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James Rachels and Stuart Rachels: Chapter 6 Utilitarianism Review

Updated on August 27, 2012


“The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things desirable as means to that end."

Utilitarianism is often described by the phrase "the greatest good for the greatest number of people" Utilitarianism in its original form, is called act-utilitarianism. This focuses solely on the consequences of an action. Act utilitarianism states that if an agent is faced with a moral decision, it is morally obligatory to make the choice that brings the highest total pleasure to everyone affected. Rule utilitarianism states that it is morally obligatory for everyone to act in accordance with the set of moral rules such that if everyone acts in accordance with this set of rules, more pleasure is produced than if everyone acts in accordance with any other set of moral rules.

James Rachels
James Rachels | Source

In classical utilitarianism, happiness is regarded as positively valuable, and unhappiness (pain, suffering etc) is regarded is negatively valuable. Rachels says that classical utilitarianism can be summed up in three propositions. First, actions are to be judged right or wrong solely in the virtue of their consequences. Second, in assessing consequences, the only thing that matters is the amount of happiness or unhappiness that is caused. Third, in calculating happiness or unhappiness, no one’s happiness as to be counted as more important than anyone else’s.


Jeremy Bentham believes that morality is not about pleasing God or being faithful to abstract rules. But it is about making the world as happy as possible. Otherwise it is not moral. He has one moral principle; the Principle of Utility, This meaning; always choose whatever action or social policy that would have the best consequences for everyone. John Mill believed that in deciding what to do, you must take the action that would cause the greatest amount of happiness for all involved. And when making that decision and others, to do what is best from that point of view.

Bentham believes that animals are included in Utilitarianism. ‘He asks, don’t animals feel pleasure and pain as we do? Then I am no better than them.’ If this “nonhuman” can feel happiness/unhappiness or feel pleasure/pain then we have a duty to take that into account. Although some modern utilitarian’s see this to be extreme, Peter Singer argued in defense of Bentham and Mills. In the experiment at Harvard University, the experiment was found to be immoral due to the suffering and unhappiness of the dog. Peter Singer states if animals are suffering than I cannot partake in the pleasure I may receive from taste because it doesn’t compare to the pain inflicted.


Regarding euthanasia, my understanding is this. The “shooter” looked at the decision to be made. He looked at the intensity of his brothers’ pain, how long will it last? The pain could last for a year or even longer. Looking at the probability and calculating the number involved, he had every indication to himself that this was a moral action. Bentham felt that the Principle of Unity was a guide and it should promote the general welfare of all citizens. He also felt that unless this activity caused harm to another than no type of activity as such should be prohibited. He is said to have requested euthanasia himself. Mills believed that euthanasia is contrary to the general welfare and places unjustifiable restrictions on control of our own lives. I agree.

Do Your Own Work

I have decided to place the paper I wrote for my Ethics Class regarding James Rachels for students to turn to for maybe a clearer insight. I, personally, had a hard time figuring out the thoughts and methods of this authors writings and turned to the Internet for help.

I do hope you don't just "copy" my paper. First, because you will get caught, but most importantly, it's unethical to take credit where credit is not due. That's the point to the class right???


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