Rule Utilitarianism Summary Notes

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  • Created by: Julia0698
  • Created on: 14-05-16 14:29

Rule Utilitarianism Intro

John Stuart Mill's Rule Utilitarianism applies the principle of utility to rules. Mill believed that eudaimonistic rules promote general universal welfare. Mill aimed to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number, through applying general rules, this theory is eudaimonistic and also qualitative as it focuses on the quality of happiness, rather than the quantity by distinguishing between higher and lower pleasures.


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General Principles

Rule Utilitarianism is focused on achieveing general universal welfare, by applying the principle of utility to rules. Mill thought that previous experiences helped us to make decisions, from which we could make general principles. These rules are universal in nature and, if applied in any situation, would lead to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. For example, we don't need to use the hedonic calculus to work out that giving money to the poor is right.

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Strong and Weak Rule Utilitarianism

Strong Rule Utilitarianism - always follows the general principles set out, almost like a deontological ethical system.

Weak Rule Utilitarianism (how Mill saw it) - follows the general principles but states that they can be broken if it would allow for greater general universal welfare. Mill saw the general principles more of a helpful guidance rather than absolute laws.

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Quality over quantity

Mill distinguished between higher pleasures (intellectual pleasures) and lower pleasures (physical pleasures).

"It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." J.S. Mill.

He claimed that human beings should strive to achieve the higher pleasures, which were more satisfying. In fact, he even said that it may be necessary to sacrafice lower pleasures and to suffer pain, in pursuit of achieving higher pleasures.

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Applied to embryonic stem cell research

  • Rule Utilitarianism may say that actually embryonic stem cell research might be fine becasue it may lead to finding cures to help save lives, and achieve general universal welfare.
  • Also, the embryos cannot experience higher pleasures, so actual persons would have more importance than the embryos. 
  • Actual persons have rights but potential persons do not have rights.
  • Finding cures would lead to more people, such as Alzheimer's sufferers, being able to expereince higher pleasures.
  • Good for community is prirotised, so likely to be okay.
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