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So from what I understand, rule utilitarianism as a doctrine states that in order to maximize utility, we should evaluate actions based on rules that, if we accept them, would maximize utility in the long-run. The typical rationale for this, as I understand it, is that if we were in a society that felt that people could violate people's basic rights whenever they feel it maximizes overall benefit, no one would feel secure and everyone would be less happy in the long run. But does this apply for every case?

Say for example three people are in a boat, all starving, and 2 of them cannibalizes the other. No one ever finds out, it doesn't affect society at all, and two people don't starve to death. How would the rule utilitarian justify this action being morally wrong?

Thanks for any responses you provide.

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  • Rule utilitarianism does not state that we should evaluate actions based on rules "in order" to maximize utility. It states that given future uncertainty and our limitations we have no better way to approach maximizing utility than to follow rules. Humans can not possibly know that "no one ever finds out", "it doesn't affect society at all", etc., so such scenarios are moot. – Conifold Dec 11 '20 at 16:59
  • @Conifold Maybe I'm misunderstanding rule utilitarianism then. Say for example if we somehow had perfect knowledge that no one would ever find out, would a rule utilitarian then support it? Also, just a further question, why do rule utilitarians support individual rights then? I thought it was because ensuring people have rights creates long term utility and social stability, but do they support rights for the same reason that you listed, because of the uncertainty involved in decision-making? – Jacob Sloat Dec 11 '20 at 18:16
  • If we had perfect knowledge rule utilitarianism would not be needed, so it is meaningless to ask what it would support if we did. Rule utilitarians support individual rights because, on average, respecting them is likely to result in better outcomes than otherwise. Rules are exactly the vehicles of insuring higher average utility in the face of uncertainty about the actual states of affairs and effects of individual actions on them. – Conifold Dec 11 '20 at 19:00

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