Utilitarianism and Integrity

The Monist 66 (2):298-311 (1983)
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Abstract

It has apparently become fashionable of late to criticize utilitarianism for what is thought to be, in a word, its insensitivity. Utilitarianism is said to ignore the complexities of character of its agents, and because of this to impose upon them a burden they cannot well bear—a failure which, in the end, renders the adoption of the utilitarian goal fundamentally unappealing, since the more utilitarian agents try to maximize utility the more happiness is destroyed. More traditional criticisms have, of course, centered around the issue of rights, obligations, and justice. The claim that utilitarianism must tolerate such unappealing practices as the punishment of the innocent has led many to reject it. At the same time, of course, perhaps just as many have defended it, demonstrating that no form of utilitarianism would allow much of this; some forms would allow none of it; and that lastly, and most importantly, it is question-begging to reject the theory for failing to acknowledge the existence of a thing when it is the very aim of that theory to call that existence into question. The debate over justice, although stirring, has often seemed destined to end in stale-mate.

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