When we discuss classic ethical theories, utilitarianism provides us with a prevalent conception of morality. It is a theory derived from consequentialist ethical theory, whereby actions are morally assessed in terms of their consequences. After examining the prescribed literature on utilitarianism, it is evident that a clear distinction exists between 'act' and 'rule' utilitarianism. Although the authors of utilitarian theory primarily agree on, and advocate the concept of utility, a prominent conflict is evident in relation to the way utilitarian principles should be applied. For the purpose of this essay, an act utilitarian perspective will be assumed, focussing on the recent war within Iraq. After a clear understanding of utilitarianism is established, several crucial decisions relating to the war against Iraq will be analysed, and the consequences of these actions will be examined. It will be argued that the initiation of war within Iraq was morally legitimate and warranted, when we consider the significant consequences that resulted from this decision.
Within the vast realm of ethical theory, utilitarianism presents us with a prevalent conception of morality. It is a theory associated with consequentialist ethical principles, whereby actions are morally judged in terms of their consequences or outcomes. Beauchamp (2001:104) explains, 'Consequentialism asserts that actions are right or wrong according to their consequences, rather than because of any intrinsic features they may have, such as truthfulness or fidelity'. Furthermore, 'What makes an action morally right or wrong is the total good or evil it produces' (Beauchamp, 2001:104). Therefore, the theory of utilitarianism is primarily concerned with the consequences of a given action, and not the act itself. .
Beauchamp (2001) identifies the authors recognised with early utilitarian theory, including Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).