The indirectness of such rule utilitarianism provides a way to remainconsequentialist and yet capture the common moral intuition that it isimmoral to perform the transplant in the above situation. Supposepeople generally accepted a rule that allows a doctor to transplantorgans from a healthy person without consent when the doctor believesthat this transplant will maximize utility. Widely accepting this rulewould lead to many transplants that do not maximize utility, sincedoctors (like most people) are prone to errors in predictingconsequences and weighing utilities. Moreover, if the rule is publiclyknown, then patients will fear that they might be used as organsources, so they would be less likely to go to a doctor when they needone. The medical profession depends on trust that this public rulewould undermine. For such reasons, some rule utilitarians concludethat it would not maximize utility for people generally to accept arule that allows doctors to transplant organs from unwillingdonors. If this claim is correct, then rule utilitarianism impliesthat it is morally wrong for a particular doctor to use an unwillingdonor, even for a particular transplant that would have betterconsequences than any alternative even from the doctor's ownperspective. Common moral intuition is thereby preserved.
Utilitarians can bite the bullet, again. They can deny that it ismorally wrong to cut up the “donor” in these circumstances. Of course,doctors still should not cut up their patients in anything close tonormal circumstances, but this example is so abnormal that we shouldnot expect our normal moral rules to apply, and we should not trust ourmoral intuitions, which evolved to fit normal situations (Sprigge1965). Many utilitarians are happy to reject common moral intuitions inthis case, like many others (cf. Singer 1974, Unger 1996, Norcross1997).
Rule utilitarianism faces several potential counterexamples (such aswhether public rules allowing slavery could sometimes maximize utility)and needs to be formulated more precisely (particularly in order toavoid collapsing into act-utilitarianism; cf. Lyons 1965). Suchdetails are discussed in another entry in this encyclopedia (seeHooker on rule-consequentialism). Here I just want to point out thatdirect consequentialists find it weird to judge a particular act bythe consequences of something else (Smart 1956). Why should mistakesby other doctors in other cases make this doctor's act morally wrong,when this doctor knows for sure that he is not mistaken in this case?Rule consequentialists can respond that we should not claim specialrights or permissions that we are not willing to grant to every otherperson, and that it is arrogant to think we are less prone to mistakesthan other people are. However, this doctor can reply that he iswilling to give everyone the right to violate the usual rules in therare cases when they do know for sure that violating those rulesreally maximizes utility. Anyway, even if rule utilitarianism accordswith some common substantive moral intuitions, it still seemscounterintuitive in other ways. This makes it worthwhile to considerhow direct consequentialists can bring their views in line with commonmoral intuitions, and whether they need to do so.
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Many utilitarians still want to avoid the claim that we morallyought to give so much to charity. One way around this claim uses arule-utilitarian theory of what we morally ought to do. If it costs toomuch to internalize rules implying that we ought to give so much tocharity, then, according to such rule-utilitarianism, it is not truethat we ought to give so much to charity (Hooker 2000, ch. 8).
A further distinction is made between act utilitarianism and ruleutilitarianism. Act utilitarianism is simply the theory that the correctness ofan action is judged according to the degree of utility it promotes. Ruleutilitarianism is the theory that the rightness of an act is assessed byreference to its compliance with rules established to maximise utility. For therule utilitarian the principle of utility is used as a guide for the rules weshould follow, as distinct to the particular actions we should perform. As aresult of the difficulty in performing the utilitarian calculus necessary todetermine which of a number of options we should choose, it is claimed that aset of rules guiding us in our decisions would be more likely to achieve thedesired goal. The main problem with rule utilitarianism is that it is inevitablethat in complying with the rules there will be occasions when happiness will notbe maximised. To refuse to break the rule in such circumstances constitutes‘rule-worship’: see John Smart, ‘An Outline of a System ofUtilitarian Ethics’ in John Smart and Bernard Williams (eds), (1973) 3, 10. It is no answer that inmost cases it is beneficial to comply with the rule, otherwise we are puttingthe rule above its justification. If we do break the rule, we are still beingguided by the ultimate principle: act utilitarianism.