Rules In Utilitarianism Reconsidered Essay

1670 words - 7 pages

Question 3:
Is utilitarianism able to account for the importance of justice and honesty? Be sure to discuss both rule and act utilitarianism. Do either of these accounts work? Explain your answer.

Justice and Honesty: Rules in Utilitarianism Reconsidered

Utilitarianism, with the Principle of Utility or Greatest Happiness Principle being its core, is a consequentialist theory which attaches the greatest importance to the consequences of each action. While acting justly and honestly may not always bring the best consequences, some criticize its conflicts between traditional moral rules or virtues, such as justice and honesty.

To answer the challenge, it is essential to distinguishing two kinds of utilitarianism, one being act-utilitarianism and the other being rule-utilitarianism. In order to focus on the question about the relationship between the two moral rules and utilitarianism, I am not going to compare which kind of utilitarianism is more convincing. Rather, I argue that both types of utilitarianism could avoid the conflicts mentioned before, and could account for the significance of justice and honesty.

It is suitable to define justice and honesty before evaluating act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism. To our common understanding, justice is that people should get what they are due (Audi), while honesty requires one to tell the truth, and to be trustworthy. Although in extreme situations, the limits given by justice and honesty can be reasonably crossed, it is still widely accepted that this kind of limits should be well-respected (Deigh 102). In short, justice and honesty are moral rules that can rarely be violated.

In this paper I would like to shed light on the fact that utilitarianism could justify why justice and honest are significant, even though both act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism adopt the Principle of Utility and consequences as their core. Below I will discuss how act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism account for the importance of justice and honesty respectively.

1. Act-utilitarianism

Act-utilitarianism is the doctrine that whether an action is right or wrong depends upon the utility it produces, compared with other possible alternatives(Audi). Moral rules, such as justice and honesty, are only references for people to achieve greatest utility. It should be noted that the act-utilitarian do oppose that people take moral rules to be divine and inviolable. In other words, in act-utilitarianism, the application of the Principle of Utility on individual actions is always prior to the conformity to moral rules.

Although the act-utilitarian suggest the Principle of Utility is previous to moral rules, that does not mean they neglect the importance of these principles. It was suggested by J.J. C. Smart that a real act-utilitarian will refer to the common moral rules as his standard of making decisions in most circumstances. However, the reason for this lies not in how divine these moral rules are, but...

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