than by always performing individual actions whose results are as beneficial as possible.
This suggests that we should not always perform individual actions that maximize utility. How could this be something that a utilitarian would support? In spite of this paradox, rule utilitarianism possesses its own appeal, and its focus on moral rules can sound quite plausible. The rule utilitarian approach to morality can be illustrated by considering the rules of the road. More specific rules that require stopping at lights, forbid going faster than 30 miles per hour, or prohibit driving while drunk do not give drivers the discretion to judge what is best to do.
They simply tell drivers what to do or not do while driving. The reason why a more rigid rule-based system leads to greater overall utility is that people are notoriously bad at judging what is the best thing to do when they are driving a car. A rule utilitarian can illustrate this by considering the difference between stop signs and yield signs.
Stop signs forbid drivers to go through an intersection without stopping, even if the driver sees that there are no cars approaching and thus no danger in not stopping. A yield sign permits drivers to go through without stopping unless they judge that approaching cars make it dangerous to drive through the intersection.
David Friedman on Social Justice and Utilitarianism
The key difference between these signs is the amount of discretion that they give to the driver. The stop sign is like the rule utilitarian approach. It tells drivers to stop and does not allow them to calculate whether it would be better to stop or not. The yield sign is like act utilitarianism. It permits drivers to decide whether there is a need to stop. Act utilitarians see the stop sign as too rigid because it requires drivers to stop even when nothing bad will be prevented. The result, they say, is a loss of utility each time a driver stops at a stop sign when there is no danger from oncoming cars.
Rule utilitarians will reply that they would reject the stop sign method a if people could be counted on to drive carefully and b if traffic accidents only caused limited amounts of harm. But, they say, neither of these is true. Because people often drive too fast and are inattentive while driving because they are, for example, talking, texting, listening to music, or tiredwe cannot count on people to make good utilitarian judgments about how to drive safely.
In addition, the costs i. Accident victims including drivers may be killed, injured, or disabled for life. For these reasons, rule utilitarians support the use of stop signs and other non-discretionary rules under some circumstances.
Rule utilitarians generalize from this type of case and claim that our knowledge of human behavior shows that there are many cases in which general rules or practices are more likely to promote good effects than simply telling people to do whatever they think is best in each individual case. This does not mean that rule utilitarians always support rigid rules without exceptions.
Some rules can identify types of situations in which the prohibition is over-ridden. The rules of the road do not tell drivers when to drive or what their destination should be for example. Overall then, rule utilitarian can allow departures from rules and will leave many choices up to individuals. In such cases, people may act in the manner that looks like the approach supported by act utilitarians.
Nonetheless, these discretionary actions are permitted because having a rule in these cases does not maximize utility or because the best rule may impose some constraints on how people act while still permitting a lot of discretion in deciding what to do. Rule Utilitarianism Avoids the Criticisms of Act Utilitarianism As discussed earlier, critics of act utilitarianism raise three strong objections against it.
According to these critics, act utilitarianism a approves of actions that are clearly wrong; b undermines trust among people, and c is too demanding because it requires people to make excessive levels of sacrifice. Rule utilitarians tend to agree with these criticisms of act utilitarianism and try to explain why rule utilitarianism is not open to any of these objections. Judges, Doctors, and Promise-makers Critics of act utilitarianism claim that it allows judges to sentence innocent people to severe punishments when doing so will maximize utility, allows doctors to kill healthy patients if by doing so, they can use the organs of one person to save more lives, and allows people to break promises if that will create slightly more benefits than keeping the promise.
Rule utilitarians say that they can avoid all these charges because they do not evaluate individual actions separately but instead support rules whose acceptance maximizes utility. To see the difference that their focus on rules makes, consider which rule would maximize utility: Although more good may be done by killing the healthy patient in an individual case, it is unlikely that more overall good will be done by having a rule that allows this practice.
If a rule were adopted that allows doctors to kill healthy patients when this will save more lives, the result would be that many people would not go to doctors at all.
A rule utilitarian evaluation will take account of the fact that the benefits of medical treatment would be greatly diminished because people would no longer trust doctors.
People who seek medical treatment must have a high degree of trust in doctors. If they had to worry that doctors might use their organs to help other patients, they would not, for example, allow doctors to anesthetize them for surgery because the resulting loss of consciousness would make them completely vulnerable and unable to defend themselves.
Thus, the rule that allows doctors to kill one patient to save five would not maximize utility. The same reasoning applies equally to the case of the judge. In order to have a criminal justice system that protects people from being harmed by others, we authorize judges and other officials to impose serious punishments on people who are convicted of crimes.
The purpose of this is to provide overall security to people in their jurisdiction, but this requires that criminal justice officials only have the authority to impose arrest and imprisonment on people who are actually believed to be guilty.
They do not have the authority to do whatever they think will lead to the best results in particular cases. Whatever they do must be constrained by rules that limit their power.
Act utilitarians may sometimes support the intentional punishment of innocent people, but rule utilitarians will understand the risks involved and will oppose a practice that allows it.
Rule utilitarians offer a similar analysis of the promise keeping case. They explain that in general, we want people to keep their promises even in some cases in which doing so may lead to less utility than breaking the promise.
The reason for this is that the practice of promise-keeping is a very valuable. It enables people to have a wide range of cooperative relationships by generating confidence that other people will do what they promise to do. If we knew that people would fail to keep promises whenever some option arises that leads to more utility, then we could not trust people who make promises to us to carry them through. In each of these cases then, rule utilitarians can agree with the critics of act utilitarianism that it is wrong for doctors, judges, and promise-makers to do case by case evaluations of whether they should harm their patients, convict and punish innocent people, and break promises.
The rule utilitarian approach stresses the value of general rules and practices, and shows why compliance with rules often maximizes overall utility even if in some individual cases, it requires doing what produces less utility.
Undermining Trust Rule utilitarians see the social impact of a rule-based morality as one of the key virtues of their theory. The three cases just discussed show why act utilitarianism undermines trust but rule utilitarianism does not. Fundamentally, in the cases of doctors, judges, and promise-keepers, it is trust that is at stake. Being able to trust other people is extremely important to our well-being. As a result, people would be less likely to see other people as reliable and trustworthy.
While rule utilitarians do not deny that there are people who are not trustworthy, they can claim that their moral code generally condemns violations of trust as wrongful acts. The problem with act utilitarians is that they support a moral view that has the effect of undermining trust and that sacrifices the good effects of a moral code that supports and encourages trustworthiness.
Impartiality and the Problem of Over-Demandingness Rule utilitarians believe that their view is also immune to the criticism that act utilitarianism is too demanding. In addition, while the act utilitarian commitment to impartiality undermines the moral relevance of personal relations, rule utilitarians claim that their view is not open to this criticism.
They claim that rule utilitarianism allows for partiality toward ourselves and others with whom we share personal relationships. Moreover, they say, rule utilitarianism can recognize justifiable partiality to some people without rejecting the commitment to impartiality that is central to the utilitarian tradition.
How can rule utilitarianism do this? In his defense of rule utilitarianism, Brad Hooker distinguishes two different contexts in which partiality and impartiality play a role.
One involves the justification of moral rules and the other concerns the application of moral rules. Justifications of moral rules, he claims, must be strictly impartial. When we ask whether a rule should be adopted, it is essential to consider the impact of the rule on all people and to weigh the interests of everyone equally. The second context concerns the content of the rules and how they are applied in actual cases. Rule utilitarians argue that a rule utilitarian moral code will allow partiality to play a role in determining what morality requires, forbids, or allows us to do.
As an example, consider a moral rule parents have a special duty to care for their own children. See Parental Rights and Obligations. This is a partialist rule because it not only allows but actually requires parents to devote more time, energy, and other resources to their own children than to others. While the content of this rule is not impartial, rule utilitarians believe it can be impartially justified.
Partiality toward children can be justified for several reasons. Caring for children is a demanding activity. Children need the special attention of adults to develop physically, emotionally, and cognitively. It is not possible for absentee parents or strangers to provide individual children with all that they need. Therefore, we can maximize the overall well-being of children as a class by designating certain people as the caretakers for specific children. For these reasons, partiality toward specific children can be impartially justified.
Teachers, for example have special duties to students in their own classes and have no duty to educate all students. Similarly, public officials can and should be partial to people in the jurisdiction in which they work.
If the overall aim is to maximize the well-being of all people in all cities, for example, then we are likely to get better results by having individuals who know and understand particular cities focus on them while other people focus on other cities. Based on examples like these, rule utilitarians claim that their view, unlike act utilitarianism, avoids the problems raised about demandingness and partiality.
Being committed to impartialist justifications of moral rules does not commit them to rejecting moral rules that allow or require people to give specific others priority. While rule utilitarians can defend partiality, their commitment to maximizing overall utility also allows them to justify limits on the degree of partiality that is morally permissible.
It would be wrong, for example, for a parent to injure children who are running in a school race in order to increase the chances that their own children will win. The key point is that while rule utilitarianism permits partiality toward some people, it can also generate rules that limit the ways in which people may act partially and it might even support a positive duty for well off people to provide assistance to strangers when the needs and interests of people to whom we are partial are fully met, when they have surplus resources that could be used to assist strangers in dire conditions, and when there are ways to channel these resources effectively to people in dire need.
Arguments against Rule Utilitarianism i. Act utilitarians say that they recognize that rules can have value. For example, rules can provide a basis for acting when there is no time to deliberate.
In addition, rules can define a default position, a justification for doing or refraining from a type of action as long as there is no reason for not doing it. But when people know that more good can be done by violating the rule then the default position should be over-ridden.
In their view, whatever defects act utilitarianism may have, rule utilitarianism will have the same defects. According to this criticism, although rule utilitarianism looks different from act utilitarianism, a careful examination shows that it collapses into or, as David Lyons claimed, is extensionally equivalent to act utilitarianism. To understand this criticism, it is worth focusing on a distinction between rule utilitarianism and other non-utilitarian theories.
Many people see this view as too rigid and claim that it fails to take into account the circumstances in which a lie is being told. One way to do this is to identify specific conditions under which violating a general moral requirement would be justified. In cases of lesser harms or deceitful acts that will benefit the liar, lying would still be prohibited, even if lying might maximize overall utility.
It also suggests, however, that rule utilitarians face difficult challenges in formulating utility-based rules that have a reasonable degree of flexibility built into them but are not so flexible that they collapse into act utilitarianism.
In addition, although the rules that make up a moral code should be flexible enough to account for the complexities of life, they cannot be so complex that they are too difficult for people to learn and understand.