Act And Rule Utilitarianism In Comparison With Christian

Does utilitarianism have anything to offer to Christian ethics? Discuss with reference to any two forms of utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is both an ethical and philosophical theory that states that the best actions are those that maximize utility. In line with that, an action is right is it promotes happiness and wrong if it brings about the reverse of happiness, not just to the performer's happiness, but also to the happiness of every other person affected by the act. On the other hand, Christian ethics are the moral principles that govern how Christians live and are based on the word of God as stipulated by the Bible. This essay explores act and rule utilitarianism and argues that these forms of utilitarianism provide a basis for making judgements of value and not just relying on opinion or intuition.

According to the Bible, the two most important principles advanced by Jesus that should govern the lives’ of all Christians are love to God and love to neighbors. As such, Christian ethical decisions and morals are based on Love as its source is God. For a Christian, Loving God means God being first in everything they do. Therefore, any Christian who professes love for God would always want to do what God considers right. Jesus, in Luke 10: 25 – 37, in the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated that one`s neighbor is any such person who needs their help and not just someone leaving close to you or your friends.

Often, act utilitarianism is seen as being the utilitarian ideal`s most natural interpretation. If producing the best results is our main aim, it is with no doubt plausible to think that in each case of deciding on the right thing to do, the available options are put into consideration, outcomes predicted, and the action approved that it would produce the most good.


Love is in Christian thought, an incidental transcendental, while at the same time, being the fundamental one. In his first letter, Apostle John writes that God is Love. Love is at the heart of reality and not Truth, nor the Sheer Will or Good or Ultimate Power. Love also makes up the divine being, in whose being every other living being has its being.

There are several positive attributes of Act Utilitarianism that augur it well with Christian ethics. First, utility is maximized by Act Utilitarianism. If an individual’s action was to yield more utility than other actions available to them, then the human actions total utility would be the highest possible level of utility that we could bring about. What that implies is that it is possible to maximize the overall utility within our powers through maximization of our actions utility. In the event we choose actions whose utility is less, our actions total utility would be less than the amount of goodness we produce. Therefore, act utilitarians argue that applying the principle of utilitarianism to individual acts and not to classes of actions that are similar is necessary.

Additionally, to a great extent, act utilitarianism offers good moral guidelines that are even better than traditional and rule-based moralities. It is observed that moral codes of the past mainly consent of set of rules that are related to certain types of actions. For example, the focus of the ten commandments is on the types of actions and tell us not to commit adultery, bear false witness, steal, kill or covet other people`s properties. While Biblical sources permit exceptions to such rules, for example, punishing people for their mistakes and killing in self-defense, the commandments form is absolute. Rather than saying though shall not kill except in certain circumstances, they tell us “thou shall not kill.”

These rigid-rule based moralities that identify whole classes of actions as being right or wrong are rejected by act utilitarians. Therefore, treating whole classes of actions as wrong or right is a mistake. In specific cases, the effects of an action determine whether it is right or wrong. According to act utilitarian’s, it may prove useful to have moral rules that are “rules of thumb” that is, rules that generally describe what is right or wrong. They, however, insist that people should always violate a rule, whenever they can do more by violating it than obeying it.

What act utilitarianism implies is that rather than just relying on the Bible`s natural law or conscience, human beings should classify and further measure their actions in terms of the number of units of pleasure and pain they produce.

Another positive thing about act utilitarianism that Christianity can certainly draw from is that act utilitarianism shows how moral questions can have answers that are true objectively. From time to time, people hold the believe that morality is dependent on people`s sincere beliefs and desires and is subjective. Act utilitarianism, however, gives a method for distinguishing between the true moral beliefs and the false ones.

The decisions by Christians on how they act would be dependent on the options available and consequences foreseeable if they were to fully embrace the utilitarian perspective. Through predicting the good results and amount of utility that could be obtained by various possible actions, knowing those that are right and those that are wrong would be easy. While not all people believe this, measuring the amounts of wellbeing is very easy; in fact, it is what we do all the time. In the event, two people had pains, and the medication available was only for one, it could always be possible to distinguish who among the two has severe pains and who has mild pains. With such a judgment, if we gave the available medication to the person with severe pains, we would be more confident.

Rule utilitarian’s, on the other hand, try to maximize overall utility through setting up moral codes that have rules. Those moral rules whose inclusion in our moral code would have the best results are deemed as being the correct ones. There is certainly a lot that rule utilitarianism can offer to Christian ethics. Rule utilitarianism suggests that performing individual actions that maximise utility should not always be our goal. The approaches focus on moral rules sounds quite plausible. A consideration of the rules of the road would be a good illustration of the rule utilitarian approach to morality. When devising a code for drivers, it could be possible to either adopt rules that are specific like “stop at red lights” or rules that are open-ended like “drive safely.” The “drive safely” rule is a rather general rule that leaves it up to individuals to decide on the best way to drive in different circumstances. Rules that are more specific forbid driving faster than 40 miles per hour. What they do, is simply inform drivers what they should not do and what they should do when driving.

Such a rigid-rule based system would with no doubt lead to the greater utility in general is that human beings are not very good at judging the best things to do when driving. From the type of case in rule utilitarianism, it is evident that there are numerous cases in which practices and rules that are general can promote good effects other in addition to just telling people to do whatever they find best in individual cases.

It is worth noting that, that in no way implies that rule utilitarian’s can always support rules that are rigid without exceptions. Some rules could identify situations whereby the prohibition is overridden. For example, in an emergency medical situation, justifiably, a driver can go through a stop sign or red light based on the assessment of the driver that, it is safe to do so and further delay would bring about more harm like the loss of life. In general, what we observe is that rule utilitarian can allow departures from rules and will leave many choices up to individuals. As such, rule utilitarianism also goes a long way in promoting utility.

The utilitarian rule approach which was developed by John Stuart says that there should be rules which people could follow to bring about the greatest communal good. The similarity between this approach and Christian ethics is that it has in it the principle of lawmaking and its concept of the greatest communal good could also be traced back to Paul`s teachings in the New Testament. Paul said that a good should be good for every other person and not just an individual.

John Stuart likened this principle of utility with the Golden Rule that was advanced by Jesus which requires us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and doing unto others what we would like them to do to us. What utilitarianism insists here, is that morality is made up of the over-riding of self-love and universal benevolence. According to William Paley`s argument in the eighteenth century, virtue involves doing good to humankind, for the sake of everlasting happiness and in obedience to God`s will. If Christians would take their view of God as benevolent creator seriously, then they would endorse and not condemn the utilitarian viewpoint. If such happened, the dictates of religion would coincide with those of utility in all cases, were the being, who is the object of religion, universally supposed to be as benevolent as he is supposed to be powerful and wise. Here, we see utilitarianism promoting selflessness just like Christianity which promotes love for neighbors, which is another selfless teaching.

Further, in line with Paley, to arrive at God`s will about any actions, it is always important to first enquire the actions tendency to diminish or promote happiness generally. Such a rule proceeds upon the presumption that God the Almighty wishes and wills his creatures` happiness; and consequently, such actions that promote such wish and will be agreeable to him. Paley further posits that the presumption is the foundation of the entire universe.

Through consideration of three different prepositions, this presumption is justified. In creating the human species, God either wished their misery, or wished their happiness or was entirely unconcerned and indifferent about both. In the event the first proposition would have been true, God would have made everything we tasted bitter, every smell a stench, everything we touched a sting and everything we saw loathsome. On indifference, Paley posits that good fortune would have been a result of our senses capacities to receive pleasure and the supply of objects that are fitted to it. It is noted that only the first preposition that in creating the human species, God wished them happiness and as such, made for them the proposition he made, with that view and for that purpose.

Utility requires us to always put into consideration other people`s good the same way Jesus used parables to model ethical actions and living that is godly to serve God and our neighbours. As creatures of free will, we always are at liberty to use the tools of reason granted to us by God to make decisions on what actions would best characterize the love we have for God. It is as such possible for utilitarianism tools and Christian teachings to coexist in harmony. Both these are guides to our fulfilling the Golden Rule`s spirit which was espoused by Jesus as being the greatest commandment.

What we note from these two forms of utilitarianism is that utilitarianism is by itself a consequentialist theory. Actions are in consequentialism judged solely by their consequences, giving zero regards to motivation, character and any forms of understanding of evil and good and separate from their capacities of creating pleasure and happiness. As such, in consequentialism, it is our actions consequences that get to determine whether those actions are wrong or right. In line with this, the character has nothing to do with an actions utility. Excessive reliance on the character might go a long way in obscuring the making of decisions. Instead of just making moral judgments, utilitarianism weights acts based on their potential to produce the best for the largest number of people. In no way does it judge the good nor the people who benefit from it. The act and rule forms of utilitarianism are good reflections of the reality of human relationships.

There are quite important issues on how Christians should make judgments that are moral drawn from act and rule utilitarianism. On the one hand, the moral problem`s numerous individual features and specific context are stressed by act utilitarianism and goes ahead to present single methods through which such cases could be dealt with. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, stresses the recurrent features of human life and the ways through which similar problems and needs come into being, from time to time. From such a perspective, Christians can draw that they require rules that deal with certain classes and types of actions: stealing, killing, cheating, taking care of our families and friends, helping those in need, punishing people for crimes among many others. It is worth noting that all these perspectives, agree that the relationship between what we do and what forms our moral codes is what mainly determines what is wrong or right. That is together with the impact of our moral perspective on the level of the well-being of an individual. In a world that power struggles are increasingly observed to take precedence over all other concerns, where all groups are not only interested in doing what is right but in seeing to it that they are credited for doing right and where good is done for the sake of power, surely, the church must feel called upon to go about its activities with confidence and quietness, abjuring utilitarianism and the defensiveness that goes with it.

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