Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is a philosophical belief that the goodness, or rightness, of an action is derived from the amount of utility gained from the action. Utility can be defined as the well-being of sentient beings. In this basic belief of utilitarianism an action that maximizes utility is the action that should be taken. J.J.C. Smart is one of the bigger, modern, proponents of utilitarianism. Smart’s views of utilitarianism differed from the more classical view introduced by Bentham in that Smart had a more preferential view. By preferential I don’t mean that he preferred it, I mean that he believed that that the act that took place was to lead to preferred outcome for those involved in the action, as opposed to Bentham’s more hedonistically driven utilitarianism. Smart also favored “act utilitarianism” over “rule utilitarianism” believing that rule utilitarianism was too restrictive and that it didn’t have a firm distinction to act utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism states that the action that leads to the best outcome, i.e. the action that promotes the most well-being, is the action that should be taken. Smart went further with this in that he believed that the most right action increased the well-being of all those involved with the action. If the ones involved in the action gained utility and down the road someone who was indirectly affected lost well-being, then the action was still right as those directly involved with the action increased their utility. Smart’s main argument against rule utilitarianism said that there is no strict rule to classify a rule, meaning that rule utilitarianism falls back onto act utilitarianism. And his second argument was that even if you could classify a rule you might be forced to follow a bad rule, even when breaking that “bad” rule would have better consequences for all parties involved. To look at it with an example let’s take a basic traffic law “Stop at all red lights and stop signs”. Even if this were not a rule most people would stop at these as it is safer, increases well-being, for all parties. In that case rule and act utilitarianism coincide in saying you should stop. However, let us assume that you come to a four-way stop and that without stopping you know that the other three ways are clear, but there is another car about to rear end you if you stop. A rule utilitarian would stop because that’s what the rules say, and those rules generally have the best outcome. In this case, however, stopping would not have the best outcome as both you and the car behind you would collide. An act utilitarian, seeing that the way ahead is clear, would not stop because stopping would lead to a collision, and having that outcome would not lead to an increase of well-being.