Distribution of Utility

Distribution of utility. Finally, it would appear that by assessing the greatest good for the greatest number, the interests of minorities are overlooked. In our example, a minority of children might suffer so that the majority might benefit from greater utility. We might also think about the distribution over the long and short term. A decision to pollute might maximize short-term utility for current generations but if future generations are taken into account, the outcome would be completely different.

Utilitarians were always aware of the limits of their theory. The problem of subjectivity, for example, led to a refinement of the theory by John Stuart Mill, differentiating between what has been defined as ‘act utilitarianism’ and ‘rule utilitarianism’:

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Act utilitarianism looks to single actions and bases the moral judgement on the amount of pleasure and the amount of pain this single action causes.

Rule utilitarianism looks at classes of action and asks whether the underlying principles of an action produce more pleasure than pain for society in the long run.


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