Two essays on utilitarianism, written from opposite points of view, by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams. In the first part of the book Professor Smart advocates a modern and sophisticated version of classical utilitarianism; he tries to formulate a consistent and persuasive elaboration of the doctrine that the rightness and wrongness of actions is determined solely by their consequences, and in particular their consequences for the sum total of human happiness. This is a revised version of (...) Professor Smart's famous essay 'an outline of a system of utilitarian ethics', first published in 1961 but long unobtainable. In Part II Bernard Williams offers a sustained and vigorous critique of utilitarian assumptions, arguments and ideals. He finds inadequate the theory of action implied by utilitarianism, and he argues that utilitarianism fails to engage at a serious level with the real problems of moral and political philosophy, and fails to make sense of notions such as integrity, or even human happiness itself. Both authors are agreed on utilitarianism's importance: it cuts across a number of different philosophical disputes and combines a systematic account of mata-ethical problems with a distinctive and substantive moral stand. It thus is, or involves, philosophy in both the traditional and the narrower, professional sense of the word, and is a key topic (often the first topic) in introductory philosophy courses. This book should also be of interest to welfare economists, political scientists and decision-theorists. (shrink)
Utilitarianism, the great reforming philosophy of the nineteenth century, has today acquired the reputation for being a crassly calculating, impersonal philosophy unfit to serve as a guide to moral conduct. Yet what may disqualify utilitarianism as a personal philosophy makes it an eminently suitable guide for public officials in the pursuit of their professional responsibilities. Robert E. Goodin, a philosopher with many books on political theory, public policy and applied ethics to his credit, defends utilitarianism against its (...) critics and shows how it can be applied most effectively over a wide range of public policies. In discussions of such issues as paternalism, social welfare policy, international ethics, nuclear armaments, and international responses to the environment crisis, he demonstrates what a flexible tool his brand of utilitarianism can be in confronting the dilemmas of public policy in the real world. (shrink)
This book is a rebuttal of the common charge that the moral doctrine of utilitarianism permits horrible acts, justifies unfair distribution of wealth and other social goods, and demands too much of moral agents. Bailey defends utilitarianism by applying central insights of game theory regarding feasible equilibria and evolutionary stability of norms to elaborate an account of institutions that real-world utilitarians would want to foster. With such an account he shows that utilitarianism, while still a useful doctrine (...) for criticizing existing institutions, is far more congruent with ordinary moral common sense than has been generally recognized. A controversial attempt to support the practical use of utilitarian ethics in a world of conflicting interests and competing moral agents, Bailey's work uniquely bridges the abstract debate of philosophers and the practical, consequence-based debates of political scientists. (shrink)
Introduction -- The nature and assessment of moral theories -- What is utilitarianism? -- Well-being -- Utilitarian aggregation -- A user-friendly guide to action? -- Is utilitarianism too demanding? -- Is utilitarianism too permissive? -- The way outcomes are brought about -- The place of rules in utilitarianism.
John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism is one of the most important philosophical works of the nineteenth century. Its advocacy of utilitarianism--the view that individual and political action should be directed at the "greatest happiness"--not only influenced political life, but attracted a great deal of criticism. This is the first book dedicated to the interpretation and critical discussion of this significant work.
A critical edition of three works of Bentham, Deontology and The Article on Utilitarianism were previously unpublished. Together with An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, they provide a comrehensive exposition of Bentham's views. Based entirely on manuscripts by Bentham of his amanuenses, this edition's full introduction linking the three works. Each work is supplemented with detailed and critical notes.
Utilitarianism is the view according to which the only basic requirement of morality is to maximize net aggregate welfare. This position has implications for the ethics of creating and rearing children. Most discussions of these focus either on the ethics of procreation and in particular on how many and whom it is right to create , or on whether utilitarianism permits the kind of partiality that child rearing requires. Despite its importance to raising children, there are, by contrast, (...) few sustained discussions of the implications of utilitarian views of welfare for the matter of what makes a child’s life go well. This paper attempts to remedy this deficiency. It has four sections. Section one briefly outlines the purpose of a theory of welfare and its adequacy conditions. Section two evaluates what prominent utilitarian theories of welfare imply about what makes a child’s life go well. Section three provides a sketch of a view about what is prudentially valuable for children. Section four sums things up. (shrink)
Fred Feldman is an important philosopher, who has made a substantial contribution to utilitarian moral philosophy. This collection of ten previously published essays plus a new introductory essay reveal the striking originality and unity of his views. Feldman's version of utilitarianism differs from traditional forms in that it evaluates behaviour by appeal to the values of accessible worlds. These worlds are in turn evaluated in terms of the amounts of pleasure they contain, but the conception of pleasure involved is (...) a novel one and the formulation of hedonism improved. In Feldman's view pleasure is not a feeling but a propositional attitude. He also deals with problems of justice that affect standard forms of utilitarianism. The collection is ideally suited for courses on contemporary utilitarian theory. (shrink)
As a member of the British Oxford Group, psychologist Richard Ryder marked the beginning of the modern animal rights and animal welfare movement in the seventies. By introducing the concept “speciesism.” Ryder contributed importantly to the expansion of this movement. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to Ryder’s moral theory, “painism”, that aims to resolve the conflict between the two predominant rival theories in animal ethics, the deontological of Tom Regan and the utilitarian of Peter Singer. First, this paper examines (...) the kernel and historical sources of Ryder’s painist theory, linking it to the work of John Rawls and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Second, it examines Ryder’s critique of utilitarianism. It is argued that his critique of Singer’s use of the word “sentience” is unconvincing and that his critique of utilitarian aggregation as not taking a full account of the metaphysical separateness of persons, has already been countered and dealt with. Finally this paper looks at some of the counterintuitive implications of Ryder’s theory and argues that utilitarianism might have more resources for dealing with its own alleged counterintuitive implications than Ryder acknowledges. (shrink)
Harsanyi defends utilitarianism by means of an axiomatic proof and by what he calls the 'equiprobability model'. Both justifications of utilitarianism aim to show that utilitarian ethics can be derived from Bayesian rationality and some weak moral constraints on the reasoning of rational agents. I argue that, from the perspective of Bayesian agents, one of these constraints, the impersonality constraint, is not weak at all if its meaning is made precise, and that generally, it even contradicts individual rational (...) agency. Without the impersonality constraint, Harsanyi's two justifications of utilitarianism on the grounds of Bayesian rationality fail. As an alternative, I develop a contractarian framework that is compatible with individual rational agency and Harsanyi's central assumptions, and that allows the derivation of moral conclusions on the grounds of Bayesian rationality. The developed framework offers a novel justification of contractarian ethics and may best be described as a combined version of Harsanyi's equiprobability model and Rawls's original position. (shrink)
This paper discusses the argument for preference utilitarianism proposed by Richard Hare in Moral Thinking(Hare, 1981). G. F. Schueler (1984) and Ingmar Persson (1989) identified a serious gap in Hare’s reasoning, which might be called the No-Conflict Problem. The paper first tries to fill the gap. Then, however, starting with an idea of Zeno Vendler, the question is raised whether the gap is there to begin with. Unfortunately, this Vendlerian move does not save Hare from criticism. Paradoxically, it instead (...) endangers the whole argumentative enterprise. (shrink)
Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics explores the foundations of early utilitarianism as well as the theoretical basis of social ethics and policy in modern Western welfare states. Matti Hayry shows how philosophers have misunderstood the very nature of utilitarianism since the turn of the 19th century and identifies the resulting problems in contemporary utilitarianism. Hayry argues that when the classical utilitarian principles of happiness, hedonism and impartiality are combined, the ensuing ethical theory may demand that we (...) act immorally or unjustly. This is because the scope of the utilitarian theory has been extended too far. Hayry develops a more limited utilitarian theory based on the ethos of early British universal altruism. He argues that a limited version of liberal utilitarianism and the methods of applied ethics should be employed to define our moral duties and rights. This is an important book in current discussions on social ethics and policy. Hayry's accomplished defense of utilitarian morality is certain to provoke debate. (shrink)
Climate change has obvious practical implications. It will kill millions of people, wipe out thousands of species, and so on. My question in this paper is much narrower. How might climate change impact on moral theory – and especially on the debate between utilitarians and their non-utilitarian rivals? I argue that climate change creates serious theoretical difficulties for non-utilitarian moral theories – especially those that based morality or justice on any contract or bargain for reciprocal advantage. Climate change thus tips (...) the dialectical balance in favour of utilitarianism. However, I also argue that, because it upsets assumptions that lie behind the most plausible forms of modern utilitarianism, climate change may also push utilitarianism in a more austere and demanding direction. (shrink)
The Elimination of Morality poses a fundamental challenge to the dominant conception of medical ethics. In this controversial and timely study, Anne Maclean addresses the question of what kind of contribution philosophers can make to the discussion of medico-moral issues and the work of health care professionals. She establishes the futility of bioethics by challenging the conception of reason in ethics which is integral to the utilitarian tradition. She argues that a philosophical training confers no special authority to make pronouncements (...) about moral issues, and proposes that pure utilitarianism eliminates the essential ingredients of moral thinking. Maclean also exposes the inadequacy of a utilitarian account of moral reasoning and moral life, dismissing the claim that reason demands the rejection of special obligations. She argues that the utilitarian drive to reduce rational moral judgment to a single form is ultimately destructive of moral judgment as such. This vital discussion of the nature of medical ethics and moral philosophy will be important reading for anyone interested in the fields of health care ethics and philosophy. (shrink)
What if human joy (more technically, utility) went on endlessly? Suppose, for example, that each human generation were followed by another, or that the Western religions are right when they teach that each human being lives eternally after death. If any such possibility is true in the actual world, then an agent might sometimes be so situated that more than one course of action would produce an infinite amount of utility (or of disutility, or of both). Deciding whether to have (...) a child born this year rather than next is a situation wherein an agent may face several alternatives whose effects could well ramify endlessly on such suppositions, for the child born this year would be a different person—one who preferred different things, performed different actions, and had different descendants—from a child born next year. It has recently been suggested that traditional utilitarianism stumbles on such cases of infinite utility. Specifically, utilitarianism seems to require, for its application, that all experience of pleasure and pain cease at some time in the future or asymptotically approach zero. If neither of these conditions holds, then the utility (and disutility) produced by each of two alternative actions may turn out to be infinite, and utilitarianism thus loses its ability to discriminate morally between them. (shrink)
Apart from a short introduction, this contribution consists of a translation of Tadeusz Kotarbinski’s “Utilitarianism and The Ethics of Pity” (1914). In that very concise and relatively unknown early note, written before he embarked on his long and influential career as a nominalist logician and philosopher of science, Kotarbinski had formulated four astonishingly ‘modern’ objections to utilitarianism. Unlike Christian ‘ethics of pity’, utilitarian ethics (i) disregards the normative importance of the distinction between preventing suffering and promoting happiness, (ii) (...) leaves no room for supererogation, (iii) leaves no room for agent-relativity in morality insofar as it disallows ‘inefficient’ self-sacrifice, and (iv) rejects the possibility of genuine ethical dilemmas. To what extent was Kotarbinski a pioneer in his critique? This question is posed but not answered. (shrink)
Let us imagine an ideal ethical agent, i.e., an agent who (i) holds a certain ethical theory, (ii) has all factual knowledge needed for determining which action among those open to her is right and which is wrong, according to her theory, and who (iii) is ideally motivated to really do whatever her ethical theory demands her to do. If we grant that the notions of omniscience and ideal motivation both make sense, we may ask: Could there possibly be an (...) ideal utilitarian, that is, an ideal ethical agent whose ethical theory says that our only moral obligation consists in maximizing utility? I claim that an ideal agent cannot be utilitarian. My reasoning against ideal utilitarianism will parallel Putnam's famous argument against the brains in a vat. Putnam argues that an envatted brain cannot describe its own situation because its words do not refer to brains and vats; I argue that an ideal utilitarian cannot entertain or communicate the beliefs necessary to being a utilitarian. (shrink)
A layered approach to the evaluation of action alternatives with continuous time for decision making under the moral doctrine of Negative Utilitarianism is presented and briefly discussed from a philosophical perspective.
In the attempt of defending an interpretation of David Hume's moral and political philosophy connected to classical utilitarianism, intervenes in a key way the so called problem of the " Sensitive Knave " raised by this author at the end of his more utilitarian work, the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. According to the classic interpretation of this fragment, the utilitarian rationality in politics would clash with morality turning useless the latter. Therefore, in the political area the defense (...) of a moral utilitarianism would be an auto contradictory task. In order to show that, first, Hume does not say anything similar to this and second, that even indicates the way of overcoming this apparent contradiction between morality and rationality, we analyze briefly the arguments from which there comes basically this "anti-utilitarian" standard interpretation, and we defend an interpretation of the humean discussion on the problem of the supposed conflict between morality and rationality, or of rational incentives for immoral behavior, which allows to explain better Hume's position on this problem. Finally, we propose an instance of overcoming the contradiction morality/ rationality by a rule adjusted utilitarianism centered on the idea of the "progressive development of artificial institutions of reinforcement of morality", that Hume himself would suggest in other places in which he approaches the topic of the apparent contradiction between "morality" and "knavery". We propose also possible lines of future development of this idea, between them its use to clarify the relation of David Hume's thought with certain forms of contemporary liberalism. (shrink)
John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism is one of the most important, controversial, and suggestive works of moral philosophy ever written. Mill defends the view that all human action should produce the greatest happiness overall, and that happiness itself is to be understood as consisting in "higher" and "lower" pleasures. This volume uses the 1871 edition of the text, the last to be published in Mill's lifetime. The text is preceded by a comprehensive introduction assessing Mill's philosophy and the alternatives to (...)utilitarianism, and discussing some of the specific issues Mill raises in Utilitarianism. (shrink)
The author identifies and defines the features of traditional utilitarian theories which account for their appeal, demonstrates that no theory which is "exclusively act-oriented" can have all the properties that ultilitarians have attempted to build into their theories, and develops a new theory "co-operative utilitarianism", which is radically different than traditional theories.
A volume of studies of utilitarianism considered both as a theory of personal morality and a theory of public choice. All but two of the papers have been commissioned especially for the volume, and between them they represent not only a wide range of arguments for and against utilitarianism but also a first-class selection of the most interesting and influential work in this very active area. There is also a substantial introduction by the two editors. The volume will (...) constitute an important stimulus and point of reference for a wide range of philosophers, economists and social theorists. (shrink)
Richard Brandt is one of the most eminent and influential of contemporary moral philosophers. His work has been concerned with how to justify what is good or right not by reliance on intuitions or theories about what moral words mean but by the explanation of moral psychology and the description of what it is to value something, or to think it immoral. His approach thus stands in marked contrast to the influential theories of John Rawls. The essays reprinted in this (...) collection span a period of almost 30 years and include many classic pieces in metaethical and normative ethical theory. The collection is aimed at both those moral philosophers familiar with Brandt's work and at those philosophers who may be largely unfamiliar with his work. The latter group will be struck by the lucid unpretentious style and the cumulative weight of Brandt's contributions to topics that remain at the forefront of moral philosophy. (shrink)
Utilizing the film I, Robot as a springboard, I here consider the feasibility of robot utilitarians, the moral responsibilities that come with the creation of ethical robots, and the possibility of distinct ethics for robot-robot interaction as opposed to robot-human interaction. (This is a revised and expanded version of an essay that originally appeared in IEEE: Intelligent Systems.).
This book presents a new interpretation of the principle of utility in moral and political theory based on the writings of the classical utilitarians. The writings of Adam Smith, William Paley and Jeremy Bentham are also considered.
The utlitiarian economist and Nobel Laureate John Harsanyi and the liberal egalitarian philosopher John Rawls were two of the most eminent scholars writing on problems of social justice in the last century. The contributions to this volume, addressed to an interdisciplinary audience, pay tribute to them by investigating themes that figure prominently in their work. In some cases, the contributors explore issues considered by Harsanyi and Rawls in more depth and from novel perspectives. In others, the contributors use the work (...) of Harsanyi and Rawls as points of departure for pursuing the construction of new theories for the evaluation of social justice. (shrink)
Drawing extensively on Bentham's unpublished civil and distributive law writings, classical and recent Bentham scholarship, and contemporary work in moral and political philosophy, Kelly here presents the first full-length exposition and sympathetic defense of Bentham's unique utilitarian theory of justice. Kelly shows how Bentham developed a moderate welfare-state liberal theory of justice with egalitarian leanings, the aim of which was to secure the material and political conditions of each citizen's pursuit of the good life in cooperation with each other. A (...) striking and original addition to the growing literature on Bentham's legal and political thought, this incisive study also makes a valuable contribution to contemporary political philosophy. (shrink)
In this article I defend a rule utilitarian approach to paternalistic policies in research with human participants. Some rules that restrict individual autonomy can be justified on the grounds that they help to maximize the overall balance of benefits over risks in research. The consequences that should be considered when formulating policy include not only likely impacts on research participants, but also impacts on investigators, institutions, sponsors, and the scientific community. The public reaction to adverse events in research (such as (...) significant injury to participants or death) is a crucial concern that must be taken into account when assessing the consequences of different policy options, because public backlash can lead to outcomes that have a negative impact on science, such as cuts in funding, overly restrictive regulation and oversight, and reduced willingness of individuals to participate in research. I argue that concern about the public reaction to adverse events justifies some restrictions on the risks that competent, adult volunteers can face in research that offers them no significant benefits. The paternalism defended here is not pure, because it involves restrictions on the rights of investigators in order to protect participants. It also has a mixed rationale, because individual autonomy may be restricted not only to protect participants from harm but also to protect other stakeholders. Utility is not the sole justification for paternalistic research policies, since other considerations, such as justice and respect for individual rights/autonomy, must also be taken into account. (shrink)
There are many forms of utilitarianism, and the development of the theory has continued in recent years. I shall not survey these forms here, nor take account of the numerous refinements found in contemporary discussions. My aim is to work out a theory of justice that represents an alternative to utilitarian thought generally and so to all of these different versions of it. I believe that the contrast between the contract view and utilitarianism remains essentially the same in (...) all these cases. Therefore I shall compare justice as fairness with familiar variants of intuitionism, perfectionism, and utilitarianism in order to bring out the underlying differences in the simplest way. With this end in mind, the kind of utilitarianism I shall describe here is the strict classical doctrine which receives perhaps its clearest and most accessible formulation in Sidgwick. The main idea is that society is rightly ordered, and therefore just, when its major institutions are arranged so as to achieve the greatest net balance of satisfaction summed over all the individuals belonging to it.9.. (shrink)
In the long history of moral theory, non-human animals—hereafter, just animals—have often been neglected entirely or have been relegated to some secondary status. Since its emergence in the early 19th century, utilitarianism has made a difference in that respect by focusing upon happiness or well-being (and their contraries) rather than upon the beings who suffer or enjoy. Inevitably, that has meant that human relations to and use of other animals have appeared in a different light. Some cases have seemed (...) easy: once admit that the interests of animals matter and there can be little hesitation in condemning their cruel treatment. Among the more difficult cases has been the bearing of utilitarianism upon the use of animals in various kinds of research where, though the animals might suffer, there were believed to be prospects of great human benefit and where no cruel or malicious motives need be involved. What I shall provide in the current paper is an extended discussion of the bearing of utilitarianism upon practices of animal research. Since such practices have attracted both utilitarian criticism and defense, this will require the examination of arguments on both sides, including consideration of the human benefits, the animal costs, and the ways in which the one can be weighed against the other. (shrink)
This essay argues, flouting paradox, that Mill was a utilitarian but not a consequentialist. First, it contends that there is logical space for a view that deserves to be called utilitarian despite its rejection of consequentialism; second, that this logical space is, in fact, occupied by John Stuart Mill. The key to understanding Mill's unorthodox utilitarianism and the role it plays in his moral philosophy is to appreciate his sentimentalist metaethics—especially his account of wrongness in terms of fitting guilt (...) and resentment. Mill recognizes a fundamental moral asymmetry between the agent and others, which conflicts intractably with a presupposition of consequentialism. This allows him to differentiate three potentially conflicting evaluative spheres: morality, prudence, and aesthetics. This essay's account of Mill's utilitarianism coheres with his defense of individual liberty and his embrace of supererogation, both of which elude traditional interpretations. (shrink)
Utilitarianism has dominated media ethics for a century. For Mill, individual autonomy and neutrality are the foundations of his On Liberty and System of Logic, as well as his Utilitarianism. These concepts fit naturally with media ethics theory and professional practice in a democratic society. However, the weaknesses in utilitarianism articulated by Ross and others direct us at this stage to a dialogic ethics of duty instead. Habermas's discourse ethics, feminist ethics, and communitarian ethics are examples of (...) duty ethics rooted in the dialogic relation that enable us to start over intellectually. (shrink)
The critique of utilitarianism forms a crucial subplot in the complex analysis of social justice that John Rawls develops in his first book, A Theory of Justice.1 The weaknesses of utilitarianism indicate the need for an alternative theory, and at many stages of the argument the test for the adequacy of the new theory that Rawls elaborates is whether it can be demonstrated to be superior to the utilitarian rival. The account of social justice shifts in the transition (...) to Rawls’s second great book, Political Liberalism. The account of what is wrong with utilitarianism undergoes revision as well. In this essay I examine both the initial critique of utilitarianism and its transformation in Rawls’s later writings. To anticipate my conclusion: Rawls’s proposal that we should maximin rather than maximize leads to an interesting standoff. The argument for maximin is not compelling, but straight additive maximization of the utilitarian sort is revealed to be merely one possible function among many, any of which (for all we know) correct morality might instruct us to maximize. Rawls further urges that utilitarianism goes astray in taking the maximandum, the thing to be maximized, to be utility rather than primary social goods. The argument for primary social goods is not compelling, but it does not follow that utility alone is to be maximized. The espousal of the ideal of legitimacy in Political Liberalism does not affect these conclusions, and the arguments.. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to show how some of the controversial questions concerning utilitarianism can be clarified by the modelling techniques and the other analytical tools of decision theory (and, sometimes, of game theory). It is suggested that the moral rules of utilitarian ethics have a logical status similar to that of the normative rules (theorems) of such formal normative disciplines as decision theory and game theory.The paper argues that social utility should be defined, not in hedonistic (...) or in ideal-utilitarian terms, but rather in terms of individual preferences, in accordance with the author's equiprobability model of moral value judgments. (shrink)
One familiar criticism of utilitarianism is that it is too demanding. It requires us to promote the happiness of others, even at the expense of our own projects, our integrity, or the welfare of our friends and family. Recently Ashford has defended utilitarianism, arguing that it provides compelling reasons for demanding duties to help the needy, and that other moral theories, notably contractualism, are committed to comparably stringent duties. In response, I argue that utilitarianism is even more (...) demanding than is commonly realized: both act- and rule-utilitarianism are committed to extremely stringent duties to wild animals. In this regard, utilitarianism is more demanding (and more counter-intuitive) than contractualism. (shrink)
An important test of any moral theory is whether it can give a satisfactory account of moral prohibitions such as those against promise breaking and lying. Act-utilitarianism (hereafter utilitarianism) implies that any act can be justified if it results in the best consequences. Utilitarianism implies that it is sometimes morally right to break promises and tell lies. Few people find this result to be counterintuitive and very few are persuaded by Kant’s arguments that attempt to show that (...) lying is always wrong, even if it is necessary to save someone’s life. One thing that makes Kant’s view about lying so implausible is that he is committed to the view that the duty not to lie is always more important than any conflicting duties. Even if we agree with utilitarianism that lying and promise breaking are sometimes morally permissible, we may still be inclined to think that utilitarianism is too permissive about lying and promise breaking. Ross gives the definitive statement of this criticism. He holds that there is a strong, but overrridable, moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises that is independent of utilitarian considerations. Almost all utilitarians claim that there is a strong moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises on account of the direct and indirect bad consequences of those actions. However, utilitarians cannot say that there is any moral presumption against lying and promise breaking that is independent of their bad consequences. Many philosophers think that Ross’s theory constitutes a kind of reasonable middle ground in ethics between Kant’s absolutism and utilitarianism. Ross’s theory is arguably the major ethical theory that is closest to most people’s commonsense moral beliefs. It is noteworthy that the two most important defenders of rule-utilitarianism/rule-consequentialism. (shrink)
Fixed-rate versions of rule-consequentialism and rule-utilitarianism evaluate rules in terms of the expected net value of one particular level of social acceptance, but one far enough below 100% social acceptance to make salient the complexities created by partial compliance. Variable-rate versions of rule-consequentialism and rule-utilitarianism instead evaluate rules in terms of their expected net value at all different levels of social acceptance. Brad Hooker has advocated a fixed-rate version. Michael Ridge has argued that the variable-rate version is better. (...) The debate continues here. Of particular interest is the difference between the implications of Hooker's and Ridge's rules about doing good for others. (shrink)
A common objection to utilitarianism is that it clashes with our common moral intuitions. Understanding the role that heuristics play in moral judgments undermines this objection. It also indicates why we should not use John Rawls' model of reflective equilibrium as the basis for testing normative moral theories.
Mill's famous proportionality statement of the Greatest Happiness Principle (GHP) is commonly taken to specify his own moral theory. And the discussion in which GHP is embedded -- Chapter 2 of Utilitarianism -- predominates the interpretation of Mill's normative philosophy. Largely because of these suppositions, Mill is traditionally read as a particular kind of utilitarian: a maximizing act-consequentialist. This paper argues that the canonical status accorded to Utilitarianism is belied by the text itself, as well as by its (...) historical context, and that this point largely undermines the orthodox interpretation of Mill. In fact, GHP was intended as the statement of a common creed, acceptable to the diverse class of philosophers Mill counted as utilitarian. Moreover, the discussion of substantive moral theory in Utilitarianism in several respects does not reflect his own view, and the work itself is much less important than it is almost universally taken to be -- though not, it turns out, by Mill himself. (shrink)
Act-utilitarianism comes in two standard varieties: subjective act-utilitarianism, which tells agents to attempt to maximize utility directly, and objective act-utilitarianism, which permits agents to use non-utilitarian decision-making procedures. This article argues that objective actutilitarianism is exposed to a dilemma. On one horn of it is the contention that objective act-utilitarianism makes inconsistent claims about the rightness of acts. On the other horn of it is the contention that objective act-utilitarianism collapses back into what is, essentially, (...) subjective act-utilitarianism. Three objective act-utilitarian responses to this dilemma are explored and rejected. The recommended conclusion is that a consistent utilitarian must either embrace subjective act-utilitarianism, or abandon act-utilitarianism altogether. Key Words: act-utilitarianism subjective objective decision-making procedure criterion of rightness dilemma. (shrink)
Richard Henson has argued that hedonistic-average-act-utilitarianism has the extremely counter-intuitive consequence that certain individuals ought to be killed simply because they are unhappy and because their deaths would raise the average level of happiness. It is argued that Henson's criticisms are correct and that they can be extended to other versions of utilitarianism: total (as opposed to average) utilitarianism, non-hedonistic versions of utilitarianism, and those versions of act-utilitarianism that have originated in the recent controversy about (...) population control. (shrink)
John Rawls's claim to have demonstrated the superiority of his own two principles of justice to the principle of utility has generated fairly extensive critical discussion. However, this discussion has almost completely disregarded those of Rawls's arguments that are concerned with practicability, despite the significance accorded to them by Rawls himself. This article addresses the three most important of Rawls's objections against the practicability of utilitarianism: (1) that utilitarianism would generate too much disagreement to be politically workable, (2) (...) that a utilitarian society would be vulnerable to social instability, and (3) that publicly adopting the principle of utility as the ultimate criterion of right and wrong would undermine the self-respect of some citizens. It is argued that Rawls's objections are either exaggerated or mistaken, and that this may have an impact on the assessment of `justice as fairness' as well as the utilitarian doctrine. Key Words: justice as fairness • feasibility • disagreement • stability • self-respect. (shrink)
Ideal utilitarianism states that the only fundamental requirement of morality is to promote a plurality of intrinsic goods. This paper critically evaluates Hastings Rashdall’s arguments for ideal utilitarianism, while comparing them with G. E. Moore’s arguments. Section I outlines Rashdall’s ethical outlook. Section II considers two different arguments that he provides for its theory of rightness. Section III discusses his defence of a pluralist theory of value. Section IV argues that Rashdall makes a lasting contribution to the defence (...) of ideal utilitarianism. (shrink)
The centennial of Dewey & Tuft’s Ethics (1908) provides a timely opportunity to reflect both on Dewey’s intellectual debt to utilitarian thought, and on his critique of it. In this paper I examine Dewey’s assessment of utilitarianism, but also his developing view of the good (ends; consequences), the right (rules; obligations) and the virtuous (approbations; standards) as “three independent factors in morals.” This doctrine (found most clearly in the 2nd edition of 1932) as I argue in the last sections, (...) has significant forward-going implications for debates in ethics, insofar as it functions to deflate debates among ethicists that turns on claims about the conceptual primacy of any one of these three ethical concepts over the other two. To find what “permanent value each group contributes to the clarification and direction of reflective morality” was the task Dewey set for himself. But to carry that project through demands showing also why the application of considerations of ends, rules, and virtues to problems of practice is not quite as many self-described utilitarians, deontologists, and virtue ethicists conceive it. (shrink)
Utilitarianism continues to vex its critics even in the absence of generally respected arguments in its favour. I suggest that utilitarianism survives largely because of its welfarism. This explains why it survives without the backing of respected arguments. It survives without such arguments because justifying the value of welfare requires no such argument. Correspondence:c1 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The most widely repeated retributivist argument against the utilitarian theory of punishment is that utilitarianism permits punishment of the innocent. While defenders of utilitarianism have shown that a publicly announced policy of punishing the innocent is unlikely to serve utility, critics have insisted that utilitarianism morally obliges officials to deceive the public by framing the innocent. Yet philosophers and legal scholars have heretofore failed to test this claim against the writings of the theory's originators. We directly examine (...) the writings of Jeremy Bentham and other eighteenth and nineteenth century utilitarians and demonstrate that the originators of utilitarian penology clearly opposed both punishment of the innocent and deception of the public. We argue that utilitarianism originated as a legal theory that emphasized several institutional conditions for the public pursuit of utility, including security of person and property, legality, legislative supremacy, democratic accountability, publicity and transparency. These institutional conditions would preclude both systematic and ad hoc framing of the innocent. We show that the original utilitarians considered individuals incompetent to determine and pursue the public welfare, and that the contemporary conception of utilitarianism as an ethical standard governing individuals is a modern innovation. Bentham's theory of punishment did not derive from any general ethical theory. Bentham, like his chief forebears Hume, Helvetius and Beccaria, thought of public utility as a standard of value for public action, such as legislation. He assumed that private action was ruled by self-interest (i.e. private utility) so that there was little point in directing arguments about the general welfare to individual ethical actors. In assessing public action, Bentham was far less concerned about consequences than has generally been supposed and far more concerned about process. He identified utility with security of expectations and the rule of law. As a consequence, he endorsed public actions that could be seen to have emerged from a rational and well-informed debate about their consequences for the public welfare. Utility was not a definition of the good or a guide to conscience, but a standard designed for use in public, deliberative debate. Utilitarianism was not so much a philosophical theory as a rhetorical practice, understood as a transparent language of analysis and argument for use in political deliberation.We elaborate the procedural conditions presupposed by utilitarian discourse, beginning with Bentham's commitment to a conception of legality involving legislative promulgation of formal rules faithfully applied by rigidly constrained bureaucrats and judges. Next, we demonstrate Bentham's commitment to democratic representation of the public in devising legislation. Finally, we emphasize Bentham's commitment to publicity in government decisionmaking. Utilitarian policy required public scrutiny of all decisions and the information and reasons considered in making them. In sum, Bentham's utilitarianism was primarily concerned with the problem of how to design government so that it could accurately identify and faithfully pursue the public good while being openly seen to do so. It follows that Bentham's utility principle does not require him to endorse deceiving the public and framing an innocent person. (shrink)
The paper begins by situating Singer within the British meta-ethical tradition. It sets out the main steps in his argument for utilitarianism as the ‘default setting’ of ethical thought. It argues that Singer’s argument depends on a hierarchy of reasons, such that the ethical viewpoint is understood to be an adaptation – an extension – of a fundamental self-interest. It concludes that the argument fails because it is impossible to get from this starting-point in self-interest to his conception of (...) the ethical point of view. The fundamental problem is its mixing the immiscible: the Humean subordination of reason to interest with the Kantian conception of reason as universal and authoritative. (shrink)
In this paper I argue for the following conclusions: 1. The widely shared beliefs that in utilitarianism and consequentialism (a) the good has priority over the right and (b) the right is derived from the good, are both false. 2. The most plausible components of utilitarianism that are used to present it as an intuitively compelling moral theory - welfarism, consequentialism and maximization - do not in fact support utilitarianism because they do not establish that the best (...) state of affairs is the one with the highest sum total of the non-moral good. These components cannot determine which state of affairs is the best and therefore leave it entirely open whether one should opt for distribution-insensitive utilitarianism or a distribution-sensitive welfarist consequentialism. Since this is left open, it is not the case that distribution-insensitive utilitarianism is the default option and every deviation from it towards a more just distribution needs to be defended against utilitarianism. Rather, in light of our moral intuitions and the persistence of the objection from justice against utilitarianism, it seems to be the other way round, that distribution-sensitivity is the default option and any deviation from it bears the burden of proof. (shrink)
InMoral Thinking R. M. Hare offers a very influential defense of utilitarianism against intuitive objections. Hare's argument is roughly that utilitarianism conflicts with defensible moral intuitions only in unusual cases and that, in such cases, even defensible moral intuitions are unreliable. This paper reconstructs Hare's arguments and argues that they presuppose the success of his problematic proof of utilitarianism. Contrary to what many have thought, Hare's negative defense of utilitarianism against intuitive objections is not separable from (...) his proof. In the second part of the paper I argue that Hare does not succeed in defending utilitarianism against the objection that it is too demanding. The final section of the paper sketches a substantially revised version of Hare's reply to intuitive objections. So revised, the argument is independent of Hare's proof and affords a plausible answer to the objection that utilitarianism is too demanding. (shrink)
R. M. Hare's Nora/ Thinking is surely one of the most compelling defenses of utilitarianism to appear in many years. Hare defends utilitarianism at some length against the objection that it has consequences that are inconsistent with our common-sense or intuitive moral judgments. Hare also offers a positive argument for utiTitarianism. In this paper I shall only concern myself with the latter argument. In the first part of the paper, I shall set out Hare's argument in some detail. (...) In the second part of the paper, I shall suggest criticisms of Hare's argument. I shall argue that two of the assumptions upon.. (shrink)
Utilitarianism has a curious history. Its most celebrated founders – Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill – were radical progressives, straddling the worlds of academic philosophy, political science, economic theory and practical affairs. They made innumerable recommendations for legal, social, political and economic reform, often (especially in Bentham’s case) described in fine detail. Some of these recommendations were followed, sooner or later, and many of their radical ideas have become close to articles of faith of western liberalism. Furthermore many (...) of these recommendations were made expressly to improve the condition of the deprived, or of oppressed groups. Yet the moral theory which inspired this reforming zeal is, at least officially, utilitarianism, and when we teach this theory to our students we feel it our duty to point out the horrors that could be justified by any theory which assesses the moral quality of actions in terms of the maximisation of good consequences over bad. No consequence is so bad that it cannot, in principle, be outweighed by a large aggregation of smaller goods. Hence there are circumstances in which utilitarianism can require slavery, the punishment of the innocent, and redistribution of resources from the poor to the rich, or from the disabled and the sick to the able bodied and healthy. Indeed, in the right circumstances, it can justify pretty much anything you think of. For all their intelligence and imagination neither Bentham nor Mill seemed to recognise or discuss these catastrophic possibilities. (shrink)
The priority view has become very popular in moral philosophy, but there is a serious question about how it should be formalized. The most natural formalization leads to ex post prioritarianism, which results from adding expected utility theory to the main ideas of the priority view. But ex post prioritarianism entails a claim which is too implausible for it to be a serious competitor to utilitarianism. In fact, ex post prioritarianism was probably never a genuine alternative to utilitarianism (...) in the first place. By contrast, ex ante prioritarianism is defensible. But its motivation is very different from the usual rationales offered for the priority view. Given the untenability of ex post prioritarianism, it is more natural for most friends of the priority view to revert to utilitarianism. (shrink)
Daniel Holbrook is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Iowa in 1987. Publications include a book on utilitarianism and papers on ethical theory, environmental ethics, biomedical ethics, animal rights, and philosophy of mind.
Economic concepts and methods are used to throw light on some aspects of common-sense ethics and the difference between it and Utilitarianism. (1) Very few exceptions are allowed to the rules of common-sense ethics, because of the cost of information required to justify an exception to Conscience and to other people. No such stringency characterizes Utilitarianism, an abstract system constructed by philosophers. (2) Rule Utilitarianism is neither consistent with common-sense ethics, nor does it maximize utility as has (...) been claimed for it. The same is true of more recent variants of Utilitarianism. (3) Second best and first best are usually identical in common-sense ethics. They are often identical in Utilitarianism when a moral situation can be represented by a Prisoner's Dilemma. However, problems arise in permissive forms of Utilitarianism when it is not obvious that second best should be applied. (shrink)
The use of deception in psychological research continues to be a controversial topic. Using Rawls's explication of utilitarianism, I attempt to demonstrate how professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, can provide more specific standards that determine the permissibility of deception in research. Specifically, I argue that researchers should examine the costs and benefits of creating and applying specific rules governing deception. To that end, I offer 3 recommendations. First, that researchers who use deception provide detailed accounts of (...) the procedures they used to minimize the harm created by deception in their research reports. Second, that the American Psychological Association offer a definition of deception that describes techniques commonly used in research. Finally, I recommend that the informed consent procedure be revised to indicate that the researcher may use deception as a part of the study. (shrink)
Ethical theories must include an account of the concept of a person. They also need a criterion of personal identity over time. This requirement is most needed in theories involving distributions of resources or questions of moral responsibility. For instance, in using ethical theories involving compensations of burdens, we must be able to keep track of the identities of persons earlier burdened in order to ensure that they are the same people who now are to receive the compensatory benefits. Similarly, (...) in order to attribute moral responsibility to someone for an act, we must be able to determine that that person is the same person as the person who performed the act. Unfortunately, ethical theories generally include a concept of a person and criteria of personal identity either as notions implied or presupposed by the already worked out theory, with little or no argument given in support of them. But both approaches are unsatisfactory, for each runs the risk of ignoring certain fundamental features of the way persons actually are. What is needed first is a plausible metaphysical account of persons and personal identity to which an ethical theory might then conform and apply. Derek Parfit has attempted to provide such an account in Reasons and Persons, where he argues for what he calls the reductionist view of persons and personal identity and then attempts to show how such a conception provides a metaphysical background that lends important partial support to utilitarianism. 1 But Parfit’s metaphysical view is neutral between two possible conceptions of personhood, and utilitarianism presupposes the truth of the more radical of the two conceptions, which precludes the possibility of there being a class of goods crucial to any plausible ethical theory. Utilitarianism thus presupposes a wildly implausible conception of persons, and so is itself implausible. (shrink)
A recurring objection confronting utilitarianism is that its dictates require information that lies beyond the bounds of human epistemic wherewithal. Utilitarians require reliable knowledge of the social consequences of various policies, and of people’s preferences and utilities. Agreeing partway with the sceptics, I concur that the general rules-of-thumb offered by social science do not provide sufficient justification for the utilitarian legislator to rationally recommend a particular political regime, such as liberalism. Actual data about human preference-structures and utilities is required (...) to bridge this evidentiary gap. I offer two arguments to support the availability of such information. First, I contend that ordinary human beings have a clear method of epistemic access to reliable information about commensurable preference-structures. Second, in an attempt to shift the onus of philosophic argument, I show that the utilitarian legislator’s requirements do not differ in kind from those implicitly called upon by the sceptical deontic liberal. (shrink)
This article seeks to diagnose a serious defect in a highly influential supposed counterexample to utilitarianism: Bernard Williams's case of Jim and the Indians. Discussing this, Williams argues that, according to utilitarianism, it is obviously right to say that Jim should kill an Indian. But as this is not obviously right, Williams takes the example to furnish a forceful counterexample to utilitarianism. I note here that the force of the supposed counterexample is in fact very doubtful as (...) the utilitarian can readily enough explain the non-obviousness of the claim that Jim should kill with reference to the non-obviousness of utilitarianism itself. Correspondence:c1 J.Lenman@sheffield.ac.uk. (shrink)
Many believe that traditional consequentialist moral theories are incapable of incorporating the allegedly important phenomenon of supererogation. After surveying the “ties at the top,” “satisficing,” and “egoistic-adjustment” strategies to avoid the supererogation objection, I argue that a recent formulation of utilitarianism incorporating the self-other asymmetry exhibits interesting supererogatory properties. I then incorporate this asymmetry into a version of egoistically-adjusted act utilitarianism, arguing that such a view exhibits very rich supererogatory properties, properties that should assuage the theoretical worries of (...) a vast number of supererogation critics. (shrink)
Utilitarianism is the doctrine that actions, institutions, etc. are to be evaluated (as right, wrong, good, evil, etc.) by considering their likely contribution to the happiness of the human race; in this calculation the happiness of any one person is to count for no more or less than the happiness of any other.
The denial of the intrinsic value of acts apart from both motives and consequences lies at the heart of Ross’s deontology and his opposition to ideal utilitarianism. Moreover, the claim that acts can have intrinsic value is a staple element of early and contemporary attempts to “consequentialise” all of morality. I first show why Ross’s denial is relevant both for his philosophy and for current debates. Then I consider and reject as inconclusive some of Ross’s explicit and implicit motivations (...) for his claim, stemming from his philosophy of action, his axiology, and his concept of intrinsic value, or a combination of these. I also criticize Ross’s later view that all right acts somehow produce some good, but that the value of some of these goods is explained by the prior rightness of the act. In the course of the discussion, the idea that acts can have intrinsic value apart from motives and consequences gains credibility both from the weaknesses in Ross’s arguments and from some putative examples. So, finally, I distinguish two attitudes in the history of ideal utilitarianism towards the necessity or not to give a detailed account of the intrinsic value of acts, and suggest that a Why Bother attitude is more promising than a Constructive one. (shrink)
1.1 In 1955, John Harsanyi proved a remarkable theorem:1 Suppose n agents satisfy the assumptions of von Neumann/Morgenstern (1947) expected utility theory, and so does the group as a whole (or an observer). Suppose that, if each member of the group prefers option a to b, then so does the group, or the observer (Pareto condition). Then the group’s utility function is a weighted sum of the individual utility functions. Despite Harsanyi’s insistence that what he calls the Utilitarian Theorem embeds (...)utilitarianism into a theory of rationality, the theorem has fallen short of having the kind of impact on the discussion of utilitarianism for which Harsanyi hoped. Yet how could the theorem influence this discussion? Utilitarianism is as attractive to some as it is appalling to others. The prospects for this dispute to be affected by a theorem seem dim. Yet a closer look shows how the theorem could make a contribution. To fix ideas, I understand by utilitarianism the following claims: (1) Consequentialism: Actions are evaluated in terms of their consequences only. (2) Bayesianism: An agent's beliefs about possible outcomes are captured probabilistically. (3) Welfarism: The judgement of the relative goodness of states of affairs is based.. (shrink)
Utilitarianism seems to imply that there cannot be any supererogatory acts, since no act can be above or beyond the call of utilitarian moral duty. Many argue, however, that there can be, indeed are, supererogatory acts, and so utilitarianism is wrong if it really implies that there cannot be any such acts. Vessel aim to respond to this challenge in two ways. First, he argues that even classical hedonistic utilitarianism doesn’t imply the impossibility of supererogation. Second, he (...) discusses and – perhaps – supports some amendments to classical utilitarianism that provides further room for supererogatory actions within a utilitarian frame work. I’ll comment on those two responses to the objection from supererogation, but ﬁrst I’d like to make some remarks on the relation between supererogation and utilitarianism in general. (shrink)
Traditional act utilitarianism judges an action permissible just in case it produces as much aggregate utility as any alternative. It is often supposed that utilitarianism faces a serious problem if the future is infinitely long. For in that case, actions may produce an infinite amount of utility. And if that is so for most actions, then utilitarianism, it appears, loses most of its power to discriminate among actions. For, if most actions produce an infinite amount of utility, (...) then few actions produce non-maximal utility, and so most actions are permissible.1 I will argue that potentially infinite futures create no major problems for utilitarianism. Utilitarianism has, I argue, the resources to distinguish among actions all of which produce infinite amounts of utility -- judging some permissible and some impermissible. For brevity of expression I will focus on act utilitarianism, but all the points apply equally well to many other traditional forms of utilitarianism. (shrink)
A line of thought suggested by certain passages in Mill's writings runs as follows. [Note 1] Virtue should be regarded as an end in itself outranking even happiness, because virtue so regarded guarantees certain modes of feeling and conduct, and the benefits resulting from this guarantee make up for what is lost in the odd cases in which virtue and happiness conflict. Notice that benefits result from the guarantee, not only from the conduct guaranteed. In this paper I will explore (...) this theory in comparison with certain other versions of utilitarianism. I will illustrate my argument by reference to Mill, who, I believe, held substantially this theory; but exegesis is not my present purpose. (shrink)
Coordination problems, problems in which each agent's expected utility depends upon what other agents do, pose a problem for act utilitarianism. When the agents are act utilitarians and know of each other that they are so, they seem unable to achieve optimal outcomes in certain coordination problems. I examine various ways the act utilitarian might attempt to solve this problem, where act utilitarianism is interpreted within the framework of subjective expected utility theory. In particular, a new method for (...) computing expected utility,dynamic deliberation, deserves examination as a possible act utilitarian solution to coordination problems. I argue that even dynamic deliberation fails to give the act utilitarian what he needs in coordination problems, and that the failure of act utilitarianism for such problems suggests the need for an alternative theory of moral choice along rule utilitarian lines. (shrink)
Most act-utilitarians now reject the direct utilitarianism of Bentham. They do so because they are convinced of what I call the paradox of utilitarianism -- the thought that one cannot maximize happiness if one is trying to maximize happiness. Instead, they adopt some form of indirect utilitarianism (IU), arguing that the optimal decision procedure may differ markedly from the criterion of rightness for actions. Here I distinguish between six different versions of indirect utilitarianism, arguing that the (...) weaker versions of IU also fall prey to the paradox of utilitarianism, while the stronger versions of IU violate an overwhelmingly plausible moral principle, the principle that one ought to V only if one can V intentionally. (shrink)
This paper works within a particular framework for reasoning about actions—sometimes known as the framework of “stit semantics”—originally due to Belnap and Perloff, based ultimately on the theory of indeterminism set out in Prior’s indeterministic tense logic, and developed in full detail by Belnap, Perloff, and Xu . The issues I want to consider arise when certain normative, or decision theoretic, notions are introduced into this framework: here I will focus on the notion of a right action, and so on (...) the formulation of act utilitarianism within this indeterministic setting. The problem is simply that there are two different, and conflicting, ways of defining this notion, both well-motivated, and both carrying intuitive weight. (shrink)
John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism engages our interest and sympathy because it is flawed. It reflects the crisis in Mill’s life, when he lost his faith. He had been brought up by his father in the straitest tenets of utilitarianism, but had had nervous breakdown in early adult life from emotional ill-nourishment. Utilitarianism might work as a guide for the well-governing of India by James Mill and his colleagues, but gave little sustenance to the aspiring spirit of the (...) Romantic Movement. It treats people as units, not individuals. It takes no account of the “projects” that people pursue, as Bernard Williams.. (shrink)
Personal utilitarianism applies act-utilitarianism to the problem of individual choice. It is based on the view that the good life is achieved through maximizing the sum of individual measures of utility over a population. the population being the sequence of semi-autonomous selves from which the individual is composed. I begin by showing how our lives can usefully be partitioned into selves because the weights put on our various choice motives are constantly changing and, consequently, our preferences themselves concerning (...) what we should choose at any given time can also change from moment-to-moment. In particular, because we put disproportionate weight on our present needs relative to our future ones, we often become impatient and choose options that offer immediate gratification. I use concepts from game theory to describe multiple selves, and to discuss how strategic interactions between selves are possible, and then conclude by considering the practical problem of how to achieve the good life, or how can we get our selves to choose what is best for us in the long run. (shrink)