Difference Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism (With Table)

Act utilitarianism is an ethical theory that judges the morality of any action by considering the consequences it leads to for everyone involved. It holds that there are no universal moral rules, and instead, each person should do what they think will produce the best overall consequences. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, claims that knowledge of human nature enables us to derive a set of moral rules- “rules” as in principles or commandments – which we can follow consistently with good results.

Act Utilitarianism vs Rule Utilitarianism

The difference between act and rule utilitarianism is that act utilitarianism is more focused on the immediate consequences of an action, while rule utilitarianism looks at long-term consequences.

Act utilitarianism, also called rule utilitarianism, seeks to promote the best overall consequences by looking at how people act and what results those actions bring about. Act utilitarians would do anything that was necessary for each individual to have as much utility or happiness as possible, even if it meant telling a lie.

Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, considers what would happen if everyone acted in a certain way. This is why rule utilitarianism looks at long-term consequences and not just immediate ones. The rule utilitarians believe that people should keep their promises because breaking promises destroy trust, which is essential for society to function well.

Comparison Table Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Parameters of Comparison Act Utilitarianism Rule Utilitarianism
DefinitionAct utilitarianism is a philosophy that judges the morality of an action based on its immediate consequences, without concern for future or long-term effects.Rule utilitarianism is similar but considers not just whether the outcome was good or bad but also how likely it was that action would produce a good outcome.
IntentAct utilitarians would be more likely to do something immediately, without much consideration for the consequences.Rule utilitarians are less likely to take immediate action unless it is necessary and with a lot of thought put into how it will affect others.
JudgementAct utilitarians would judge an event by its immediate benefits for oneself or others but not take into account what might happen as a result of this action in the future.Rule utilitarians, however, are more likely to think about how their actions will affect themselves and those around them in the long run.
ActionsAct utilitarians would need to take into account the immediate physical consequences of their actions and not worry about other effects that might occur in the future or how it will affect those around them.Rule utilitarianism is more likely to help someone else if they are currently suffering from a terrible injury or if someone is happy and content, but they will not do anything to help them if they are suffering.
RulesAct utilitarians would need a rule that always helps others in the same way every time it’s followed. For instance, providing food for people who want it may be an act utilitarian action.A rule utilitarian would need a more specific rule, such as “always provide food for people who want it.”

What is Act Utilitarianism?

Act utilitarianism is a moral philosophy that judges the morality of an action based on its consequences. This means that act utilitarians will do anything possible to bring about the greatest amount of happiness for each individual, even if it meant telling lies or breaking promises to do so.

A more extreme version of act utilitarianism is called “utilitarian terrorism.” This philosophy advocates a terrorist’s acts, no matter how violent or destructive, if they ultimately create the most happiness for each individual within their society. Act utilitarianism is focused on maximizing the amount of happiness for each individual.

In this way, it ensures that no one person’s needs take precedence over another’s and everyone has equal opportunities to be happy. This philosophy also promotes innovation through trial-and-error experience. Act utilitarians are careful not to cling too hard to any particular idea and instead want to examine all possible options in order to make the best decision for each circumstance.

This ideology is very difficult because it requires immediate analysis without any long-term planning or consideration, which may be impractical when making decisions that affect many people. There are also ethical debates about whether or not this philosophy is best for society.

What is Rule Utilitarianism?

Rule Utilitarianism is a way of thinking which has the goal to create and distribute happiness as evenly as possible for everyone in society. This philosophy promotes fairness, tolerance, responsibility, liberty, and individual rights. As with Rule utilitarianism also believes that people have different opportunities to be happy in different circumstances and recognizes that the best way to maximize happiness is by balancing what is good for one person with what is fair or beneficial for everyone.

Rule Utilitarianism policies will often be based on moral absolutes, such as upholding all of our individual rights as humans. It also follows that if something does not harm others in society, then it is acceptable.

Rule utilitarianism can at times be very difficult to balance, as some people might see a necessary action that would be beneficial for the greater good and others in society, but it could also hurt or limit an individual’s rights. Rule utilitarianism is easy to understand. It includes protection for individual rights. Its focus on fairness can often provide better options than act utilitarianism.

Determining what the moral absolutes are for an entire society or community might be challenging and controversial. As well, providing protection for individual rights can be limited to the greater good of society.

Main Differences Between Act and Rule Utilitarianism

  1. Act utilitarianism operates by considering what would be best for everyone in an entire community, including all different perspectives at any given time. Rule utilitarianism is a moral theory that focuses on fairness. It recognizes individual rights to avoid the greater good of society are compromised for one or more people within society.
  2. Act utilitarianism doesn’t care about what happens to an individual person as long as the greater good of society is achieved. Rule utilitarianism is best when it comes to issues involving a conflict between the rights of an individual, and the needs/wants of society.
  3. Act utilitarianism focuses on how an action will affect everyone else in society and not just one or two people that are involved. Rule utilitarianism does not want anyone person’s rights violated, even if that means that everyone else in society must suffer as well.
  4. Act utilitarianism, as its name suggests, focuses on a particular act within society. It doesn’t care about an individual’s rights or needs in any way; it only cares about how that action will affect everyone else in society. Rule utilitarianism considers what would happen if we made that rule law and applied it to everyone in society.
  5. Act utilitarianism does not consider the consequences of its actions, but rule utilitarianism considers both. Rule utilitarians care about making sure that everyone in society has their rights and needs met; act utilitarians do not even bother with those things as they only focus on one action at a time.


The difference between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism is whether the consequences of an individual’s action are judged in isolation or as part of a system. For example, if one considers what to do with their time tomorrow evening: take care of personal business – which would be considered an individualistic decision – or volunteer at a homeless shelter – which would be considered part of the system.

Act utilitarianism judges an individual action by the consequences of that one act. When making a decision, consider how it will affect me and those around me at this moment. Act utilitarians would judge an event by its immediate benefits for oneself or others but not take into account what might happen as a result of this action in the future.


  1. https://philpapers.org/rec/EGGAU
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%252FBF00169843
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