Utilitarianism put simple judges the morals of actions by looking at consequences. Utilitarianism says that an action is good if it results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, this is know as the principle of utility. Utilitarianism was founded by Jeremy Bentham. He famously said, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do.” For Bentham an action is good if it produces more pleasure than pain and he rated this on his hedonic calculus.Act utilitarianism deals with individual actions and their consequences.
Act Utilitarians assess the morality of an action purely on its consequences and have no universal or absolute moral rules. For example Act Utilitarians would not say lying is wrong but that lying is only wrong if the lie does more harm than good and that in many situations it is morally right to lie (in everyday society these lies are known as white lies.) But Act Utilitarianism can be applied to more extreme circumstances for example acts such as murder are not seen as universally wrong. Each individual murder is judged on its outcomes.In stark contrast to Kant who said that morality cannot be judge by consequence Act Utilitarianism states that consequence cannot be judged on the morality of an action. It is far more flexible.
The assassination of Hitler could have stopped the killing of many; according to Kant murder is a morally wrong act regardless of the outcome but to act Utilitarians, as it seems to most people, the assassination of Hitler would have been a very moral act. However this principle potentially allows for people to go round doing evil. On this basis any action could be justified.Rule Utilitarians still judge actions based on the consequence using the Utility principle but instead of looking at the consequences of an individual outcome it looks at the possible consequences of what would happen if the action was generally acceptable, and forms rules based on this. The principle of Rule Utilitarianism is that it is more likely to produce good consequences if we live by the rule rather than making it up as we go along based on what individuals see as the best outcome and what gives them the most pleasure.For example it would be more universally beneficial if people stuck to rule do not lie as in most cases the act of lying has a bad outcome.
It is associated more with John Stuart Mill, a pupil of Bentham who slightly modified utilitarianism. He was less preoccupied by the amount of basic pleasure and pain. It is also very similar to Kant’s idea of universal maxims; only do actions that can be universally applied and still have a good outcome.b) How far can Utilitarianism help in making decisions about euthanasia?Utilitarianism does not have any absolute rules, which must be followed and unlike religion does not focus on the sanctity of life but rather the importance of happiness. Christians faith, mainly the catholic church, states that under no circumstances should a life be taken but if a loved one in pain asks for you help in ending their suffering many people find that a hard rule to stick to. Utilitarianism, however, allows for human compassion and will to end suffering.
For many a utilitarian approach makes much more sense when making decisions about euthanasia.The greatest happiness for the greatest number’ means that Utilitarians would look at all concerned; not jus the happiness of the person wanting euthanasia but the relatives having to care for the sick family member. For the person requesting euthanasia the pain is obvious; a person who is terminally ill is usually living with immense physical pain, however the guilt of being a burden of family members can also cause emotional pain.
For relatives and friends having to watch a loved one suffer in this way also causes emotional suffering and in many cases, though they would not wish to show it, the physical and sometime financial burden of having to care for the loved one also takes it toll. It is clear then that in this situation there is great suffering on all parts. However the death of that loved one would also cause pain for many.Utilitarianism would look at the consequences of the action of euthanasia and weigh up the how much happiness and pain would result in the act how much pain and happiness there would be if euthanasia did not occur.
This is a fairly simple assessment; the patients pain is stopped and the family and friends are already distressed so euthanasia would not cause more suffering but would end any physical and financial burdens and bring the happiness of knowing their loved one is no longer suffering. Therefore euthanasia would bring about the greatest number of happiness for the greatest number of people and so is right.Act Utilitarians can take this relatively simple process by looking at individual circumstances to come to a decision. Rule utilitarianism can say that usually this is the case and therefore euthanasia is right. However rule Utilitarians could also believe that euthanasia is wrong. By assessing many situations an act utilitarian can come to the decision that in most cases the killing of another human being does not bring about the most happiness and so live by the universal rule that ending the life of a human is wrong and so euthanasia is wrong.
There is also no way of truly looking at the consequences on each individual involved; some family or friends may strongly disagree with the act and so would be caused pain, some may feel guilt about what they have done or, in countries where euthanasia is not legal, may be subjected to the pain of having to face the legal consequences. This ambiguity and the lack of ability to ever truly know the outcomes of actions are the main problems with utilitarianism.