John Stewart Mill defines Utility as pleasure itself, and the absence of pain. Utility can also be defined by the Greatest Happiness Principle. This principle is defined as “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure” (Mill 365).
By this definition, pleasure and the absence of pain are the only desirable ends, and the only things that are good. This concludes that actions are only good when they result in a higher level of general happiness for the majority of people, and bad when the action decreases that level of happiness. Actions are determined right or wrong in Utilitarianism by what action produces the greatest overall happiness for the greatest number.A distinguishing characteristic of Utilitarianism is that it is impartiality and agent-neutrality. Impartiality and agent-neutrality meaning everyone must be consider equal and everyone’s happiness is equally important. Utilitarianism relies on the idea that consequences of actions determines whether something is right or wrong, or just or unjust. Everyone affected by an action is taken into account, and the action is then determined good or bad based on the consequences of that action. Utilitarianism can be broken down into two types; act and rule. Act utilitarians determine an action is good or bad based on the consequences of that action alone and varies circumstance to circumstance. In contrast, rule utilitarians believe that actions are morally correct only if the rules put in place lead to the greatest happiness.
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An argument against act utilitarianism is that it does not possess a fundamental moral significance on justice. Justice can be defined as, giving a person what he or she deserves, in more traditional terms, giving each person his or her due (Velasquez et al. 1). To know what is just and unjust we must know and understand our human and legal rights, have equality, and fairness. Those who understand and know their rights knows an action is unjust if that action violates their human or legal rights..
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