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Derin Adetosoye

Derin Adetosoye


Total Article : 11

About Me:I am a student at sixth-form currently studying Economics, Biology & Philosophy and Ethics. My articles are mainly focused on Philosophy and explores the different approaches to ethics. They are written in a way which can be used for revision purposes.

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Utilitarianism: Rule & Preference

In addition to Act Utilitarianism, there are also another two approaches within the ethical theory: Rule Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism.

Rule Utilitarianism is associated with J.S Mill and is a qualitative approach of Utilitarianism. Mill argues that Bentham’s quantitative approach is flawed and rather than following desire alone (as Bentham implies), an action should be deemed morally right if it conforms to a set of rules that promotes the greatest happiness for society as a whole and so forbids actions such as murder or stealing unlike Act Utilitarianism which completely disregards the action itself and focuses solely on the outcome derived. Another difference between the two is that Rule Utilitarianism distinguishes pleasures into higher and lower pleasures creating a hierarchy which favours actions which will produce higher pleasures(e.g pleasures of the mind, such as reading) rather than those of lower pleasures(e.g bodily pleasures, such as sex). Mill argues that this is necessary because “it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” Thus this concept is taken into consideration when deciding what action to take, rather than using the hedonic calculus to calculate outcomes and so due to the more specific criteria of Rule Utilitarianism it is arguable that outcomes derived using Rule Utilitarianism are of a greater standard than Act Utilitarianism.

I think Mill was right to intervene with Bentham’s strand of Utilitarianism as specifically using the example of sadists torturing an innocent person in my Act Utilitarianism article really highlighted how dangerous it can be to not take into account the morality of actions.

In more recent times, Peter Singer has developed another strand on Utilitarianism known as Preference Utilitarianism. This contemporary approach argues that “an action is right if it fulfills the preferences of those involved in the decision making” and is therefore concerned with the wants and preferences of the people concerned in the specific situation, making it relativistic.

I think Singer’s approach is much more practical than the other 2 types of Utilitarianism because it allows the individual to make more personal decisions. For example, if there was a house burning on fire with your mother inside of it as well as a doctor who has a cure for cancer then Act Utilitarianism would argue that you must save the doctor as they will most likely help more people in the future than your mother and thus provides the “greatest happiness for the greatest number.” However, Singer’s Preference Utilitarianism would allow the individual to save their mother if that is what they would prefer to do due to their own personal preference. So in this scenario I truly appreciate the practicality of Preference Utilitarianism, however in less drastic situations I think that Preference Utilitarianism has its weaknesses in the fact that it focuses on preferences and wants - things that are both subjective and constantly changing. Thus bearing this in mind, I think a lot of thought needs to be taken when applying Preference Utilitarianism and decisions must not be passive.

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