Act/Rule Utilitarianism, High/Low Pleasures

Business Ethics - PHILOS3235 - 2 February 2018

Principle of Utility: Actions are good that promote utility (pleasure/pain) and bad if they do inverse

Act Utilitarian Rule Utilitarian
Consequences figured out for each action Don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” in terms of morality
Shouldn’t assume at the outset some actions preferred/off-limits (beyond utility) Use time-tested “rules of thumb”: “do not kill”, “do not steal” (promote utility)
Bentham-like calculus Mill-like-rights

Case #1: Hermit in the woods

Rich hermit/ 1000 villagers on the verge of death

What should be done?

Act Rule
Murder - Last resort Barter with him - try to appeal to him
Steal - if we don’t, 1000 could die “do not kill”, “do not steal”
Incapacitate him Corrosive effect on society

Case #2: Voting

Should I vote?

Act Rule
Is it worth the time? (Pre-decided voting states) Civic duty
  Societies that have higher voter turnout usually function better
  Mandatory voting
  Other obstacles, work etc.

Quality vs Quantity


  1. Just maximize utility (whatever peoples preferences are)


  1. Thinks we actually prefer higher vs lower (we’re rational)
  2. Societies are happier that encourage higher over lower

Sandel’s Test - higher/lower

  • What do we prefer?
  • Which is higher?
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