Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism
There are obvious problems with both Act and Rule Utilitarianism. Both theories share the common goal of achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people. However, it is impossible to measure or compare happiness, as one persons happiness may not necessarily be another’s. And how do we measure intangible gain, such as happiness against material gain, such as money? The root principle is a good concept, but it’s the means to which we arrive at the end that cause the problems.
In my opinion, there is a greater problem with Act Utilitarianism ersus Rule, because it Justifies not only ethical but also unethical actions in order to achieve the desired results. It allows for the abuse of people’s rights, demoralizes and devalues the welfare of individuals if it brings enough happiness to the group. The group is nothing more than many individuals coming together to form a whole, and this group would eventually become Just a group of demoralized and devalued people who would resort to any means necessary to get what they want because this s what they would be taught to do under the Act theory.
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This group would raise their children with these same principles, or lack of them, and the cycle would continue, producing a society that was almost egocentric in nature. At least with the Rule theory, the road to good intentions is paved with good intentions. That is, it attempts to use ethical principles as a means to an ethical solution. Nonetheless, it is still completely impractical, because it is impossible to make everyone follow the same rules every time because humans are too easily wayed by their own way of thinking or the way of another, and conversely, too stubborn to change their beliefs if they don’t want to change them.
They simply cannot be made to all conform to the same belief, practice, or rule on a consistent basis. In addition, there are too many conflicting rules and too many exceptions to rules to make application of the Rule theory practical within society. An example of Act Utility would be if a student were to cheat on a test because it would benefit himself, his teacher and parents would be pleased that he scored well nd he would be rewarded with a good grade.
There would be a positive consequence to cheating on the test, therefore cheating is the ethically correct decision. An example of Rule Utility would be if I promised to meet a friend for lunch. While on the way there, I encountered an injured woman who needed immediate medical attention. The rule says promises are not to be broken, so I do not stop to help the woman so that I can keep my promise to my friend. Therefore, keeping my promise and not helping the woman is the ethically correct decision.