When Amartya Sen defends his capability theory of well-being he contrasts it with the utility theory advocated by the classical utilitarians, including John Stuart Mill. Yet a closer examination of the two theories reveals that they are much more similar than they appear. Each theory can be interpreted in either a subjective or an objective way. When both are interpreted subjectively the differences between them are slight, and likewise for the objective interpretations. Finally, whatever differences may remain are less important (...) than they might seem, since the two theories are developed by Sen and Mill for different purposes and are in that sense not genuine rivals. (shrink)
Moral philosophers agree that welfare matters. But they disagree about what it is, or how much it matters. In this vital new work, Wayne Sumner presents an original theory of welfare, investigating its nature and discussing its importance. He considers and rejects all notable theories of welfare, both objective and subjective, including hedonism and theories founded on desire or preference. His own theory connects welfare closely with happiness or life satisfaction. Reacting against the value pluralism that currently dominates moral philosophy, (...) he advances welfare as the only basic ethical value. He concludes by discussing the implications of this thesis for ethical and political theory. Written in clear, non-technical language, and including a definitive survey of other work in this area, Sumner's book is essential reading for moral philosophers, political theorists, and welfare economists. (shrink)
How are we to understand the role of bioethics in the health care system, government, and academe? This collection of original essays raises these and other questions about the nature of bioethics as a discipline.
Time and philosophical fashion have not been kind to hedonism. After flourishing for three centuries or so in its native empiricist habitat, it has latterly all but disappeared from the scene. Does it now merit even passing attention, for other than nostalgic purposes? Like endangered species, discredited ideas do sometimes manage to make a comeback. Is hedonism due for a revival of this sort? Perhaps it is overly optimistic to think that it could ever flourish again in its original form; (...) the evolutionary changes which have rendered the philosophical environment hostile to the classical specimens of the theory are doubtless irreversible. None the less, it is still possible that certain features of the classical view can, and should, be recuperated—like bits of DNA which could contribute to the emergence of new and more robust species. So let us ask ourselves: what is living and what is dead in traditional hedonism? (shrink)
Suppose that the ultimate point of ethics is to make the world a better place. If it is, we must face the question: better in what respect? If the good is prior to the right that is, if the rationale for all requirements of the right is that they serve to further the good in one way or another then what is this good? Is there a single fundamental value capable of underlying and unifying all of our moral categories? If (...) so, how might it defeat the claims of rival candidates for this role? If not, is there instead a plurality of basic goods, each irreducible to any of the others? In that case, how do they fit together into a unified picture of the moral life?These are the questions I wish to address, in a necessarily limited way. To many the questions will seem hopelessly old-fashioned or misguided. Some deontologists will wish to reverse my ordering of the good and the right, holding that the right constrains acceptable conceptions of the good. For many contractarians, neither the good nor the right will seem normatively basic, since both are to be derived from a prior conception of rationality. Finally, some theorists will reject the classification of moral theories in terms of their basic normative categories, arguing that the whole foundationalist enterprise in ethics should be abandoned.In the face of these challenges to the priority of the good, and in light of the many current varieties of moral skepticism and relativism, I cannot provide a very convincing justification for raising the questions I intend to discuss. (shrink)
Animal liberationists tend to divide into two mutually antagonistic camps: animal welfarists, who share a utilitarian moral outlook, and animal rightists, who presuppose a structure of basic rights. However, the gap between these groups tends to be exaggerated by their allegiance to oversimplified versions of their favored moral frameworks. For their part, animal rightists should acknowledge that rights, however basic, are also defeasible by appeals to consequences. Contrariwise, animal welfarists should recognize that rights, however derivative, are capable of constraining appeals (...) to consequences. If both sides move to more defensible theoretical positions, their remaining differences on that level may be compatible with a broad area of convergence on practical issues. Keywords: animal welfare, animal rights, ethics CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
What does it mean for someone to have a moral right to something? What kinds of creatures can have rights, and which rights can they have? While rights are indispensable to our moral and political thinking, they are also mysterious and controversial; as long as these controversies remain unsolved, rights will remain vulnerable to skepticism. Here, Sumner constructs both a coherent concept of a moral right and a workable substantive theory of rights to provide the moral foundation necessary to dispel (...) such doubts. (shrink)
In the situations canvassed I have argued that (a) the dominant aim of the utilitarian will be the establishment of a fair procedure, (b) under radical uncertainty cooperation will constitute his best bet, and (c) when he knowsthat all others will cooperate it is still an open question whether he will slack, and if under some conditions he does so he does not then act unfairly. It is wise to bear in mind, however, that an enormous number of possible situations, (...) mostly mixtures of the pure cases, simply have not been considered. It is not inconceivable that in one of them the utilitarian will clearly act unfairly; I am inclined to think not, but the possibility is not entirely ruled out. (shrink)