"The only rational course of action is to allow people to override the rules in the interest of the greatest utility." Act and Rule Utilitarianism are said to be very similar and maybe even collapse into each other when trying to distinguish one from the other. One article has distinguished between act and rule utilitarianism by referring to them as 'extreme' and 'restricted' utilitarianism. This article claims that the extreme or act version of utilitarianism will use the rules of morality as rules of thumb only. Those rules can be changed at any time in the interest of the greatest good or greatest happiness.
This article claims that act utilitarianism is superior to rule utilitarianism because the act utilitarian recognizes the principle of utility as overriding. The act utilitarian recognizes that even though it is not possible in every instance to be sure that the course of action is not in favor of the one who acts, and that it may not be the case in every instance that we have time to weigh the action at hand. It seems odd to claim that if we did have time, if we were sure that our actions were not in favor of ourselves, and that we were sure that the action against a rule was the right one, that we should not perform an action that does not conform to a rule. Overall, this article claims that to act on a rule when we have had the chance to weigh the benefits, is to treat the rule superstitiously. We would be treating it superstitiously because we are acting as if it was an object of worship. However, another article claims that it cannot be correct to choose act utilitarianism over rule utilitarianism because it would lead to the destruction of important social relationships, such as the family.
This leads to the differences between instrumental relationships, and diffuse relationship. There are some human relationships that would collapse if the act utilitarian principle were used as the principle of action. An example is presented about a husband and wife who discuss whether it would be to the husband's greatest benefit to leave his wife if she was ill and had little chance of regaining her health. Although this is a very insensitive example, it is concluded that a consequences of weighing the benefits is that it destroys the family, which is not of little importance or instrumental value to many people. This means that a diffuse relationship is one that should be supported, so that the family is not considered to be an instrumental relationship.
An example of an instrumental relationship would be in a business or social setting in which certain people are given tasks that they must complete, but they cannot and should not expect support outside of that area. This article concluded that for the most desirable standards to be observed, men must have confidence in each other's behavior. It is implied here that rules are logical reasons for the choice of action, and that they are logical reasons because they will tend to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The opposing article however, makes a distinction between logical rules and guides for action.
It claims that rules do not give reason for acting, rather an indication of the probable actions of others, which help to find what would be our own most rational course of action. This opposing article believes that the rule utilitarian is acting irrationally in following rules in every single case, when it is that not following the rules in some instances would actually produce the greater benefit. It is then believed that the only rational course of action is to allow people to override the rules in the interest of the greatest utility. Each person is very different in what they believe. That is why there are opposing arguments and disagreements when dealing with different topics. On the topic of act and rule utilitarianism however, rule utilitarianism seems to be the more beneficial utility for the greatest number.
As discussed above, relationships would deteriorate greatly if act utilitarianism was the principle followed. A society needs a set of rules to follow in order to survive and prosper. Although certain people break these rules, there is a great amount of trust that exists because everyone is not going around making promises that they cannot keep. An employee of a company can work comfortably and efficiently knowing that his or her boss is going to pay them the amount of money promised when first hired. If everyone followed the act principle, no one would ever know if they could be trusted. The decisions that need to be made should not always be left up to the individual person because who is to say that their judgment is the best.
The rules that have been set up for each individual society are there so benefit the people in that society and to guide in a way that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people.