What is Rule Utilitarianism?Edit

Rule Utilitarianism is a teleological ethical theory that aims to bring about a greater good in all situations. This is unlike deontological ethical approaches which instead consider the intrinsic value of actions that have been taken. As it is a Utilitarian approach, it is thus consequentalist in its thinking also. This means that it considers the consequence of an action over the action itself, believing that this the only important factor involved.

The basic premise of Rule Utilitarianism that makes it differ from other Utilitarian theories is that it relies on a fundamental code of conduct that must be followed and/or considered in all circumstances. It has a much larger concern in the long-term consequences of actions over the short-term consequences, believing that brief pleasures are far inferior to long-held ones. This code of "Higher Pleasures" and "Lower Pleasures" was designed by Mill, and offers a system of morality in Utilitarianism.

Rule Utilitarianism also contains the concept of the "Harm Principle", which is a core rule that was otherwise ignored by the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. The principle enforces that it is never justified to cause harm in order to experience pleasure, and that you may only hurt others in order to protect others.

Examples of a Rule Utilitarian ApproachEdit

The Chocolate PileEdit

You're digging through your cupboards after a particularly disappointing day in your Philosophy lessons to discover that your mother has bought a

A Mountain of Taste!

tad bit too much chocolate. Sitting atop a throne of Snicker bars and Milky Ways sits a Cadbury Creme Egg bigger than the pay-packet of Harrison Ford in Indiana Jone and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Enticed by these tasty delights, you begin to wonder to yourself: Should you go crazy?

A Rule Utilitarian would conclude that eating all of the chocolate would be in the long-term dissatisfying as it would lead to obesity and very messy finger tips. While it would be briefly pleasurable to partake in the sweetie wonderland, in the long-run it would not be viable. Thus, John Stuart Mill would choose not to eat all the chocolate at once.

The BurglarEdit

A rather persistent robber has been targeting houses across the town for months. Every few nights you arrive from school to find your door thrown wide-open, swag and trinkets littering the path and trailing out into the night. One day you think that enough is enough,


and lay in hiding in your house to sub-due the cheeky bandit in the act. After a scuffle you get him tied up, leaving him completely helpless. The town demands that he be beaten for his punishment, handing you a rather vicious looking lead pipe and giving you the honours of slamming his head into the deck first. What would you do?

While one would assume that the amount of happiness that would be granted by giving him a damn good thrashing outweighs the sadness the burglar would feel for getting thrashed, due to the Harm Principle a Rule Utilitarian would not harm the poor soul. He would have to be punished in a more educated way, through things such as jail time and heavy fines. John Stuart Mill would demand that no blood be spilt over the matter, for the burglar has not physically harmed anyone.  

Table of ContentEdit

John Stuart Mill's UtilitarianismEdit