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. 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. This book should be of interest to welfare economists, political scientists and decision-theorists. (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)
Reissued here in its corrected second edition of 1864, this essay by John Stuart Mill argues for a utilitarian theory of morality. Originally printed as a series of three articles in Fraser's Magazine in 1861, the work sought to refine the 'greatest happiness' principle that had been championed by Jeremy Bentham, defending it from common criticisms, and offering a justification of its validity. Following Bentham, Mill holds that actions can be judged as right or wrong depending on whether they promote (...) happiness or 'the reverse of happiness'. Although attracted by Bentham's consequentialist framework based on empirical evidence rather than intuition, Mill separates happiness into 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures, arguing for a weighted system of measurement when making and judging decisions. Dissected and debated since its first appearance, the essay is Mill's key discussion on the topic and remains a fundamental text in the study of ethics. (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.
We give two social aggregation theorems under conditions of risk, one for constant population cases, the other an extension to variable populations. Intra and interpersonal welfare comparisons are encoded in a single ‘individual preorder’. The theorems give axioms that uniquely determine a social preorder in terms of this individual preorder. The social preorders described by these theorems have features that may be considered characteristic of Harsanyi-style utilitarianism, such as indifference to ex ante and ex post equality. However, the theorems (...) are also consistent with the rejection of all of the expected utility axioms, completeness, continuity, and independence, at both the individual and social levels. In that sense, expected utility is inessential to Harsanyi-style utilitarianism. In fact, the variable population theorem imposes only a mild constraint on the individual preorder, while the constant population theorem imposes no constraint at all. We then derive further results under the assumption of our basic axioms. First, the individual preorder satisfies the main expected utility axiom of strong independence if and only if the social preorder has a vector-valued expected total utility representation, covering Harsanyi’s utilitarian theorem as a special case. Second, stronger utilitarian-friendly assumptions, like Pareto or strong separability, are essentially equivalent to strong independence. Third, if the individual preorder satisfies a ‘local expected utility’ condition popular in non-expected utility theory, then the social preorder has a ‘local expected total utility’ representation. Fourth, a wide range of non-expected utility theories nevertheless lead to social preorders of outcomes that have been seen as canonically egalitarian, such as rank-dependent social preorders. Although our aggregation theorems are stated under conditions of risk, they are valid in more general frameworks for representing uncertainty or ambiguity. (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)
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)
In this book, first published in 1991, the author Dr Robin Barrow adopts the view that utilitarianism is the most coherent and persuasive ethical theory we have and argues in favour of a specific form of rule-utilitarianism. This book will be of interest to students of philosophy.
Utilitarianism has an apparent pedigree when it comes to animal welfare. It supports the view that animal welfare matters just as much as human welfare. And many utilitarians support and oppose various practices in line with more mainstream concern over animal welfare, such as that we should not kill animals for food or other uses, and that we ought not to torture animals for fun. This relationship has come under tension from many directions. The aim of this article is (...) to add further considerations in support of that tension. I suggest three ways in which utilitarianism comes significantly apart from mainstream concerns with animal welfare. First, utilitarianism opposes animal cruelty only when it offers an inefficient ratio of pleasure to pain; while this may be true of eating animal products, it is not obviously true of other abuses. Second, utilitarianism faces a familiar problem of the inefficacy of individual decisions; I consider a common response to this worry, and offer further concerns. Finally, the common utilitarian argument against animal cruelty ignores various pleasures that humans may get from the superior status that a structure supporting exploitation confers. (shrink)
A natural formalization of the priority view is presented which results from adding expected utility theory to the main ideas of the priority view. The result is ex post prioritarianism. But ex post prioritarianism entails that in a world containing just one person, it is sometimes better for that person to do what is strictly worse for herself. This claim may appear to be implausible. But the deepest objection to ex post prioritarianism has to do with meaning: ex post prioritarianism (...) is not 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 their hostility to egalitarianism, most supporters of the priority view have not provided reasons to reject utilitarianism. (shrink)
Utilitarianism - a philosophy based on the principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people - has been hugely influential over the past two centuries. Beyond ethics or morality, utilitarian assumptions and arguments abound in modern economic and political life, especially in public policy. An understanding of utilitarianism is indeed essential to any understanding of contemporary society. "Understanding Utilitarianism" presents utilitarianism very much as a living tradition. The book begins with a summary of (...) the classical utilitarianism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Subsequent chapters trace the development of the central themes of utilitarian thought over the twentieth century, covering such questions as: What is happiness? Is happiness the only valuable thing? Is utilitarianism about acts or rules or institutions? Is utilitarianism unjust, or implausibly demanding, or impractical? and Where might utilitarianism go in the future? (shrink)
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).
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)
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)
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.
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)
Christopher Woodard presents a new and rich version of utilitarianism, the idea that ethics is ultimately about what makes people's lives go better. He launches a state-of-the-art defence of the theory, often seen as excessively simple, and shows that it can account for much of the complexity and nuance of everyday ethical thought.
Utilitarianism and prioritarianism make a strong assumption about the uniqueness of measures of how good things are for people, or for short, individual goodness measures. But it is far from obvious that the presupposition is correct. The usual response to this problem assumes that individual goodness measures are determined independently of our discourse about distributive theories. This article suggests reversing this response. What determines the set of individual goodness measures just is the body of platitudes we accept about distributive (...) theories. When prioritarianism is taken to have an ex ante form, this approach vindicates the utilitarian and prioritarian presupposition, and provides an answer to an argument due to Broome that for different reasons to do with measurement, prioritarianism is meaningless. (shrink)
The aim of this commentary is to critically examine Matti Häyry’s article ‘Just Better Utilitarianism’, where he argues that liberal utilitarianism can offer a basis for moral and political choices in bioethics and thus could be helpful in decision-making. This commentary, while generally sympathetic to Häyry’s perspective, argues that Häyry should expand on who belongs to our moral community because, to solve practical ethical issues, we need to determine who (and what) deserves our moral consideration. Challenging Häyry’s principle (...) of actual or prospective existence, this commentary suggests that – at least sometimes – the quality of life of those who will never come into existence matters. In a similar vein, this commentary aims to show that determining how to treat mindless humans such as fetuses might pose difficulties for liberal utilitarianism unless the issue of the boundaries of the moral community is addressed. (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)
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)
Surveying the historical development and the present condition of utilitarian ethics, Geoffrey Scarre examines the major philosophers from Lao Tzu in the fifth century BC to Richard Hare in the twentieth. Utilitarianism traces the 'doctrine of utility' from the moralists of the ancient world, through the Enlightenment and Victorian utilitarianism up to the lively debate of the present day. Utilitarianism today faces challenges on several fronts: it cannot warrant the drawing of adequate protective boundaries around the essential (...) interests of individuals, and it does not allow them the space to pursue the personal concerns which give meaning to their lives. Geoffrey Scarre considers these and other charges, and concludes that whilst utilitarianism may not be a faultless moral doctrine, its positions are relevant, and significant today. Written with undergraduates in mind, this is an ideal course book for those studying and those teaching moral philosophy. (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)
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)
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)
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)
R.M. Hare’s two-level utilitarianism provides a useful framework for understanding the evolution of codes of professional ethics. From a Harean perspective, the codes reflect both the fact that members of various professions face special kinds of ethically charged situations in the normal course of their work, and the need for people in special roles to acquire various habits of thought and action. This highlights the role of virtue in professional ethics and provides guidance to professional societies when considering modifications (...) to their codes. From a Harean perspective, a professional society should ask both “Are there kinds of situations that members of this profession will normally encounter which members of other professions and/or the general public will not?” and “What habits of thought and action would it be good for individuals encountering such situations to have?”. (shrink)
We address the question of how finitely additive moral value theories (such as utilitarianism) should rank worlds when there are an infinite number of locations of value (people, times, etc.). In the finite case, finitely additive theories satisfy both Weak Pareto and a strong anonymity condition. In the infinite case, however, these two conditions are incompatible, and thus a question arises as to which of these two conditions should be rejected. In a recent contribution, Hamkins and Montero (2000) have (...) argued in favor of an anonymity-like isomorphism principle and against Weak Pareto. After casting doubt on their criticism of Weak Pareto, we show how it, in combination with certain other plausible principles, generates a plausible and fairly strong principle for the infinite case. We further show that where locations are the same in all worlds, but have no natural order, this principle turns out to be equivalent to a strengthening of a principle defended by Vallentyne and Kagan (1997), and also to a weakened version of the catching-up criterion developed by Atsumi (1965) and by von Weizsäcker (1965). Footnotes1 For valuable comments, we would like to thank Marc Fleurbaey, Bart Capéau, Joel Hamkins, Barbara Montero, Tim Mulgan, and two anonymous referees for this journal. (shrink)
This chapter offers a concise discussion of classic utilitarianism which is the prototypical moral doctrine of the utilitarian family. It starts with an analysis of the classic utilitarian criterion of rightness, gives an overview over its virtues and vices, and suggests an overall assessment of its adequacy as a theory of morality. Furthermore, it briefly discusses whether classic utilitarianism holds promise as a philosophy for doing business.
Lara Buchak argues for a version of rank-weighted utilitarianism that assigns greater weight to the interests of the worse off. She argues that our distributive principles should be derived from the preferences of rational individuals behind a veil of ignorance, who ought to be risk averse. I argue that Buchak’s appeal to the veil of ignorance leads to a particular way of extending rank-weighted utilitarianism to the evaluation of uncertain prospects. This method recommends choices that violate the unanimous (...) preferences of rational individuals and choices that guarantee worse distributions. These results, I suggest, undermine Buchak’s argument for rank-weighted utilitarianism. (shrink)
This is a wide-ranging defense of a distinctive version of hedonistic act utilitarianism. It is plainly written, forthright, and stimulating. Also, it is replete with disputable assertions and arguments. I shall pursue one issue here, after sketching the project of each substantial chapter.
1Preface: Malthus the Utilitarian vs. Malthus the Christian moral thinker. The chapter aims at reconstructing the deadlocks of Malthus scholarship concerning his relationship to utilitarianism. It argues that Bonar created out of nothing the myth of Malthus’s ‘Utilitarianism’, which carried, in turn, a pseudo-problem concerning Malthus’s lack of consistency with his own alleged Utilitarianism; besides it argues that such misinterpretation was hard to die and still persists in Hollander’s reading of Malthus’s work. ● -/- 2 Eighteenth-century Anglican (...) ethics. The chapter gives an overview of eighteenth-century Anglican ethics, noticing how the Cambridge tradition gave special weight to natural theology as opposed to positive or revealed theology and how two Cambridge fellows, John Gay and Thomas Brown worked out a kind of a rational-choice account of the origins of natural laws, where a law-giver God chooses among a number of possible sets of laws on the basis of a maximizing criterion, happiness for his creatures. ● -/- 3 Malthus’s meta-ethics. The chapter reconstructs the two ethical chapters of the second Essay. It argues that Malthus’s ethics is not dependent on Paley’s, but is derived from Cumberland, Butler, Gay, Brown. Besides, it argues that theodicy takes a new place in the 1803 Essays and ethics becomes a key to theodicy. The new solution is that, once it has been proved that passions can be mastered and that a world where passions are under control would be a comparatively happy place, a society where moral restraint prevailed would make the middling ranks more numerous, reduce dependence, and preserve liberty. ● -/- 4 Malthus’s early normative ethics: a morality of freedom. The chapter reconstructs young Malthus’s views on the foundations of ethics, proving his adhesion to voluntarist consequentialism. Then it reconstructs his treatment of political issues, whence a clear stance emerges in favour of traditional Whig concerns, such as political freedom, personal independence and dignity. Finally, it gives a fresh look at the theological argument in the two well-known final chapters, locating it in the context of consequentialism, voluntarism, and quasi-Leibnizian theodicy. ● -/- 5 Malthus’s intermediate normative ethics: a morality of prudence. Malthus’s normative ethics focuses on two main ‘natural’ virtues, benevolence and chastity, and three artificial virtues. These include love for equality and love for liberty. A special place is granted to another virtue, prudence, which is the link between natural and artificial virtues. This special virtue also provides an invisible link between the private and the public domains, in that it contributes to combine self-love with general happiness. This is granted by the unintended results mechanism, or “the happiness of the whole is to be the result of the happiness of individuals, and to begin first with them. No cooperation is required”. ● -/- 6 Malthus’s mature normative ethics: a morality of humanity. The chapter describes reactions by Evangelicals, such as Gisborne, Sumner, and Chalmers, to Malthus’s theory and Malthus’s transformation of his own system in order to pave objections. This amounts to incorporating The Evangelicals’ ideas into his own system. The friendly controversy with his Evangelical fellow-travellers yielded several important changes in 1806, 1817, and 1826 editions of the second Essay in the formulation of Malthusian ethics, in the adoption of moral improvement instead of happiness as the variable to be maximised, in the adoption of generalized education as the main weapon in the war on poverty. ● -/- 7 Malthus’s applied ethics. The chapter reconstructs Malthus’s treatment of a few issues in ‘applied ethics’, sexual morality, public morality, poverty, and besides, war and slavery. On the first issue, he argues the duty to marry only at a time when one is ready to carry the burden of six children as a moral duty imposed by prudence and rejects birth control because of its alleged effect of encouraging ‘indolence’. On the second issue, he defends a peculiar kind of Whiggism as anti-Machiavellian politics centred on rights, equality, and dignity. On the third issue, his final approach is a kind of Institutional approach to poverty, making room for generalized basic education, free markets for labour and allowing for a subsidiary role for private beneficence. The goal to be aimed at is bringing about circumstances which tend to elevate the character of the lower classes of society and offer them a chance of being respectable, virtuous and happy. ● -/- 8 Conclusions: strengthening the theological foundation. Malthus’s criteria for policy appraisal were not utilitarian ones. His normative ethics and his politics were sharply different from Bentham’s. Utility is just one element in Malthus’s ethics, going with laws of nature and rights, and ironically, far from being a Benthamite insertion, is the most markedly theological element in Malthus’s system of ideas. ● -/- . (shrink)