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Philosophy: Two Differetn Types Of Utilitarianism

1826 words - 7 pages

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was one of the leading British moral philosophers of the nineteen-century (Feinberg, 596). As presented in class, Mill’s principle of utility is known as the greatest happiness principle which is defined as “actions are right as they tend to promote happiness and wrong as they tend to promote unhappiness” or in simple words “right actions maximize overall happiness” (Feinberg, 597). Mills definition of happiness is seen as “pleasure absent of pain” (Feinberg, 597). There are two different types of utilitarianism: act and rule. As talked about in lecture act utilitarianism is the “right action to perform on a particular occasion is the action which, on that occasion will result in the greatest sum of happiness. Rule utilitarianism is “the right action to perform on a particular occasion is the action which conforms with the rule such that, if the rule is generally followed, the greatest sum of happiness will result. Mill agrees with act utilitarianism and believes that it is the act, not conformity to a set of rules that determines an action’s moral status.
In the “Switch Case”, we are presented with a scenario in which there are two helpless men (Moe and Larry) tied to the railroad tracks and there is a runaway train speeding towards the two men. The train will surely kill the two men unless someone does something. The only possible thing to do is press a button that will cause the train to switch unto another track. Unfortunately, you see a third man (Curly) who is tied up on the other track. If you push the button, the third man will surly die. The act utilitarian approach to solving this dilemma would be to push the button and let Curly the third man die. This is true because those who believe in act utilitarianism are supposed to act in the favor of getting the greatest sum of happiness as the end result. In this scenario, because there are two people (Moe and Larry) tied to one track and only one person (Curly) tied to the other track; the right action would be to save the two people rather than just saving one person. Saving Moe and Larry would amount in the greatest sum of happiness and therefore that is the right action to do according to act utilitarianism.
In the “Fat Man Case” we are presented with a similar scenario to the “Switch Case” but in this case instead of there being button to push to save the lives; you are given a different alternative. The only thing you can do to save Moe and Larry who are tied to the track is to push Curly in front of the train. Curly is large enough in size that his body weight will definitely slow down the runaway train, thus saving Moe and Larry. But, it is obvious if you choose this option of pushing Curly in front of the train, he is surely going to be killed. Just like in the previous case if handling this dilemma in the perspective of an act utilitarian, one would push Curly in front of the train. This may seem cruel, but in act utilitarianism, they act in ways that...

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