Utilitarianism and the moral significance of an individual

Southwest Philosophy Review 21 (1):53-60 (2005)
Abstract
Classical utilitarianism attempts to reduce the moral significance of the individual to something more basic: the value of the individual is seen as fully grounded in considerations of utility maximization. This paper criticizes this aspect of utilitarianism and tries to do so through an appeal to considerations that would be acceptable to one who embraces utilitarianism. First, an example is developed in which (1) a pair of mutually exclusive actions each yield infinite utility; (2) neither action can be said to yield more utility than the other, and (3) one of the actions is clearly preferable. This provides a case in which the moral significance of the individual cannot be fully reduced to considerations of utility maximizing features of the action. A second example, developed along the lines of the first example, involves only finite utilities.
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