Study Guide:
James Rachels – The Debate over Utilitarianism

1. Explain the three key points that Rachels identifies as central to the Utilitarian viewpoint.
2. What is Rachels purpose in this article?  Is he explaining utilitarianism, objecting to utilitarianism, explaining the objections of others to utilitarianism, defending utilitarianism from the objections of others, some combination of these, etc.?
3. What is Rachels point in giving the examples of the pianist and the back-stabbing friend?
4. McCloskey's example of the riots is supposed to illustrate what sort of problem for utilitarianism?
5. Explain the point of the Chino Police Department and Peeping Tom examples.  What moral does Rachels think might be drawn from these cases?
6. What are backward-looking reasons and how might they figure in our moral reasoning?  Does Utilitarianism take them into account?
7. Explain Rule Utilitarianism and what problems with Act Utilitarianism it was developed in response to.
8. How would a Rule Utilitarian respond to each of the problematic cases that Rachels has discussed?
9. What response does J.J.C. Smart make on behalf of Act Utilitarianism, in response to these criticisms? What do you think of this response?
10. What sort of consideration does Rachels himself think is important to our moral reasoning, but which is left out by Utilitarians?