The Debate Over Utilitarianism

The Debate Over Utilitarianism

Christina Shaw: presentation End of life decisions: What are our obligations? Can Utilitarian calculus help? PHIL 2525 Contemporary Moral Issues Lec. 14

Recapping... 3 main points of Utilitarianism: Actions are judged right or wrong solely on the basis of their consequences The only thing that counts is the amount of happiness or unhappiness produced by an action (all else is irrelevant)

Each persons happiness counts the same Jane Adams The height of immorality is to make an exception of myself. 8.2 Is Pleasure All That Matters? J. S. Mill:

...happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end: all other things being desirable as a means to an end. But what is happiness? But...what is happiness? The classical answer....

Happiness is pleasure (mental states that feel good) Hedonism: pleasure is the one ultimate good; pain the one ultimate evil But...what is happiness? The classical answer....

Happiness is pleasure (mental states that feel good) Hedonism: pleasure is the one ultimate good; pain the one ultimate evil But...what is happiness? Benthams answer:

Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. But...what is happiness? Benthams answer: Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of

equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. But...what is happiness? Benthams answer: Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.

But...what is happiness? Benthams answer: Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. But...what is happiness?

Benthams answer: Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. But...what is happiness? J. S. Mills correction: He added the quality of pleasures to the quantity

He advocated civilized pleasures (better a Socrates unsatisfied than a pig satisfied...) But...what is happiness? J. S. Mills correction: He added the quality of pleasures to the quantity

He advocated civilized pleasures (better a Socrates unsatisfied than a pig satisfied) But...what is happiness? J. S. Mills correction: He added the quality of pleasures to the quantity He advocated civilized pleasures (better a

Socrates unsatisfied than a pig satisfied) Cedric Maltais: The 14th Dalai Lama speaking in Toronto October 22, 2010 presentation The sofa movement http://thesofamovement.blogspot.com/

But...what is happiness? Pleasure is a response to outside stimuli Happiness is an overall judgment about your situation Abraham Lincoln: Most folks are about as

happy as they make up their minds to be. Pleasure requires the outside world... Happiness is an inside job... Is that true? The Dream of Utilitarianism: Bringing Scientific Certainty to Ethics Part Two. Standards of Utility: A History of

Utilitarianism (after Lawrence Hinman) 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 21 Intrinsic Value

Many things have instrumental value, that is, they have value as means to an end. However, there must be some things which are not merely instrumental, but have value in themselves. This is what we call intrinsic value. What has intrinsic value? Four principal candidates: Pleasure Jeremy Bentham Happiness John Stuart Mill Ideals G. E. Moore Preferences

Kenneth Arrow and Peter Singer 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 22 Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832 Bentham believed that we should try to

increase the overall amount of pleasure in the world. 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 23 Pleasure Definition: The enjoyable feeling we experience when a state of deprivation is replaced by fulfillment. Advantages

Easy to quantify Short duration Bodily Criticisms Came to be known as the pigs philosophy Ignores higher values Could justify living on a pleasure machine 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman

24 John Stuart Mill 1806-1873 Benthams godson Believed that happiness, not pleasure, should be the standard of utility.

02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 25 Happiness Advantages A higher standard, more specific to humans About realization of goals

Disadvantages More difficult to measure Competing conceptions of happiness 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 26 G. E. Moore

1873-1958 Moore suggested that we should strive to maximize ideal values such as freedom, knowledge, justice, and beauty. Advantages: The world may not be a better place with more pleasure in it, but it certainly will be a better place with more freedom, more knowledge, more justice, and more beauty. Criticisms: Moores candidates for intrinsic good remain difficult to

quantify. 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 27 Kenneth Arrow and Peter Singer what has intrinsic value is preference satisfaction.

Advantages: it lets people choose for themselves what has intrinsic value. It simply defines intrinsic value as whatever satisfies an agents preferences. It is elegant and pluralistic. 02/24/20

Lawrence M. Hinman 28 My view is that the preferences we should satisfy, other things being equal, are those that people would hold... if they were fully informed, reflective, and vividly aware of the consequences of satisfying their

preferences. The Utilitarian Calculus Math and ethics finally merge: all consequences must be measured and weighed. Units of measurement:

Hedons: positive Dolors: negative 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 30 What do we calculate? Hedons/dolors may be defined in terms of Pleasure

Happiness Ideals Preferences For any given action, we must calculate: How many people will be affected, negatively (dolors) as well as positively (hedons) How intensely they will be affected Similar calculations for all available alternatives Choose the action that produces the greatest overall amount of utility (hedons minus dolors)

02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 31 Example: Debating the school lunch program Utilitarians would have to calculate: Benefits Increased nutrition for x number of children Increased performance, greater long-range chances of success Incidental benefits to contractors, etc.

Costs Cost to each taxpayer Contrast with other programs that could have been funded and with lower taxes (no program) Multiply each factor by Number of individuals affected Intensity of effects 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman

32 How much can we quantify? Pleasure and preference satisfaction are easier to quantify than happiness or ideals Two distinct issues: Can everything be quantified? Some would maintain that some of the most important things in life (love, family, etc.) cannot easily be quantified, while other things

(productivity, material goods) may get emphasized precisely because they are quantifiable. The danger: if it cant be counted, it doesnt count. Are quantified goods necessarily commensurable? Are a fine dinner and a good nights sleep commensurable? Can one be traded or substituted for the other? 02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 33

the problems of three little people dont amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. 02/24/20 Utilitarianism doesnt always have a cold and calculating face we perform utilitarian calculations in everyday life.

Lawrence M. Hinman 34 8.3: Are Consequences all that matter? 8.3: Are Consequences all that matter? Peeping Tom... Are Consequences all that matter? Rachels says NO ...there must be other considerations....

Justice Rights The Past 8.4: Should we be equally concerned for everyone? Utilitarianism may be... Too demanding... who among us would give up all of our luxuries to

help the far-away poor? Too disruptive of our personal relationships... who among us doesnt put family first? 8.5: Defending Utilitarianism 1. Denying that the consequences would be good... 8.5: Defending Utilitarianism

1. Denying that the consequences would be good... 2. Substituting rule-utilitarianism for (old fashioned) act-utilitarianism... Comparing Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Act utilitarianism Looks at the consequences of each individual act and calculates utility each time the act is performed. Rule utilitarianism Looks at the consequences of having everyone follow a particular rule and calculates the overall utility of accepting or rejecting the rule. 02/24/20

Lawrence M. Hinman 42 8.5: Defending Utilitarianism 1. Denying that the consequences would be good... 2. Substituting rule-utilitarianism for (old

fashioned) act-utilitarianism... 3. So called Common Sense can be very wrong... That Third Defence.... Common sense is wrong tough luck 1. All values have a utilitarian basis... 2.

Our gut reactions cant be trusted in exceptional cases... 3. We should focus on all the consequences... Summing up: Utilitarian Values The purpose of morality is to make the world a better place.

Morality is about producing good consequences, not having good intentions We should do whatever will bring the most benefit (i.e., intrinsic value) to all of humanity. Summing up: What's significant

Consequences matter: the happiness or unhappiness that result from our actions is a morally relevant consideration. The emphasis on impartiality must be central to any viable morality. Moral intuitions about cases are not infallible.

Summing up: What might be wrong Consequences are not all that matter. Considerations of rights and justice matter in ways the Utilitarian can't account for. The Dream of Utilitarianism: Scientific Certainty in Ethics If we can agree that the purpose of morality is to make

the world a better place and.. If we can scientifically assess various possible courses of action to determine which will have the greatest positive effect on the world Then We can provide a scientific answer to the question of what we ought to do.

02/24/20 Lawrence M. Hinman 48 Ursula K. LeGuin The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

What is the nature of the ethical problem here? How is it linked to the theories we have been looking at in class? In what way do we share the dilemma of the people of Omelas in our current economic and political world?

Would it be worth the life of one innocent child to free the world from, say, AIDS? How does literature aid our moral thinking? What would you do and why?

Adapted from http://r-p-e.blogspot.com/2007/03/ethics-in-ones-who-walk-awayfrom.html "What shall we do and how shall we live? According to Plato and Tolstoy and other reliable observers, this is our most important question! We should not trust any philosophy that makes this question appear foolish." [Peter Singer, The Player and the Cards: Nihilism and Legal Theory, 94 Yale L. J. 1, 3 (1984)]

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