Talk:Act utilitarianism

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Refining and expanding the article[edit]

I've done some significant copyediting of the page, as well as making a few important editorial changes. The page had been marked as needing additional citations, and it turns out that most of the content was plagiarized from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In the spots where I've retained ideas of IEP, I've rewritten the text from scratch. The editorial changes include: (1) Offering a more precise definition of AU. The existing definition conflated the question of a criterion of rightness with the question of the decision procedure. (See, e.g., (2) Removing all references to "summary rules" (e.g., rules of thumb) and their role in AU. There was some disagreement further down the talk page about how they should be handled. Since I didn't think the current text explained them very well, I thought I'd just remove that text. I think that issue might best be handled in a new subsection. Davidmorrow (talk) 05:07, 12 September 2012 (UTC)

One problem that I constantly see with "criticism" sections for Act Utilitarianism article that is certainly now present here is ignoring that the pleasure of the actor is a relevant part of the decision making process. Sitting on the couch watching TV may very well be the ideal thing to do in certain circumstances. - Richfife (talk) 16:30, 12 September 2012 (UTC)
I agree that it would be helpful to emphasize that. I rewrote the text to avoid the plagiarism problem, but I didn't change the ideas expressed in the source (viz., the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). I don't think the moral judgment in this example depends on ignoring the agent's happiness, but it is worth emphasizing that AU doesn't ignore the agent's own happiness. Davidmorrow (talk) 17:04, 12 September 2012 (UTC)


Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism are both very small and have limited potential, though the utilitarianism article itself is very large. As a compromise I suggest we merge these two articles into a single article Act and rule utilitarianism. (I'm not sure if they are both normally capitalized or not, getting that consistent across the articles is also a consideration.) Richard001 07:35, 16 February 2007 (UTC)

That might be a good idea, because then there could be a section which goes deeper into explaining the difference between the two.--Catquas 14:57, 1 March 2007 (UTC)
But still you should be aware that if they do get merged some people could think that it is one theory or that the two names represent the same (wich they don't, I might add). But apart from that it's a good idea. --/kresten 18:41, 5 March 2007 (UTC)
Although, I agree that it is a seemingly novel idea to merge Rule Utilitarianism and Act Utilitarianism in the pursuit of developing the relationship between the two, ultimately merging Rule Utilitarianism and Act Utilitarianism would be inappropriate. Those who use this site, predominantly students, may be confused by the terms' relationship and could potentially consider the terms to be the same. If one is addressing the problems of Act Utilitarianism, then it may be appropriate to mention Rule Utilitarianism as a remedy for these problems. Although the two are forms of Utilitarianism but both assert very different moral outcomes and should, in the pursuit of education and comprehension, remain separate. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 15:23, March 7, 2007 (UTC).
I don't think the articles should be merged. Each article describes a different ethical view, even if they are both utilitarian views, and each article can be fleshed out. — Elembis (talk) 02:25, 11 March 2007 (UTC)
I think they should be kept separate - I certainly expected two different articles when I type the two different phrases into my browser. They are distinct brands of utilitarianism. Mustbcrackers 22/3/07
I agree that they should be kept separate. Not every article needs to be many pages long. In fact, unless there is a lot more material that needs to be added (and I can't think of much that does), I suggest that the stub markers be removed from this article and from its sister article. Stringman5 01:47, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Ok, so maybe not from its sister article. That one still needs soe work. But the rest stands. Stringman5 01:51, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

merge now, seperate them later. deal.  ? Spencerk 04:19, 19 April 2007 (UTC)

No. That just gives us more work than necessary when it comes time to separate the two. Regarding the name issue, the only way to merge the two articles with any clarity would be to call it Act utilitarianism versus rule utilitarianism, but even that is problematic insofar as it suggests the entire article will be about the dispute between the two positions (which might be a good idea on its own, as Catquas suggested). And with all due respect to the foregoing discussion, there are plenty of ways to flesh out both the Act utilitarianism and Rule utilitarianism articles. Our precision vis a vis the position summaries is laudable, but we could complicate matters so much more--and to great advantage for our readers--in later sections. This, I believe, is the best option. Otherwise, we are left with either a single article with the format of two articles or a single article that is formally confused. Wikipedia has a great advantage in that, by not being a paper encyclopedia, it is virtually without limit when it comes to number of pages. We should embrace this fact and just redouble our efforts to expand the two individual pages. Postmodern Beatnik 18:57, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
P.S.: Anyone who doubts the possibility of expanding on these pages should see the SEP article on Rule Consequentialism. Postmodern Beatnik 19:03, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Merge seems unnecessary to me; people are likely to want to read about one or the other, and may appreciate a distinct article on each. I agree much more material should be added as well, which I'll try to work on. Mackan79 18:05, 11 May 2007 (UTC)

The differences between Act and Rule Utilitarianism is substantial as well as their problems. Rule Utilitariansm addresses the general objections given towards Act Utilitarianism, but it has its own propblems. These should be outlined seperately, otherwise there may be confusion between the two.

I removed the merge tag from the article since the consensus seems to be against the merger and has been for several months. Postmodern Beatnik 14:12, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Persistent confusion[edit]

On Talk:Rule_utilitarianism I explained a persistent confusion that I'll repeat briefly here. It is simply false to say, as this article does, that "Act utilitarianism makes no appeals to general rules". Of course it does; no one, least of all a utilitarian, would know what to do without general rules. "Maximize utility" is a general rule. "Killing people almost never maximizes utility, so don't do it except in the gravest of situations" is a general rule. As utilitarians like Mill and Hare have always insisted, such rules are essential to utilitarian calculation, indeed pretty much any ethical reasoning; rejection of this leads one into pure spontaneous intuitionism. Rather, act utilitarians believe that we should perform actions that maximize utility, given the world as we find it, period; rule utilitarians believe we should act in accordance with those rules which are such that, if everybody in the world followed them, utility would be at least as high as it would be under any alternate set of rules. This may appeal to those who like ideal theory; but as has often been pointed out (by JJC Smart, David Lyons) it can lead to non-maximization of utility, and even utter disaster, in a world where not everyone is playing by the same rules (i.e., the real one we are always likely to live in).--ScottForschler (talk) 13:53, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

I disagree, and i feel you are redefining the terms here. Or rather your version of act utilitarianism is sort of a "soft/moderate act utilitarianism" and your version of rule utilitarianism is a "hard/extreme rule utilitariansim".

its howdy doody time !!! (talk) 07:04, 27 August 2008 (UTC)

Second paragraph[edit]

Which now says:

(Paragraph about how Act Utilitarianism can lead to unpredictable actions, leading to problems. I'm removing it from here too because it may have been copyvio)

It's a) unreferenced and b) is not an actual problem. Taking the negative impact of unpredictability into account is a necessary part of act utilitarianism, so all it's really saying is "You may find it difficult to take everything into consideration". If we want to list everything that needs to be taken into account for Act Utilitarianism, we're going to be here a while. - Richfife (talk) 20:43, 25 July 2011 (UTC)

Can we get a better example?[edit]

A common (practically epidemic) problem with examples of Act Utilitarianism that they leave the actor out of the pleasure / pain equation. The one cited is particularly bad. - Richfife (talk) 00:20, 13 June 2013 (UTC)