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I know that we can divide utilitarians into two groups, those that focus on what was expected to happen and those that focus on what actually happened, and that most fall into the latter group. However, I don't seem to understand why.

For example, let's say there's a person with a serious, but not deadly, illness, and a doctor has a treatment for the illnes, but with only a 5 % chance of survival. Now, let's also assume they go through with the treatment and the patient survies. Then, a utilitarian who focuses on what actually happened will say that the doctor acted morally right, while a person who focuses on what was expected to happen would say he acted wrong. In this example I find it morally problematic to focus on what actually happened, but I can't make up an opposite example where it would be morally problematic to focus on what was expected. Therefore I don't seem to understand what is attractive about only focusing on what actually happened.

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  • Where do you "know" this from? The usual division is into act and rule utilitarianism, which is not this, and most fall into the second category. If anything, they are closer to counting the "expected" rather than the "actual" happening.
    – Conifold
    Dec 12 '20 at 22:23
  • I think I'm mixing utilitarianism with consequentialism, would it make more sense to divide consequentialists into the two groups that I mentioned? @Conifold
    – ravi
    Dec 12 '20 at 23:06
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    Even then, your "actual consequentialism" does not maker much sense as ethics since nobody knows actual consequences at the time of acting. It is mostly used as a didactic foil, and is certainly not the majority view. There is objectively probable/subjectively forseeable consequentialism division, but it is somewhat different, see SEP.
    – Conifold
    Dec 12 '20 at 23:38
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according to utilitarianism, it is your duty to try to predict the future the best you can. If a doctor got lucky despite the odds, that doesnt make it utilitarian. With utilitarianism , you really have to think global, the doctor will tend to retry giving the medecine with likely worse outcomes..... The interns will see the doctor making irrational choices ...and so on...

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You are better dividing utilitarians into 5 groups; actual, likely, foreseeable, foreseen, and intended consequences.

Actual - What happens is important
Likely - What is most likely to happen is important.
Foreseeable - What a person could of predicted if they thought about the matter is important.
Foreseen - What a person did predict is important.
Intended - What a person wanted to happen is important.

In the situation you provided, I believe each position would say:
Actual (patient lived) - Moral because the treatment had positive results.
Actual (patient died) - Immoral because the treatment had negative results.
Likely - Immoral because the most likely outcome was a negative result.*
Foreseenable (information on the deadly side effects of the treatment was available to the doctor) - Immoral because if the doctor did his research, he would have known that the most likely outcome was a negative result.*
Foreseen (information on the deadly side effects of the treatment was available to the doctor, but he did not look it up) - Moral because the doctor believed the treatment could only have positive results.
Foreseen (information on the deadly side effects of the treatment was available to the doctor, and he did look it up) - Immoral because the doctor believed that the treatment would have a negative result.*
Intended - Moral because the doctor wanted to positive result to happen.

*Assuming that the expected outcome of the treatment was a loss of utility i.e.
(Utility lost by patient living with disease) + 0.95 (Utility lost by patient dying) + 0.5 (Utility gained by patient being cured) < 0

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