a1 University of Helsinki
According to what one might call ‘indirect” forms of utilitarian thinking, the proper end of all human action is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of individuals, but due to the fallibility of moral agents this end cannot, and must not, be directly pursued. Instead, according to at least one version of the indirect theory, moral agents have a duty to act in conformity with a set of general rules which, in their turn, have been designed to promote the greatest happiness of humankind. But acts which conform to such general rules can under exceptional circumstances occasion more suffering than happiness. This is clearly problematical to indirect utilitarians. If they follow the rules regardless of the evil consequences, it can be argued that they have abandoned the basic principles of utilitarianism. If, on the other hand, they refuse to follow the rules which normally promote the general good, their view can be seen to collapse into the direct form of the creed.
* Our thanks are due to Mark Shackleton, Lecturer in English, University of Helsinki, for revising the language of the paper, and to Professor D. D. Raphael, and an anonymous referee of Utilitas, whose critical comments improved our arguments considerably.