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)
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 implications 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 creating and 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 discusses 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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
This article explores the possible convergence between the capabilities approach and utilitarianism to specify CSR. It defends the idea that this key issue is related to the anthropological perspective that underpins both theories and demonstrates that a relational conception of individual freedoms and rights present in both traditions gives adequate criteria for CSR toward the company's stakeholders. I therefore defend "relational capability" as a means of providing a common paradigm, a shared vision of a core component of human development. (...) This could further lead to a set of indicators aimed at assessing corporate social performance as the maximization of the relational capability of people impacted by the activities of companies. In particular, I suggest a way of evaluating the contribution of extractive companies to the communities close to their industrial sites in extremely poor areas, not from the viewpoint of material resources and growth, but from the viewpoint of the quality of the social environment and empowerment. (shrink)
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)
It is widely accepted that one of the main objectives ofgovernment expenditure on health care is to generate health. Sincehealth is a function of both length of life and quality of life, thequality-adjusted life-year (QALY) has been developed in an attempt tocombine the value of these attributes into a single index number. TheQALY approach â and particularly the decision rule that healthcare resources should be allocated so as to maximise the number of QALYsgenerated â has often been equated with the (...) utilitarian philosophyof maximising `the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. Thispaper considers the extent to which the measurement and aggregation ofQALYs really is utilitarian by developing a new taxonomy in order toclassify utilitarianism and the different aspects of the QALY approach.It is shown that the measurement of QALYs is consistent with a number ofdifferent moral positions and that QALYs do not have to be aggregatedaccording to the maximisation rule. Therefore it is inappropriate tonecessarily equate QALYs with utilitarianism. It is shown thatmuch turns on what in principle the QALY represents and howin practice it can be operationalised. The paper highlights thecategory confusion that is often present here and suggests possibleavenues for future theoretical and empirical research. (shrink)
The self-other asymmetry is a prominent and important feature of common-sense morality. It is also a feature that does not find a home in standard versions of act-utilitarianism. Theodore Sider has attempted to make a place for it by constructing a novel version of utilitarianism that incorporates the asymmetry into its framework. So far as I know, it is the best attempt to bring the two together. I argue, however, that Sider's ingenious attempt fails. I also offer a (...) diagnosis that explains why no theory that remains recognizably act-utilitarian can successfully incorporate the asymmetry. (shrink)
Utilitarianism focuses on the optimization of personal well being in ways that seems to make the practice of medicine irrelevant to the well being of the practitioners, unless given external incentives such as money or honor. Care based on indirect incentives is considered inferior to care motivated internally. This leads to the paradox of utilitarian care. Following Nozick's conceptual Pleasure Machine it is argued that in addition to the promotion of personal well being, people care about fulfilling their well (...) being in a world which is real, just, good, and beautiful. Complete mechanization of social and personal life in accordance with a strict utilitarian regime is also incompatible with the kind of world people desire, even if it promises more fulfillments in terms of personal well being. This explains the so-called Taurek-Parfit paradox, according to which sometimes ethics seems “to count the numbers” and sometimes not. The very pursuit of utilitarianism does not contribute to any personal life plan. The helping professions make the world a better place for us to live in, even though they do not necessarily bear directly on the well being of any individual other than the recipients of care. This resolves the paradox of utilitarian care. (shrink)
After reviewing the compelling case for separability (`social welfare is a separable function of individual utilities'), an argument is advanced for utilitarianism (defined as `social welfare is the unweighted sum of individual utilities'). Basically, a compelling individualism-type axiom leads us to (social welfare as an) unweighted sum (of individual utilities), given separability.
The book-making argument was introduced by de Finetti as a principle to prove the existence and uniqueness of subjective probabilities. It has subsequently been accepted as a principle of rationality for decisions under uncertainty. This note shows that the book-making argument has relevant applications to welfare: it gives a new foundation for utilitarianism that is alternative to Harsanyi’s, it generalizes foundations based on the theorem of the alternative, and it avoids arguments based on expected utility.
The paper initially proposes a non-classical utilitarian aggregation function which is accomplished by suitably weaving around the classical utilitarian function a group of parameters of justice (including desert factors and a sublinear measure of inequality which mathematically favours more equal distribution of utility levels). Then the Lerner-theorem for classical utilitarianism is first proved in a way which differs from each of the earlier proofs presented for this theorem and in the core of the paper also extended to this new (...) non-classical version of utilitarianism. (shrink)
In this paper I shall consider the difficulty for Ethical Egoism, Act Utilitarianism and later what I shall call Cumulative Effect Utilitarianism, that they both commit the fallacy of pragmatic inconsistency. I shall distinguish various forms of the fallacy of pragmatic inconsistency; in particular I shall distinguish between the fallacy of direct and indirect pragmatic inconsistency, and shall argue that though both Ethical Egoism and Act Utilitarianism probably commit both, Cumulative Effect Utilitarianism does not.
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)
Fairness can be incorporated into Harsanyi’s utilitarianism through all-inclusive utility. This retains the normative assumptions of expected utility and Pareto-efficiency, and relates fairness to individual preferences. It makes utilitarianism unfalsifiable, however, if agents’ all-inclusive utilities are not explicitly specified. This note proposes a two-stage model to make utilitarian welfare analysis falsifiable by specifying all-inclusive utilities explicitly through models of individual fairness preferences. The approach is applied to include fairness in widely discussed allocation examples.
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 paper examines ethical concerns of the utilitarian paradigm, the greatest good for the greatest number, advocated by many proponents and consultants in siting landfills. The implications of the consequentialist utilitarian approach are considered through the examination of a landfill-site-search case study in Ontario, Canada. Limitations to such an approach, in terms of differing values, equal consideration, equitable participation, distributive justice and the emphasis on non-quantifiable factors are discussed. Recommendations to improve the process are made based on the ethical analysis (...) of the case study. (shrink)
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.