Introduction to Philosophy, S04 PHI 100 @ Cortland College, FA 11


Notes: Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism


 Review of last class:

 -Greatest Happiness Principle-the amount of pleasure and pain are determined by both quality and quantity.

-Bodily Pleasures- are lower pleasures ex: eating

-Intellectual Pleasure- are higher pleasure ex: reading a good book


-The higher pleasure is always worth more than the lower pleasure.

-We are able to figure out the different kinds of pleasure through experience.


Human Being vs. Pig

-Better to be a human being because they can experience the pleasures of a pig plus others.

 Socrates vs. Fool

-Socrates took advantage of his capabilities to the fullest extent; therefore he is the superior judge of what kind of pleasure is better.

-The fool does not take advantage of capabilities and might be uneducated.

-Many people were uneducated and therefore could not determine the better pleasure.

-To fix this we needed to educate them


Mill Utilitarianism- Greatest Happiness Principle-Happiness=Pleasure

-The greatest happiness for the largest number of people with the highest quality possible.


New Information:


Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism

-Mill never made a distinction between the two because these were created by someone who read his work later on.


-Both Act and Rule Utilitarianism follow the idea of the maximum amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain.

-They differ in the way they go about achieving these.


Act Utilitarianism- figure out the consequences and then determine if the action was right

-Concerned with short term consequences

-Makes you think about what someone did and what the actual consequences were.-Pleasure vs. Pain

-Example-You go in to save someone and they end up drowning. Following Act Utilitarianism going into save them would be wrong be the immediate consequence was bad.


Rule Utilitarianism- Deals with the tendencies of actions to produce more pleasure and the least amount of pain.

-Concerned with long term consequences

Example- The action of going in to the save the person was good even though they ended up drowning-In this particular circumstance it went wrong.

-This method tends to produce more pleasure than pain and will benefit society-leading to the greatest amount of happiness for the largest amount of people.


Murderer at the Door Example: Deals with lying

-A friend comes to your door and asks to be hidden so they are not killed.

-You then hide them in the basement.

-There is a knock at the door and it is the person who is looking for your friend. They ask if your friend is hiding here.


Act Utilitarianism says: No, I have not seen him in weeks-Thinking of short term consequences.

Rule Utilitarianism says: Yes, he’s right down the stairs. Choosing to tell the truth even though it leads to bad consequences. Thinking long term because lying is always wrong to do and leads to negative consequences.


A Small Town Crime Example:

-In the town there are two feuding families.

-The sheriff of the town is just barely able to maintain peace.

-The son in one family goes out and kills the son in the other family.

-Only the sheriff knows that this happened.


What can he do?


1. He can arrest the murderer and put him on trial. Would lead the two families into chaos.  This would be what a Rule Utilitarian would do. This is the sheriff’s job meaning this choice would have the tendency of creating positive consequences in the long term.

2. He could do nothing. Families would also be in chaos if he did this.

3. A stranger happened to wander into the town this night so the sheriff could just pin the murder on this person. This would satisfy both of the families. This is what an Act Utilitarian would do. Thinking short term because he friend would be saved.


Consequentialism-what matters morally are the consequences an action causes.

A form of Consequentialism is Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism- pleasure and pain is how we judge consequences.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism are two forms of Utilitarianism.

Act Utilitarianism- Focuses on what the actual consequences are-are they good or bad? If they are good the action was good. If they are bad the action was bad.

Rule Utilitarianism- Focuses on the action and whether the consequences tend to be good. Ex-if someone lies and the consequence is good, it does not matter because lying is wrong.


Problem with Act Utilitarianism-When do you stop evaluating the initial action? What is the timeframe?


Ex.- A- A person with cancer has radiation treatment.

B- It was a good action because now the cancer is gone.

C- Now the person is in a lot of pain and the cancer is back making it a bad action.


Rule Utilitarianism solves this problem by cutting off the connections between the actual consequences. It deals with performing actions that tend to have positive consequences.

Posted by

Filed under: Notes Leave a comment
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.