Good Example Of Argumentative Essay On Critical Analysis Of Smart’s “Extreme And Restricted Utilitarianism”

Type of paper: Argumentative Essay

Topic: Law, Ethics, Actions, Rule, Morality, Happiness, Utilitarianism, Belief

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/17

The notion of one’s moral values depends largely on one’s perception of what is wrong and what is right. The main aspects of contemporary and classical ethics, teach valuable lessons, (“Ethical Concepts,” p. 1). In fact, ethical concepts arise because of the decision and actions that free humans make, (Ethical Concepts, p.2). In the event of making choices one must look at the alternative goals that one needs to make informed and moral choices. Some individuals believe that the specific situation determines the moral actions of an individual. This belief comes with the common view of what society deems as an act of acceptable behavior and the need to survive. In essence, Smart’s “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism” reflects the views that moral rules are “mere rules of thumb” even as the restricted utilitarian believes that the rightness of one’s actions stem from the debate of whether the action falls within the confines of a particular rule.
Imagine being torn between saving the life of a known killer. The choice to save someone who will undoubtedly take the life of another in the future leaves one with the moral choice of honoring the Bible’s and the society belief in the fact that killing goes against God’s laws. But, the dying murderer will kill again because the act offers a sense of fulfillment to the murderer. These conflicting views form a fundamental part of the foundation of Smart’s philosophy on moral rules. Smart suggests that “utilitarianism is the doctrine that the rightness of actions is to be judged by their consequences,” (344). According to this belief, actions surface “by their consequences, and general rules, like keep promises,” (344). But, these simple “rules of thumb” steer clear of the need to estimate the “probable consequences of our actions at every step,” (344). Ne could easily argue that in keeping promises the good and bad in the situation reflects the need to keep the promises at the given time and not on the moral principles of the action.
Critics suggest that Smart is really an Extreme Utilitarian as his philosophy reflects the views that one’s actions result from the right of total utility based on a specific action or deed. On the other hand, Smart suggests that the Restricted Utilitarian believes that it is the right thing to do to save the life of an individual regardless of the person’s character. Smart argues in support of extreme utilitarianism. His popular article, “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism,” describes as an act that is deemed “good” because of the consequences of the action. In contrast, Smart suggests that extreme utilitarianism stems from the action of every individual based on the individual’s ability to assess the situation personally. Nonetheless, the common rule of morality surfaces as the rules of thumb.
Smart uses the example of having to break rules because of a dire situation and implies that it is morally right to break the rules when there is a positive outcome. But, the Restricted utilitarianism, as Smart suggests thrives on the strict application of rules and not on the rules of thumb. In both instances, the views of the utilitarian are measured based on the criterion that one uses to assess the value of the situation. In the end, the sensible or realistic judgment arises from the value that the social places on the moral action. While Smart places much emphasis on judgments based on the choices that one makes, his main focus reaches to “human happiness and misery,” (353) as the “the objects of our pro-attitudes and anti-attitudes,” (353).
In the case of keeping a dying promise, Smart looks at the reality that in order to keep the promise of someone who is dying, becomes a decisive factor in the beliefs of the extreme utilitarian as this promise breaks the faith in the institution of keeping a promise, (344). Smart argues that rules do not matter as rules of thumb when they are greater than the act of keeping these rules. Smart refers to the modest aspect of utilitarianism based on Nowell-Smith’s and Toulmin’s ideology that moral rules represent a greater factor in the institution of ‘rightness’ and are simply rules of thumb. Nonetheless, when there is the absence of rules to govern a particular situation, then there is the presence of the restricted utilitarianism ideology. The restricted utilitarian believes that there is pleasure in every situation and that it a priority in the principles of what is innately good. Smart distinguishes the belief that pleasure represents an enjoyable act, yet the rules are there to take away from the pleasure in an act of goodness when one has to consider the rules.
The debate between restricted and extreme utilitarianism arises in Stout’s question: “But suppose everyone did the same,” (as cited by Smart, 345). The hypothetical belief that one cannot engage in an action because it gives bad results is largely an optimific view, but the “extreme utilitarian would apply the universalization principle in the causal form, while a restricted utilitarian would apply it in the hypothetical form,” (346). The arguments surrounding the death penalty is one of the most recognized arguments relating to extreme and restricted utilitarianism. Hence, one could argue that the differences in these two types of utilitarian views come with the superficial belief in logics. It is logical to kill someone who breaks the laws against taking the life of someone, but it is not logical to kill a human being. Clearly, the arguments rests on the premise of the happiness that come with knowing that the society is free of its threat, but goes against the fundament rule of killing in general. This rule of thumb belief suggests that the law can be broken for the ‘greater good.”
Arguably, there is a rule to every action that an individual carries out, but there are mitigating circumstances that forces one to break these rules. But, what are the values of breaking rules? The question comes with the firm belief in ones views of the rules of the society. Smart suggests that one “must consider all the less obvious effects of breaking [rules], such as reducing people's faith in the moral order, before coming to the conclusion that to break [rules] is right,” (353). From the utilitarian perspective, moral rules are rules of thumb; but one cannot classify this act as ‘bad’ simply because it does not fit with the moral values of others. In deciding if the rule is not to be broken, one must look at the consequences in order to draw the conclusion.
Nonetheless, if the situation warrants the breaking of any form of rule, then one must act according to one’s ability to weigh “the balance our own fallibility and liability to personal bias, what good reason remains for keeping the rule,” (353). The fallibility of one’s choices lies in the heightened reaction to being a player on a national team because other members of the team played in such a capacity. The chosen individual becomes a liability and that compromises one’s moral truth that the individual knowingly jeopardizes the chances of a win because it is “right” to include this player.
The restricted utilitarian would suggest that the morality of the action is not a rule of the society, but one that turns misery into happiness and impacts the attitudes of others. The truth is that one’ moral action should stem from a rational act and not one’s actions. The rational believe that Hitler should be left to drown because of the number of lives he took as a part of his crusade stems from the moral view that a life must be saved at all costs. The Restricted Utilitarian would argue that the rationale behind saving his life is a rule that should not be broken. Nonetheless, the restricted utilitarian could suggest that it is rational to allow him to die because of the belief in “a life for a life,” still; some would save his life because it would be irrational not to do so. Smart questions what makes an action rational, but points out that rational actions stem from the ethical considerations of the action and which makes an individual happy.
Arguably, ‘goodness’ should not be based on mankind’s happiness, but on the fact that one feels justified and good because one has done the ‘right’ thing. The truth is that an individual’s happiness is relative and depends on the personal value system of the individual. A depressed person will want to take his life. Should one allow the person to become happy? The happiness here, rests in the death of the depressed individual, but causes misery for the loved ones who are left behind. Undoubtedly, one would feel good about being able to save the life of an individual , but the rules of utilitarianism would be wrong as saving this life would maximize the happiness of another individual.
The restricted utilitarian stands by the rule that an individual must keep the promises that are made, however the Extreme Utilitarian breaks the rules after careful considerations of the importance of breaking the rule based on the level of happiness that comes with breaking this rule. The latter view of utilitarianism is probably the most accurate as the foundations of rules stem from the moral composition of fallible humans. With the changes in the value system in the society, one must become cognizant that the rule of law in one era may differ in another, but the society does not gravitate towards changes readily unless it impacts the happiness of others. Smart suggests that the happiness of an individual is intrinsic at best, but this idea puts a twist on the ideas of the restricted utilitarian who believes that obeying any particular rule result in some form of happiness for individuals. Smart postulates that happiness comes with obeying rules in given situations, but after some amount of reevaluation, there is commonality that rules are needed to govern the society. If one breaks the rule of law because it suits a situation, then there is no need to have rules.
In concluding, the utilitarian assess their actions by their consequences and form the idea that for an action to be acceptable it must be grounded in the categorization of goodness based on human happiness and the premise that ethical actions are rational. The fact is that the extreme utilitarianism views fail because of the realistic modern day view that a good action leads to happiness and happiness does not retroactively makes the action good. Secondly, in order to maximize the happiness that an individual experiences because of an action truly validates the monstrosity of the action. Still, Smart argues that the rule of utilitarianism leaves room for criticism as there are strong cases where the breaking of the rule can be justified by the moral principle of the rule. The rule of making a promise to a dying person justifies Smart’s criticism of the rule of utilitarianism.

Works Cited

“Ethical Concepts” Communications of the ACM December 1995/Vol. 38, No. 12 33 Web.
Viewed March 12, 2015 from
Smart, J.J.C, (1956) “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism” The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.
6, No. 25. (Oct., 1956), pp. 344-354. Web. Accessed March 12,

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WePapers. (2020, December, 17) Good Example Of Argumentative Essay On Critical Analysis Of Smart’s “Extreme And Restricted Utilitarianism”. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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Good Example Of Argumentative Essay On Critical Analysis Of Smart’s “Extreme And Restricted Utilitarianism”. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 17, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024.

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