Act Utilitarianism

Act Utilitarianism is a utilitarian theory of ethics which states that a person's act is morally right if and only if it produces at least as much happiness as any other act that the person could perform at that time. Classical utilitarians, including Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick, define happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. To understand how act utilitarianism works, compare the consequences of your watching television all day tomorrow to the consequences of your doing charity work tomorrow. You could produce more overall happiness in the world by doing charity work tomorrow than by watching television all day tomorrow. According to act utilitarianism, then, the right thing for you to do tomorrow is to go out and do charity work; it is wrong for you to stay home and watch television all day tomorrow.

Critics sometimes cite such prohibitions on leisure activities as a problem for act utilitarianism. Critics also cite more significant problems, such as the fact that act utilitarianism seems to imply that specific acts of torture or enslavement would be morally permissible if they produced enough happiness.

Act utilitarianism is often contrasted with a different theory called rule utilitarianism. Rule utilitarianism states that the morally right action is the one that is in accordance with a moral rule whose general observance would create the most happiness. Rule utilitarianism is sometimes thought to avoid the problems associated with act utilitarianism.

Other articles related to "utilitarianism, act utilitarianism":

Two-level Utilitarianism
... Two-level utilitarianism is a utilitarian theory of ethics developed by R ... Traditional utilitarianism treats this as a claim that people should try to ensure that their actions maximise overall happiness or pleasure ... Two-level utilitarianism is virtually a synthesis of the opposing doctrines of act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism ...
Twentieth Century Developments - Two-level Utilitarianism
... In Principles (1973) R.M.Hare accepts that rule utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism but claims that this is a result of allowing the rules to be 'as ... their generality.” This distinction between a ‘specific rule utilitarianism’ (which collapses into act utilitarianism) and ‘general rule utilitarianism ... likely to prevent us doing the calculations properly, then we should use the more general rule utilitarianism ...

Famous quotes containing the word act:

    Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.
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