Discounting Utility Without Complaints: Avoiding the Demandingness of Classical Utilitarianism

International Journal of Philosophy 11 (3):87-95 (2023)
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Abstract

Classical utilitarianism is very demanding and entails some counter-intuitive implications in moral dilemmas such as the trolley problem in deontological ethics and the repugnant conclusion in population ethics. This article presents how one specific modification of utilitarianism can avoid these counter-intuitive implications. In this modified utilitarian theory, called ‘discounted’ or ‘mild’ utilitarianism, people have a right to discount the utilities of others, under the condition that people whose utility is discounted cannot validly complain against such discounting. A complaint made by a utility discounted person is not valid if either the existence of the discounting people in that option is in a specific sense necessary or the existence of the discounted person is in a sense not necessary. According to mild utilitarianism, we should choose the option that maximizes the total validly discounted or complaint-free discounted utility, i e. the sum of everyone’s utility minus the complaint-free discounts. As there are two conditions that make a complaint invalid, this right to discount can be translated into two versions: the right to bodily autonomy and the right to procreation autonomy. The former right relates to the mere means principle in deontological ethics, the latter right is useful in avoiding the repugnant conclusion problem in population ethics. The possibility of democratically imposing an upper bound on the permissible amount of discounting is discussed.

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