Defining Rule utilitarianism

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Social science
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Rule utilitarianism is a kind of utilitarianism which defines if an action should be considered to be ethical or not based on the idea of rule that the majority of the people has been following (Smart, 1973, 9). Hospers presents three examples of ethical dilemma. The first of…

Introduction

Finally, Hospers brings up the last example when people vote. Thus, on an election day people may or may not be willing to go and vote. The first example might be considered to be an objection to act utilitarianism since according to it killing the fat man would be quite useful for the group of people, but the majority of people would agree on the fact that killing is wrong. The second example also shows that act utilitarianism might be regarded as a false approach: it is true that sometimes for a particular individual lying might bring considerable more benefits that tell the truth; however, the society condemns lying. Finally, the third example may also be regarded as a valid claim that rebuts act utilitarianism. According to the latter, it would be more ethical not to vote for a person, but it is quite obvious that such approach would ruin the legal system.
Rule utilitarianism would provide a different solution for this problem. In case of the fat man, it would encourage people to let that man live. The reason for this is quite simple: it is generally accepted that killing other people is not an ethical action. That is why killing the person in question will violate the general rule which contributed to the security in the society. In the second example about lying, rule utilitarianism would urge a person to tell a truth even though it might be some problems. The logic behind it is rather simple: the social life is being productive and stable because people generally do not lie to each other. That is why if people chose to make an exception from that rule, they might undermine the very foundation of the society. Finally, in the example of voting, rule utilitarianism would encourage people to go and vote in spite of the fact that they may not be willing as if all the other people chose not to vote this is likely to break the democratic system and result in the collapse of the government.
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