Utilitarianism is described as being either an act or a rule. Act utilitarianism was devised by Jeremy Bentham which he believed human beings were motivated by pleasure and pain and therefore they may do anything which brings out ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’ He believed people must measure their actions by using the hedonic calculus as it weighs up the pain and pleasure generated by the available moral actions to find the best possible outcome. However rule utilitarianism is motivated by rules, unlike act, rule believes that it is not the consequence which determines whether an act is right or wrong, however it is the act itself. Mill believed that ‘the well being of the individual was of greatest importance and that happiness is most effectively gained when the individual are free to pursue their own ends, subject to the rules that protect the common good of all’.
Act utilitarianism does not act on moral rules; the theory allows people to make their own decisions, however the decision should be based on the consequence that the action would produce. The out come must bring out the ‘Greatest good for the greatest number.’ Thus cannot be for one person alone as an act utililitarianist aim to bring out the maximum amount of good and least amount of pain. For example in act utilitarianism a group of people may be on there way to the cinema, however may come across a lady asking to give money for charity, according to act utilitarianism the people would therefore have to give up there cinema money and give it to charity instead, this is done because it would cause the maximum amount of good, as the charity would help a lot of people, and the least amount of pain as they would not be able to have money to go to the cinema, however over the next following weeks the people may be going cinema and keep having to give to charity as they always see the lady on the way, therefore the group of friends would be missing out on leisure time which would be a disadvantage of there actions.
In contrast a rule utilitarian would not persistently give up their money for charity each time, they see the good of giving to charity, because a rule is to allow time for leisure, and constantly giving up the money would not be doing so, therefore a rule utilitarian may resolve this problem by carrying extra money in to give to charity and the rest of the money to go cinema. This is because rule utilitarianism is based on acting on rules. Therefore one of the main differences between act and rule utilitarianism is that the rightness or wrongness of an action is based on the act itself and not the outcome of the act, as a result of this rule utilitarianism has a deontological approach. For example if a poor person steals money from a rich person an act utilitarianism would justify this however a rule utilitarian would be against this, as it is against the law to steal and lying does not necessarily bring out the greatest good for everyone.
In act utilitarianism the aim is to produce ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ this is determined by the use of the hedonic calculus which has 7 criteria’s which are used as a guide to weigh up the pleasure of pains in a situation, this is so that they know how to act regarding a situation and know how much pleasure would be produced, therefore they would hope the consequence of their actions would produce the maximum amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people, and the least amount of pain. However Mill did not agree with this he said justice is the main thing and argued that selfless organizations do not use the hedonic calculus because they do not think about themselves, they are concerned with everyone having the greatest good.
Jeremy Bentham’s theory aims to produce the greatest amount of pleasure for the majority, however Mills theory distinguishes between 2 types of pleasures which are high pleasures and low pleasures, higher pleasure are those of the mind such as emotions, imagination and intellectual pursuits etc, and lower pleasures are bodily things such as food, intercourse, drugs and drink etc, and it is better to seek higher pleasure than lower pleasure, so from this Mill said we can evaluate a situation and experiences should tell a person that if you kill someone it would not result in a higher or lower pleasure therefore you should not kill which is a general rule.
Therefore the difference between act and rule utilitarianism, is that rule utilitarianism is based on rules and following the rules, even if it does not produce the greatest pleasure for the greatest number, as telling the truth instead of lying is good for everyone. Also rule utilitarianism believes that there are 2 types of pleasures, which are higher and lower, and everyone should aim for higher pleasure ‘ as it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a satisfied pig.’ However in act utilitarianism, Jeremy believed it is best to produce the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ by weighing up the pleasure and pain using the hedonic calculus as it would help on deciding what act to do in order to lead to maximum goodness. In rule utilitarianism they believe that people should follow the moral rules as it is for all good, however in act utilitarianism they believe that the act itself determines whether it is right or wrong, however it is the consequence which does so.