More issues for Act Utilitarianism


Act utilitarianism fails to rule out immoral types

A second criticism for act utilitarianism is that it fails to rule out any type of actions. If a group of child abusers who derive plessure from torturing a child find a child who know one knows and torture them, only the child will feel pain, and the abusers will get pleasure.

Act utilitarians will reply that is very likely people will find out and become unhappy  and because we should do what is likely to cause the most happiness we still should not do this.

However this still implies that of it very unlikely for anyone to find out this action is still right , but other people finding out is not what makes this action wrong. 

There are two objections for this. 

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First Objection

First we can point out that happiness (or satisfying peoples preferences) is not always morally good, happiness child abusers get is morally bad. The fact that they are made happy by what they do doesnt make there actions better, but instead worse, so there must be some other standard than happiness for what is morally good. 

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Second objection

Second we can appeal to moral right, understood in terms of restrictions for how people can and cant treat each other. For instance, I have the right that other people dont kill me (the right to life), I also have the right to act as i choose as long as this respects other peoples rights(the right to liberty). One of the purposes of rights is to protect individual freedom and interests, even when violating that freedom would produce some greater good, e.g the right to life means no one should kill me even if killing me would mean 4 organ transplants to save 4 lives. Utilitarianism does not respect individual rights or libertys because it doesnt recognise restrictions on actions that create the greatest happiness.

Some utilitarians simply accept this. We have no rights. As long as we consider situatiosn realisticly then whatever brings about the greatest happiness is the right thing to do. Counter examples that appeal to very unlikely scenarios are unhelpful, as they have little to do with real life, act utilitarianism gives us the correct moral answer. 

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Mills rejection- Perfect and imperfect duties

Mill rejects this response by analysing what justice is and argues that at its heart its the concept of moral rights of an individual. 

Perfect duties

What is distinctive of justice is that it relates to actions that harm a specific, identifiable individual who has the right that we dont harm them in this way. Perefect duties are 'duties of justice'. We must always fulfil them, and have no choice over when and how, as someone else has the right that we act morally.

Imperfect duties 

There are other cases of wrong doing (not giving to charity) in which no specific person can demand this of us, instead we have some choice in how we fulfil this obligation to help others. these are imperfect duties. 

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Mills point of all this ...

And why do we have the rights that we have (obviously would be ... happiness )

When we call something a right it is a valid claim on society to protecthim in the possesion of it, either by the force of law, or by that of education and opinion, the reason why society should protect us in this way is general happiness. The interests that are protected as rights are extremely important, they are interests concerend with security. We depend on security for protection from harm and to be able to enjoy what is good without fearing that it will be taken away from us. These rules are more important than any others, and thus become the subject of justice. This contributes most to our happiness in the long term 

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1. On Mills view, we only have a right if our having a right contributes to the greatest happiness in the long run, do the rights that we have really do this? May society be happier if we had less freedom in some cases. This is an important debate in political philosophy. 

2. A clear objection is that Mills theory of rights doesnt offer a strong defence in particular cases. Suppose there is an occasion where violating my rights will create more happiness. A right protects an individuals interest againts what may compete with it ( in this occasion - general happiness ), but if the ground of rights is general happiness, this protection seems insecure, on the other hand, we have the indivduals right which turns out to be the demands of the greatets happiness as well, 

Thus, if my rights are justitifed by general utility then doesnt the happiness created by overridng my rights justify violating them? Utilitarianism cannot offer any other reason to protect my rights in this particular instance. 

Mill may argue that this is misunderstanding utilitarianism in the largest sense, and that rights serve the greatest happiness as they protect our permaenent interests, ( compare to secondary principles.

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Can Mill still claim to be an act utilitarian?

Now we can object Mill has given up on act utilitarianism, as he appears to reccomend that we do not look at consequences of each act, but instead create rights (which are a type of rule) and enforce them even when they conflict with happiness in certain situations. When rights are involved, the right action is not the one that creates the most happiness, but the one that respects the right,

and thus, Mill must adopt 'rule utilitarianism' to provide his account of rights and justice. 

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