Posted by: ellen | March 2, 2009

6 – James Rachels: The Debate over Utilitarianism

Book: Contemporary Moral Problems: The Debate over Utilitarianism by James Rachels

Library Reference: N/A Reference:

Quote: There is a sense in which no moral philosopher can completely reject Utilitarianism.

Learning Expectation: I am expecting to:

· Know why it is called a Debate over Utilitarianism

· Know if Rachel and I had the same sentiments about Utilitarianism


As Mill put it, or according to Mill “The utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being desirable as means to that end.”

Based on this question, Rachels asked what really happiness is. What is this thing that it is desirable?

I read on this chapter said that the questions what things are good is different on what actions are right. But if you will ask a Utilitarian, it will refer to number one first before answer the number two questions. Like what I said on the previous review, Utilitarian point of view stated that right actions are the things that are good.

Back to what I stated on the first line, happiness is what people desire but what it is happiness?

According to hedonism, what could bring happiness is the ultimate good, and thus can’t bring happiness is the ultimate bad. Like what it is also on this chapter, hedonism is not that good because it can make silly situation into a totally disastrous one. I do agree that Hedonism gets thing the wrong way around. It is really true because instead of looking at other perspective or the brighter side, people tend to be negative towards things.

Like what Rachel says, happiness is a response we have to the attainment of things that we recognized as good, independently and in their own right. It is subjective and not dependents on what other people look at it.

Happiness isn’t the only thing that Rachel debated towards the Utilitarianism; he also said that it doesn’t go with the ideal justice. And I do agree unto that because like what I said on my review on Utilitarianism, the justice or judgment will be based on how many people things that it is good or bad. If many think killing is good, it will legal and proper justice, but when you really look at it, it is not morally right.

Thought Rachel said those things, what I like about his point is that he classified the Utilitarianism, and Rule-Utilitarianism and Act-Utilitarianism. The Rule-Utilitarianism is like the classic view but the only difference is that it follows rules or laws, while the Act-Utilitarianism is the same as the old or the Utilitarianism.

What I have learned:

I learned that Rule are still okay when you want to create judgment or justice because you can say that it is fair and there are no biases. Unlike when it is right when everything thinks that it is right and wrong when you belong to the minority.

Having that kind of thinking is something that we can consider as discrimination because the law decided to be on the side of the majority even them were the one at fault.

I also learned on this chapter that Happiness is very subjective. You are the only one who can define what happiness is for you. You are the only one also who can change your perspective and outlook on whatever things you are dealing with.

Review Questions:

  1. Rachels says that classical utilitarianism can be summed up in three propositions. What are they?
  2. Explain the problem with hedonism. How do defenders of utilitarianism respond to this problem?
  3. What are the objections about justice, rights, and promises?
  4. Distinguish between rule- and act- utilitarianism. How does rule-utilitarianism reply to the objections?
  5. What is the third line of defense?


1. Classical Utilitarianism is classified as:

a. First, Actions are to be judged right or wrong solely in the virtue of their consequences.

b. Second, in assessing consequences, the only thing that matters is the amount of happiness or unhappiness that is caused.

c. Third, in calculating happiness or unhappiness that will be caused, no ones happiness as to be counted as more important than anyone else’s.

2. Hedonism is the idea about happiness is the one ultimate good and unhappiness is the one ultimate evil. According to Rachels, the problem about Hedonism is it gets thing the wrong way around. Hedonism misunderstands the nature of happiness. Happiness is not something that is recognized as good and sought for its own sake, with other things appreciated only as means of bringing it about.

Utilitarianism sought a way to formulate their view without assuming hedonistic account of good an evil. There is one English philosopher, in named of G.E. Moore suggested that there are three (3) obvious intrinsic goods; a.) Pleasures, b.)Friendships, c.) And aesthetics enjoyment and that is right actions are those that increase the world’s supply of such things.

Other Utilitarians have tried to by pass the question of how many things are good in themselves, and then leaving it to an open question and saying only that right actions are the ones that have the best result, however goodness is measured.

3. The objections about Justice, Rights and Promises in relation with what was written on the book are as follows:

a.) Justice – If someone is on something like what the case on this book, on Utilitarian grounds, he SHOULD bear false witness against the innocent person.

b.) Rights – What about the morality of the officer’s behaviors?

c.) Promise or Backward-looking reasons – Why is Utilitarianism vulnerable to what promises stated that if Utilitarianism says that consequences are the only things that matters, seems mistaken.

4  . Act-Utilitarianism is the original theory while the new version is the Rule-Utilitarianism which rules are established by reference to the principle and individual’s acts will then be judged right and wrong by reference to the rules.

5  . The third line of defense is a small group of contemporary utilitarian’s has had a very different response to the utilitarian arguments. That argument points out that the classical theory is at odds with ordinary notions of justice, individual rights, and so on; to this there response is essentially, “So what?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Smart’s defense of utilitarianism is to reject common moral beliefs when they conflict with utilitarianism. Is this acceptable to you or not? Explain your answer
  2. A utilitarian is supposed to give moral consideration to all concerned. Who must be considered? What about nonhuman animals? How about lakes and streams?
  3. Rachels claims that merit should be given moral consideration independent of utility. Do you agree?


1.It is not acceptable for me because personally I wouldn’t sacrifice moral beliefs over utilitarianism because mainly I am not a utilitarian, second, I don’t just think it is okay to reject what you know ever since when just to make sure that Utilitarianism would not create or face-off with any conflicts.

2. According to my previous readings, utilitarian’s focus more on human beings. I don’t neglect the nonhuman animals and the lakes and the streams. I think there is also a part of Utilitarianism that protects these natures gift because it can affect or cause unhappiness to the most essential being, the humans.

3.I am agreeing to that because I think merit should really be something that given independently of utility because I think that people treat this differently.


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