An overview (about 8,000 words) of act utilitarianism, covering the basic idea of the theory, historical examples, how it differs from rule utilitarianism and motive utilitarianism, supporting arguments, and standard objections. A closing section provides a brief introduction to indirect utilitarianism (i.e., a Hare- or Railton-style view distinguishing between a decision procedure and a criterion of rightness).
The introduction (about 6,000 words) to _The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism_, in three sections: utilitarianism’s place in recent and contemporary moral philosophy (including the opinions of critics such as Rawls and Scanlon), a brief history of the view (again, including the opinions of critics, such as Marx and Nietzsche), and an overview of the chapters of the book.
It is often thought that some version of what is generally called the publicity condition is a reasonable requirement to impose on moral theories. In this article, after formulating and distinguishing three versions of the publicity condition, I argue that the arguments typically used to defend them are unsuccessful and, moreover, that even in its most plausible version, the publicity condition ought to be rejected as both question-begging and unreasonably demanding.
In his 2000 book _Ideal Code, Real World: A Rule-consequentialist Theory of Morality_, Brad Hooker recognizes that his theory, like most rule-consequentialist theories, must answer the question of how agents are to resolve conflicts that may arise among the rules his theory endorses. Here I examine Hooker’s answer to this question, and I argue that his answer fails to solve a serious problem that arises from such conflicts.
Practical equilibrium, like reflective equilibrium, is a way of deciding what to think about morality. It shares with reflective equilibrium the general thesis that there is some way in which a moral theory must, in order to be acceptable, answer to one’s moral intuitions, but it differs from reflective equilibrium in its specification of exactly how a moral theory must answer to one’s intuitions. Whereas reflective equilibrium focuses on a theory’s consistency with those intuitions, practical equilibrium also gives weight to (...) a theory’s approval of one’s having those intuitions. (shrink)
The 'Art of Life' is John Stuart Mill's name for his account of practical reason. In this volume, eleven leading scholars elucidate this fundamental, but widely neglected, element of Mill's thought. Mill divides the Art of Life into three 'departments': 'Morality, Prudence or Policy, and Æsthetics'. In the volume's first section, Rex Martin, David Weinstein, Ben Eggleston, and Dale E. Miller investigate the relation between the departments of morality and prudence. Their papers ask whether Mill is a rule utilitarian and, (...) if so, whether his practical philosophy must be incoherent. The second section contains papers by Jonathan Riley and Wendy Donner, who explore the relation between the departments of morality and aesthetics. They discuss issues ranging from supererogation to aesthetic pleasure and humanity's relationship with nature. -/- The papers in the third section consider the Art of Life's axiological first principle, the principle of utility. Elijah Millgram contends that Mill's own life refutes his claim that the Art of Life has a single axiological first principle. Philip Kitcher maintains that Mill has a dynamic axiology requiring us to continually refine our conception of the good. In the final section, three papers address what it means to put the Art of Life into practice. Robert Haraldsson locates an 'Art of Ethics' in On Liberty that is in tension with the Art of Life. Nadia Urbinati plumbs the classical roots of Mill's view of the good life. Finally, Colin Heydt develops Mill's suggestion that we regard our own lives as works of art. (shrink)
Utilitarianism, the approach to ethics based on the maximization of overall well-being, continues to have great traction in moral philosophy and political thought. This Companion offers a systematic exploration of its history, themes, and applications. First, it traces the origins and development of utilitarianism via the work of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, and others. The volume then explores issues in the formulation of utilitarianism, including act versus rule utilitarianism, actual versus expected consequences, and objective versus subjective theories (...) of well-being. Next, utilitarianism is positioned in relation to Kantianism and virtue ethics, and the possibility of conflict between utilitarianism and fairness is considered. Finally, the volume explores the modern relevance of utilitarianism by considering its practical implications for contemporary controversies such as military conflict and global warming. The volume will be an important resource for all those studying moral philosophy, political philosophy, political theory, and history of ideas. (shrink)
Consequentialists typically think that the moral quality of one's conduct depends on the difference one makes. But consequentialists may also think that even if one is not making a difference, the moral quality of one's conduct can still be affected by whether one is participating in an endeavour that does make a difference. Derek Parfit discusses this issue – the moral significance of what I call ‘participation’ – in the chapter of Reasons and Persons that he devotes to what he (...) calls ‘moral mathematics’. In my paper, I expose an inconsistency in Parfit's discussion of moral mathematics by showing how it gives conflicting answers to the question of whether participation matters. I conclude by showing how an appreciation of Parfit's error sheds some light on consequentialist thought generally, and on the debate between act- and rule-consequentialists specifically. (shrink)
Reflective equilibrium is often credited with extending the idea of accounting for the data from its familiar home in the sciences to the realm of moral philosophy. But careful consideration of the main concepts of this idea—the data to be accounted for and the kind of accounting it is appropriate to expect of a moral theory—leads to a revised understanding of the “accounting for the data” perspective as it applies to the discipline of moral theory selection. This revised understanding is (...) in tension with reflective equilibrium and actually provides more support for the alternative method of moral theory selection that has been termed ‘practical equilibrium’. (shrink)
Frank Jackson claims that consequentialists should hold the view that Derek Parfit labels the second ‘mistake in moral mathematics’, which is the view that “If some act is right or wrong because of . . . effects, the only relevant effects are the effects of this particular act.” But each of the three arguments that Jackson offers is unsound. The root of the problem is that in order to argue for the conclusion Jackson aims to establish (that consequentialists should not (...) regard the second “mistake” as a mistake), one must presuppose an overly narrow, and hence distorted, understanding of what consequentialism is. (shrink)
This chapter addresses the question of what role Mill regards rules as playing in the determination of morally permissible action by drawing on his remarks about instrumentally rational action. First, overviews are provided of consequentialist theories and of the rule-worship or incoherence objection to rule-consequentialist theories. Then a summary is offered of the considerable textual evidence suggesting that Mill’s moral theory is, in fact, a rule-consequentialist one. It is argued, however, that passages in the final chapter of A System of (...) Logic suggest that Mill anticipates and endorses the ruleworship or incoherence objection to rule-consequentialist theories. The chapter concludes by exploring some ways in which this tension in Mill’s thought might be resolved. (shrink)
In her book _Inclusion and Democracy_, Iris Marion Young offers a defense of a certain model of deliberative democracy and argues that political institutions that conform to this model are just. I argue that Young gives two contradictory accounts of why such institutions are just, and I weigh the relative merits of two ways in which this contradiction can be resolved.
A book chapter (about 7,000 words, plus references) on the interpretation of Mill’s criterion of right and wrong, with particular attention to act utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism, and sanction utilitarianism. Along the way, major topics include Mill’s thoughts on liberalism, supererogation, the connection between wrongness and punishment, and breaking rules when doing so will produce more happiness than complying with them will.
A short (about 1,000 words) overview of adjudication, describing the standard view (judges should just apply the law, when possible) and two goal-oriented views: wealth maximization and the maximization of well-being – i.e., utilitarian adjudication.
In “The Desire Theory of Claim-Rights,” Brian Kierland presents an analysis of the concept of a claim-right according to which one person has a claim-right against another just in case there is a perfect correlation between (1) whether the second person has a duty owed to the first and (2) whether the first wants the second to do the act in question. I respond by suggesting that in certain cases, including a variant of the case of Ulysses and the Sirens, (...) the Desire Theory has seriously counter-intuitive implications. (shrink)
Most arguments in support of act utilitarianism are elaborations of one of two basic strategies. One is the consequentialist strategy. This strategy relies on the consequentialist premise that an act is right if and only if it produces the best possible consequences and the welfarist premise that the value of a state of affairs is entirely determined by its overall amount of well-being. The other strategy is based on the idea of treating individuals respectfully and resolving conflicts among individuals in (...) whatever way best conforms to that idea. Although both of these strategies can be used to argue for the principle of act utilitarianism, they are significantly different from each other, and these differences cause them to have different strengths and weaknesses. It emerges that which argumentative strategy is chosen by a proponent of act utilitarianism has a large impact on which virtues her view has and which objections it is vulnerable to. (shrink)
A book chapter (about 4,000 words, plus references) on decision theory in moral philosophy, with particular attention to uses of decision theory in specifying the contents of moral principles (e.g., expected-value forms of act and rule utilitarianism), uses of decision theory in arguing in support of moral principles (e.g., the hypothetical-choice arguments of Harsanyi and Rawls), and attempts to derive morality from rationality (e.g., the views of Gauthier and McClennen).
To specify the aspects of Austin’s position that I want to focus on, let me start by reviewing some of the things that Austin says in order to characterize ethical intuitionism. He writes, “I take an ethical intuition to be a type of synthetic a priori insight into the necessary character of reality specifically concerning that which is right and/or good” (p. 205), and he adds that he regards “ethical intuition as a source of foundationally justified belief” (p. 205). He (...) goes on to write that One common objection to EI [ethical intuitionism] is that it involves a mysterious faculty of intuition. The claim is that there is a problem with asserting the existence of a faculty which can directly discern moral properties and/or the truth of moral principles. (p. 205) The implication, clearly, is that there is not a problem with asserting the existence of such a faculty. (shrink)
Current research on the human genome holds enormous long-term promise for improvements in health care, but it poses an immediate ethical challenge in the area of health insurance, by raising the question of whether insurers should be allowed to take genetic information about customers into account in the setting of premiums. It is widely held that such discrimination is immoral and ought to be illegal, and the prevalence of this view is understandable, given the widespread belief, which I endorse, that (...) every individual in a society as affluent as ours has a basic right to affordable health care. But prohibiting genetic discrimination in health insurance is not an effective way to protect this right. On the contrary, I argue that because of the nature of insurance as a product sold in a competitive market, such a prohibition is misguided, and its worthy aims must, instead, be pursued through reforms in our country’s system of publicly provided health care. (shrink)
A book chapter (about 9,000 words, plus references) presenting an act-consequentialist approach to the ethics of climate change. It begins with an overview of act consequentialism, including a description of the view’s principle of rightness (an act is right if and only if it maximizes the good) and a conception of the good focusing on the well-being of sentient creatures and rejecting temporal discounting. Objections to act consequentialism, and replies, are also considered. Next, the chapter briefly suggests that act consequentialism (...) could reasonably be regarded as the default moral theory of climate change, in the sense that a broadly act-consequentialist framework often seems implicit in both scholarly and casual discussions of the ethics of climate change. The remainder of the chapter explores three possible responses to the threat of climate change: having fewer children to reduce the number of people emitting greenhouse gases; taxing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions (commonly called a “carbon tax”) to discourage GHG-emitting behavior; and reducing poverty to lessen personal, familial, and community vulnerability to the harms of climate change. (shrink)
A critical examination of the chapters on normative ethics in Peter Railton’s Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays Toward a Morality of Consequence. It is argued that Railton’s theory of sophisticated consequentialism effectively handles issues of pollution and moral dilemma that Railton discusses, and that Railton’s more recent proposal of “valoric consequentialism,” if coupled with a non-act-utilitarian standard of rightness of the kind Railton discusses, is vulnerable to objections to which sophisticated consequentialism is immune.
A book chapter (about 8,000 words, plus references) summarizing Part One of Reasons and Persons, with particular attention to the Self-interest Theory, Consequentialism, Common-Sense Morality, and how critical scrutiny of Consequentialism and Common-Sense Morality points the way toward a unified theory of morality.
According to G. E. Moore, moral expertise requires abilities of several kinds: the ability to factor judgments of right and wrong into (a) judgments of good and bad and (b) judgments of cause and effect, (2) the ability to use intuition to make the requisite judgments of good and bad, and (3) the ability to use empirical investigation to make the requisite judgments of cause and effect. Moore’s conception of moral expertise is thus extremely demanding, but he supplements it with (...) some very simple practical guidance. (shrink)
This article discusses approaches to the problem of the number of preference orderings that can be constructed from a given set of alternatives. After briefly reviewing the prevalent approach to this problem, which involves determining a partitioning of the alternatives and then a permutation of the partitions, this article explains a recursive approach and shows it to have certain advantages over the partitioning one.
The problem of rational compliance with rules is the problem of how it can be rational for an agent to follow a rule with a purely consequentialist justification in a case in which she knows that she can do more good by breaking it. This paper discusses two ways in which responses to this problem can fail to address it, using Alan Goldman’s article “The Rationality of Complying with Rules: Paradox Resolved” as a case study.
This paper discusses David Gauthier’s attempt to refine the theory underlying constrained maximization so that it ceases to have a certain implication that he regards as objectionable. It argues that the refinement Gauthier introduces may be initially appealing, but actually does his theory more harm than good.
This edition of _Utilitarianism_ supplements the text of Mill’s classic essay with 58 related remarks carefully selected from Mill’s other writings, ranging from his treatise on logic to his personal correspondence. In these remarks, Mill comments on specific passages of _Utilitarianism_, elaborates on topics he handles briefly in _Utilitarianism_, and discusses additional aspects of his moral thought. Short introductory comments accompany the related remarks, and an editor’s introduction provides an overview of _Utilitarianism_ crafted specifically to enhance accessibility for first-time readers (...) of the essay. (shrink)