Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rule Utilitarianism - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Rule Utilitarianism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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“Rule Utilitarianism, Rights, Obligations, and the Theory of Rational Behavior.” Theory and Decision 12(June 1980):115–133.
Harsanyi argues for the superiority of rule utilitarianism over act utilitarianism. First, rule utilitarianism achieves a better degree of spontaneous coordination (in the absence of communication) than act utilitarianism. An act utilitarian, concerned with the particular action that will maximize utility, will regard all other agents' strategies, even utilitarian ones, as given. A rule utilitarian, by contrast, will act on the assumption that all other utilitarian agents will follow the same moral rule. Given these differences, the act utilitarian will tend to act non-cooperatively in situations where a number of people taking identical actions is required to produce the action desired (e.g., a number of people must come out and vote for a desirable measure). That is, the act utilitarian will not perform the action in question when he is reasonably sure that his action will not make a difference in producing the desired outcome, which means the odds are that the act utilitarian won't perform the action. For the act utilitarian will reason that if others perform the action his contribution isn't necessary; if others don't perform the action, why should he? A rule utilitarian, on the other hand, will tend to perform the action since it is part of following the rule (e.g. voting) that maximizes utility.
Second, the author argues that rule utilitarianism is superior because it can make a rational commitment. Given the act utilitarian's concern with acts, he will not make a firm commitment in the beginning to follow the same strategy throughout the “game” but will decide on each move separately; whereas the rule utilitarian will follow the strategy he began with. It is clear that the rule utilitarian strategy of being committed in advance is more effective in maximizing utility.
Third, the author claims that the act utilitarian cannot respect individual rights and obligations since he will violate such constraints where the act of doing so produces a greater payoff. Rule utilitarians, on the other hand, have little trouble respecting such rights and obligations, as long as the rule observing such constraints produces more utility than disregarding them. Furthermore, the author claims that only rule utilitarianism can provide a firm foundation for such constraints. Rights and obligations provide the following advantages for society: they make it easier to form relatively specific expectations about people's behavior; they increase incentives to engage in desirable behavior; and they give rise to a beneficial division of labor.
The fourth advantage of rule utilitarianism is its role in solving the “voter paradox.” The voter paradox is that although, on utilitarian grounds, it seems irrational to vote, yet voters do not think this to be so. Voting is not irrational if one looks at it from the point of view of a rational commitment to a comprehensive strategy.