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What exactly is the difference between act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism? Can rule-utilitarianism succeed where act-utilitarianism fails?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Rule utilitarianism
    1. The principle of universalization
  3. Utilitarianism
    1. Creation of utilitarianism
    2. The first objection to act-utilitarianism
    3. Objections regarding the impractical approach in helping guide someone in making moral decision
    4. The requirement of impartiality
  4. Is rule utilitarianism is the perfect moral theory?
    1. Problems with rule-utilitarianism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

According to the meaning we give to ?actions', we get two different theories under Utilitarianism. And there is a great debate between those two schools of utilitarianism about how exactly the individual utilitarian should make their moral decisions.
The choice for the individual is between the principles of act-utilitarianism, which tells that the rightness or wrongness of a single action is to be judged by the action's consequences, and those of rule-utilitarianism, which tells that the action should be judged by a set of established rules, which are designed to produce the best consequences.
In this essay I will first highlight the differences between act- and rule-utilitarianism, defining those two theories, before showing how they differ; then I will try to identify if rule utilitarianism can succeed where act- utilitarianism failed, identifying objections made to each of them

[...] On the contrary, for act- utilitarianism, if secrecy were guaranteed, the overall consequences might be such at in this particular instance greater utility is produced by hastening the depth of the homeless person and using his organs for the transplants.[11] Thus we can see there is also an important distinction to make between act- utilitarianism: the theory that one should always do whatever act will produce the most utility in the circumstances; and rule- utilitarianism: the theory that one should always abide by a set of rules that will generally tend to maximize utility. Now that we have identified the differences between act- and rule utilitarianism, we can consider if rule utilitarianism succeed where act- utilitarianism fails. Rule-utilitarianism was created as a refinement upon act-utilitarianism, to bypass some of the objections to act-utilitarianism. [...]


[...] This led the American philosopher David Lyons[19] to argue, that a plausible formulation of rule-utilitarianism would make it recommend the same actions as act-utilitarianism, so the two kinds are 'extensionally equivalent' and there is no practical difference between the two. Indeed the rules take into account more and more exceptions, rule- utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism?[20]. In this case, even if there are plenty of problems with act- utilitarianism, one can wonder if rule- utilitarianism can really succeed as being the best utilitarianism form as act- utilitarianism appears as more flexible. [...]


[...] He will in all probability exaggerate his own unhappiness and underestimate the harm done to his children by the break up of the family.[15] As Hare puts it are very bad at putting ourselves in other people's shoes and imagining what it is like to be them?[16]. Finally when an individual is faced with a moral dilemma, he is often required to make instantaneous decisions. If he has to weight the positive and negative effects of each action that he is about to perform, and at the same time consider long-term effects, that is why he can be paralyzed by making such a decision, and ?lack the ability to think clearly?[17]. [...]

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