The main difference between act and rule utilitarianism is that act utilitarianism emphasizes the consequences/results of action whereas rule utilitarianism emphasizes the consequences from following a rule of conduct.
Utilitarianism, which is one of the most influential moral theories in the world, refers to the theory that the morality of actions depends on their effect on the people. Hence, act and rule utilitarianism are two parts of the utilitarianism theory. Accordingly, both these emphasize on two different branches of utilitarian concept.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Utilitarianism
– Definition, Characteristics
2. What is Act Utilitarianism
– Definition, Characteristics
3. What is Rule Utilitarianism
– Definition, Characteristics
4. What are the Similarities Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism
– Outline of Common Features
5. What is the Difference Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism
– Comparison of Key Differences
Ethics, Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism, Utilitarianism, Philosophy
What is Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is based on the principle of utility. In brief, utility refers to being useful. Hence, the theory of utilitarianism highlights the idea that morality or goodness is centered on useful actions or rules that benefit humanity on the whole. Utilitarianism is also noted as a form of consequentialism; here, the right action is defined entirely in terms of consequences produced. Utilitarianism is also based on the pleasure principle concept and hedonism.
Moreover, utilitarianism aims to increase the total amount of satisfaction or happiness for the greatest number of people. Therefore, the morally good thing to do under utilitarianism, is whatever promotes the greatest utility to the majority of people, even if the individual acting will not prosper or be satisfied at all times. Thus, this concept considers the good of others as well as one’s own good.
Likewise, the ultimate goal of utilitarianism is upliftment and betterment of humanity by increasing the level of happiness in the majority. The pioneering figures in introducing utilitarianism theory are Jeremy Bentham (introduced the classical utilitarianism), John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and, G.E Moore.
There are two main branches of utilitarianism as act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.
What is Act Utilitarianism
Act utilitarianism refers to the theory that the morality of an action is determined by its usefulness to the people. Hence, if such a right act has an outcome that is beneficial to most people, then it is considered morally right mainly because it brings greater happiness or good to the majority of the people.
Thus, act utilitarianism believes that it is the right action that results in a greater advantage or good to the people. Hence, an action, if it has greater benefits to most people, is considered morally right and ethical under act utilitarianism. Hence, act utilitarianism is directly related to classical utilitarianism.
For instance, act utilitarianism views doing charity works and punishing crimes are morally right since they produce greater happiness and good to the people. More importantly, the act utilitarianism evaluates an act by its actual consequences, unlike rule utilitarianism.
What is Rule Utilitarianism
Rule utilitarianism refers to the theory that an action can be morally right if it conforms to the rules that will lead to the greatest good or happiness. Therefore, the greater good or happiness can be achieved by following and adhering to the correct rules that apply to all equally.
Therefore, rule utilitarianism explains that following a moral code of principles (that are comprehensible to all people) is the most efficient way to create greater good to humanity. Accordingly, these specific rules should result in increasing the overall utility and happiness of the majority of the people. when these set of rules are decided and accepted by the public, they apply to every social situation without any exception.
The classic example of rule utilitarianism is road rules. In this scenario, the morality of the action is weighed on its universal consequences as a result of adhering to the rules and regulations. Consequently, rule utilitarianism is sometimes considered to avoid the problems associated with act utilitarianism.
Similarities Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism
- Both determine the moral significance of an action by its outcome.
- They reflect on the consequences or usefulness of an action to a majority of the people, which is the core element of utilitarianism.
- Also, both reject social customs and traditional taboos, but considers the fact that morality through a certain act or rule is for the positive contribution of the majority of humans.
Difference Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism
Act utilitarianism is a utilitarian theory of ethics that highlights the morality of an action is determined by its usefulness to the people. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, is a utilitarian theory of ethics that highlights the morality of an action is when it conforms to a certain rule that leads to the greatest good or happiness of the people. These definitions explain the difference between act and rule utilitarianism.
Under act utilitarianism, the morality is on the effect of a good action that benefits most people whereas, in rule utilitarianism, the morality is on following a certain rule or code of conduct (when doing an action) that has benefits to most people.
A major difference between act and rule utilitarianism is that, in act utilitarianism, the consequences are on the action while in rule utilitarianism, the consequences are on the rule(s) followed. Act utilitarianism evaluates an act by its actual consequences whereas rule utilitarianism evaluates an action by the consequences of its universal practice (by all other persons, and perhaps into the future and past as well).
Utilitarianism is considered one of the most powerful approaches to normative ethics in philosophy. Act and rule utilitarianism are two main sub-branches of utilitarianism, which differ in their focus. Hence, the difference between act and rule utilitarianism is that act utilitarianism emphasizes the consequences/results of action whereas rule utilitarianism emphasizes the consequences from following a rule of conduct.
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2. Pecorino, Philip A. “Chapter 8: Ethics; UTILITARIANISM .” What Is Philosophy?, Available here.
3. Airth, Maria. “Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism.” Study.com, Available here.
4. Driver, Julia. “The History of Utilitarianism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 27 Mar. 2009, Available here.
5. “Act Utilitarianism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Sept. 2018, Available here.