Difference Between Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism (With Table)

Act utilitarianism is an ethical theory that assesses the morality of each action by weighing the implications for all parties involved. It asserts that there are no universal moral norms and that each individual should do what they believe would result in the best overall results. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, believes that understanding human nature allows us to construct a set of moral rules – “rules” as in principles or commandments – that we may follow consistently and achieve desirable outcomes.

Act Utilitarianism vs Rule Utilitarianism

The main difference between act and rule utilitarianism is that act utilitarianism focus on the immediate repercussions of an action. While Long-term repercussions are considered in rule utilitarianism.

Act utilitarianism, also known as rule utilitarianism, aims to promote the best overall outcomes by examining people’s actions and the outcomes they produce. Act utilitarians would do whatever, even lying, to ensure that each individual has as much utility or happiness is feasible.

On the other hand, rule utilitarianism explores what would happen if everyone followed a set of rules. This is why rule utilitarianism considers long-term as well as immediate repercussions. People should keep their commitments, according to rule utilitarians, since violating promises erodes trust, which is necessary for society to function well.

Comparison Table Between Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism

Parameters of ComparisonAct UtilitarianismRule Utilitarianism
DefinitionAct utilitarianism is a philosophy that assesses the morality of a decision primarily on its immediate implications, rather than its long-term ramifications.Similar to rule utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism takes into account not just whether the outcome was good or negative, but also how probable it was that the action would result in a favorable outcome.
IntentAct utilitarians would be more prone to act quickly and without much thought to the implications.Rule utilitarians are less inclined to take rapid action unless it is absolutely essential and after careful consideration of the consequences.
JudgementAct utilitarians would rate an event based on its immediate advantages to oneself or others, without considering what could happen in the future as a result of this action.Rule utilitarians, on the other hand, are more prone to consider how their actions will effect them and others in the long term.
ActionsAct utilitarians would have to consider just the immediate physical implications of their activities, not the long-term ramifications or how their actions may influence people around them.If someone is now suffering from a horrible injury or is happy and satisfied, rule utilitarianism is more likely to aid them, but they will not help them if they are suffering.
RulesAct utilitarians would require a rule that always benefits people in the same way each time it is applied. For example, delivering food to those in need might be considered a utilitarian activity.A more precise rule for a rule utilitarian might be “always offer food for individuals who request it.”

What is Act Utilitarianism?

Act utilitarianism is a moral theory that evaluates an action’s morality depending on its effects. This means that act utilitarians will go to whatever length to ensure that each individual is as happy as possible, even if it involves lying or violating commitments in the process.

“Utilitarian terrorism” is a more severe kind of act utilitarianism. This theory supports a terrorist’s actions, no matter how violent or destructive, as long as they end result in the greatest pleasure for each member in their community. Act utilitarianism is concerned with maximising each individual’s pleasure.

As a result, no one person’s needs take precedence over another’s, and everyone has an equal chance of happiness. This attitude also promotes innovation and invention by trial and error. Act utilitarians are cautious of holding too strongly to any one idea, choosing either to consider all relevant options in order to make good choice for each scenario.

This philosophy is difficult to implement since it demands rapid analysis without any long-term planning or thought, which is unrealistic when making decisions that effect a large number of people. There are also ethical questions over whether this worldview is the most beneficial to society.

What is Rule Utilitarianism?

Rule utilitarianism is a way of thinking that seeks to create and distribute pleasure to everybody in society as fairly as feasible. Equality, compassion, accountability, freedom, and personal liberty are all principles promoted by this ideology. Like Rule utilitarianism, utilitarianism thinks that people have various possibilities to be happy in different situations and that the best approach to maximise happiness is to balance what is good for one individual with whatever is fair or beneficial for all of us.

Rule Policies based on utilitarianism will frequently be founded on moral absolutes, such as safeguarding all of our individual human rights. As a result, if something does not cause harm to others in society, it is allowed.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between rule utilitarianism and individual rights, since some individuals may perceive a required action that would benefit the greater good and others in society, but it might also harm or limit an individual’s rights. Utilitarianism is a simple concept to grasp. Individual rights are protected as well. Its focus on morality might often provide preferable options than act utilitarianism.

Establishing the moral absolutes for a entire society or community can be hard and controversial. Individual rights can sometimes be constrained in order to serve the greater welfare of society.

Main Differences Between Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism

  1. Act utilitarianism is a moral theory that analyses what is best for everyone in a population or society, whereas rule utilitarianism only considers justice for each person.
  2. According to Act Utilitarianism, breaking a rule is allowed as long as it results in a higher advantage, but Rule utilitarianism claims that breaking a rule will not result in a greater gain.
  3. Act utilitarianism overlooks the consequences of one’s actions, whereas rule utilitarianism recognizes the consequences of one’s activities. Rule utilitarians are concerned with ensuring that everyone in the community has their needs and wants met.
  4. Act utilitarianism simply examines society as a whole, but rule utilitarianism emphasizes each individual’s voice.
  5. Act utilitarianism maintains that an act is morally legitimate if it delivers the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people, whereas Rule utilitarianism holds that the integrity of the rules determines the ethical acceptability of an act.


The contrast between act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism is whether the consequences of an individual’s behavioral features are evaluated in isolation or as a component of the system. Act utilitarianism assesses the results of a single or individual’s activities. Before making a decision, think about how it will influence me and others around me right now.

Act utilitarians would evaluate an event based on its immediate benefits to oneself or others, rather than what could happen in the near future as a result of these occurrences.


  1. https://philpapers.org/rec/EGGAU
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/utilitas/article/act-utilitarianism-and-decision-procedures/236A613C1656CA86EF3A6BCAA827AF83