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This paper is going to
describe the arguments against Utilitarianism and the defenses of it, provided
by Rachels. To start off, I will discuss what Utilitarianism is, the principles
of it, what is investigated when determining if an action is morally right or
wrong, and the main difference between Act Utilitarianism and Rule
Utilitarianism. Then I will explain some of the reasons brought up to try to
convince people that Act Utilitarianism is erroneous. After this, I will
present the defense of Act Utilitarianism by producing examples that can
counter the reasons raised.

Utilitarianism is a
theory that focuses on happiness. An action is considered morally right if it
causes the most amount of happiness in the world. The whole theory of
Utilitarianism can be outlined into three basic laws. The first principle
states that the results of a behavior determine whether it is morally right or
morally wrong. Secondly, when looking at the result of these actions, the only
thing a Utilitarian will analyze is how much happiness or unhappiness was
generated. Lastly, it is important to note that no one’s happiness is worth
more than another person’s happiness (Rachels p. 92). Some Utilitarians didn’t
like that a person could behave in a controversial way as long as it created
more happiness than unhappiness which is why they formed an updated version of
this theory. This new version was called Rule Utilitarianism. To begin,
Utilitarians would decide which rules are best based on their views which meant
that the rules would have to help people thrive and live better. Based on this
version of Utilitarianism, behaviors are considered morally right if they
conform to the rules and morally wrong if they are not similar to the rules
(Rachels p. 103). Therefore, Rule Utilitarianism and Act Utilitarianism are
different since Act Utilitarianism judges the consequences of each individual
behavior to see if it is morally right or wrong, whereas Rule Utilitarianism
compares a behavior to the laws of society to determine whether it is morally
right or wrong.

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Act Utilitarianism was
not accepted by all and there were many arguments made against it in order to
prove the faultiness of it. First, this type of Utilitarianism contradicts the
idea of justice in society. For example, assume that an African American male
sexually assaulted a Caucasian female and it caused widespread protests and, as
a form of retaliation, other Caucasians harmed other African Americans (Rachels
p. 95). In order to stop this destruction and harm, the criminal has to be
arrested. A Utilitarian could lie and say they were in the vicinity of the
crime in order to choose an African American to be the perpetrator and this
would stop the violence. According to Act Utilitarianism, this action of
bearing false witness would be considered morally right since the bloodshed and
lawlessness would stop and this good outweighs the fact that the innocent man
could be executed which is bad. It is wrong, though, to lie and cause a man to
be put to death. Justice states that all people should be treated fairly and,
clearly, the innocent man is not being dealt with fairly since a person is
lying about seeing him commit a crime that he did not do (Rachels p. 96).

Act Utilitarianism can
also come into conflict with basic human rights. A legitimate example from our
country’s history comes from 1963 with York
v. Story. Ms. York went to the police department in Chino because she was
assaulted. The officer then stated that he had to take pictures of her as
evidence. He also took photos of her in improper positions which would not be
useful as evidence since the bruises could not be seen in these types of
photographs. Eventually, the officer took these indecent photos and started
showing them to his co-workers (Rachels p. 96). Then, some of his co-workers
created additional photos of Ms. York by and showed them to even more
co-workers. According to some Utilitarians, more happiness was created by the
circulation of these photos than unhappiness which means it would be considered
morally right to spread these photos. They believed the happiness of the
officers was larger than the unhappiness by Ms. York. It is morally wrong
though to invade someone’s right to privacy, no matter how much happiness it
may bring to other people. It is not just the right of privacy that Act
Utilitarianism may be in conflict with it. For example, it may come into
conflict with someone’s freedom of religion or their right to be able to speak
freely (Rachels p. 97).

Lastly, Act
Utilitarianism also does not take the past into consideration. For example,
assume a person made a commitment to their friend that they will meet them in
the city to get lunch at a specific time in the future. Then, when that time
comes, the person fails to attend lunch because they have some unfinished work
that needs to get done. Some Utilitarians would consider that the happiness
that is created by finishing this work is greater than the unhappiness that is
created by breaking this promise. If this is true, then it is morally right for
a person to break commitments for any reason according to Act Utilitarians and
not just for certain justifiable situations, such as rushing a family member to
a hospital. This is important because it proves that Act Utilitarianism needs
to look at past actions, too, and not just the results of actions. In this
example, it is relevant that the person made an obligation and it is morally
wrong to break it for any reason other than an emergency (Rachels p. 98). Other
examples would include that a person should not be punished if they did not
commit any crime and that a person is doing a favor for their friend since
their friend did a favor for them. Both of these examples just support the fact
that the past is important in determining whether an action is morally right or
wrong. Since Act Utilitarianism only looks at the aftermath of actions, it is
incorrect since the aftermath is not the only thing people should examine to
determine if a certain behavior is acceptable or not (Rachels p. 99).

In order to defend Act
Utilitarianism against the criticism that it conflicted with these moral
values, some people proposed that common sense cannot be trusted (Rachels p.
104). Our morals are not ethical since it may include prejudices or religious
beliefs that we have seen exhibited by our parents while we grew up or it may
include the beliefs of the culture that we were brought up in. This means that
our some of our feelings and morals may be flawed which is why we can’t just
reject Act Utilitarianism because it conflicts with our morals. Now, this
changes what happens if we go back to the first argument where it stated that
it is unjust to lie in order to get a person convicted of a crime that they did
not execute. If the person did not lie, then they would help bring an advantage
to only the innocent person but what about the advantages that all the other
people would receive if the person did lie about seeing the crime. Lying would
cause a stop to the protests and violence which means a stop to many other
innocent people getting injured. It would be illogical to believe that giving
an advantage to one person would be more beneficial than giving an advantage to
many other people (Rachels p. 105). Another example would be that in the past,
some people believed that whites were inherently better than blacks so a white
person’s well-being was of more value than a black person’s well-being. This
was the common belief that most people held in the past where racism was
prevalent which proves that, in today’s society, there could still be bigotry
in a person’s moral sense. This is why it cannot be counted on and why Act
Utilitarianism cannot be denied only on the basis that it clashes with the
ideas of justice, human rights, and taking into account the past actions
(Rachels p. 106).

In conclusion,
Utilitarianism is an interesting theory that should be looked at closely. It is
necessary to show that there are two types of Utilitarianism and what the
ultimate difference between the two is. It is also vital to reveal some of the
reasons as to why people believe Act Utilitarianism is incorrect because then
it makes sense as to why people had to develop a defense against these attacks.
It is a difficult theory to fully comprehend since there are many criticisms
and many defenses associated with it.