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).
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)
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)
This is a presentation of the utilitarian approach to punishment. It is meant for students. The first section discusses Bentham's psychological hedonism. The second briefly criticizes it. The third section explains abstractly how utilitarianism would determine of the right amount of punishment. The fourth section applies the theory to some cases, and brings out how utilitarianism could favor punishments more or less severe than the lex talionis.
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)
Average utilitarianism and several related axiologies, when paired with the standard expectational theory of decision-making under risk and with reasonable empirical credences, can find their practical prescriptions overwhelmingly determined by the minuscule probability that the agent assigns to solipsism -- i.e., to the hypothesis that there is only one welfare subject in the world, viz., herself. This either (i) constitutes a reductio of these axiologies, (ii) suggests that they require bespoke decision theories, or (iii) furnishes a novel argument for (...) ethical egoism. (shrink)
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)
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)
I examine the two-level utilitarian case for humane animal agriculture (by R. M. Hare and Gary Varner) and argue that it fails on its own terms. The case states that, at the ‘intuitive level’ of moral thinking, we can justify raising and killing animals for food, regarding them as replaceable, while treating them with respect. I show that two-level utilitarianism supports, instead, alternatives to animal agriculture. First, the case for humane animal agriculture does not follow from a commitment to (...) two-level utilitarianism combined with a commitment to respecting animal lives. Secondly, the two-level utilitarian case falls prey to a compartmentalization problem and cannot uphold both respect and replaceability. What I call ‘humane lives’ are not appropriately valued by the lights of two-level utilitarianism itself. (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.
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)
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)
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.
Formulations of Mill's principle of utility are examined, and it is shown that Mill did not recognize a moral obligation to maximize the good, as is often assumed. His was neither a maximizing act nor rule utilitarianism. It was a distinctive minimizing utilitarianism which morally obligates us only to abstain from inflicting harm, to prevent harm, to provide for others minimal essentials of well being (to which rights correspond), and to be occasionally charitable or benevolent.
Aimed at undergraduates, _Contemporary Ethics_ presupposes little or no familiarity with ethics and is written in a clear and engaging style. It provides students with a sympathetic but critical guide to utilitarianism, explaining its different forms and exploring the debates it has spawned. The book leads students through a number of current issues in contemporary ethics that are connected to controversies over and within utilitarianism. At the same time, it uses utilitarianism to introduce students to ethics as (...) a subject. In these ways, the book is not only a guide to utilitarianism, but also an introduction to some standard problems of ethics and to several important topics in contemporary ethical theory. (shrink)
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)
My aim in this chapter is to push back against the tendency to emphasize Mill’s break from Bentham rather than his debt to him. Mill made important advances on Bentham’s views, but I believe there remains a shared core to their thinking—over and above their commitment to the principle of utility itself—that has been underappreciated. Essentially, I believe that the structure of Mill’s utilitarian thought owes a great debt to Bentham even if he filled in that structure with a richer (...) conception of human nature and developed it in more liberal directions. This commonality is revealed, in particular, in Mill’s own institutional designs and practical reform proposals in Considerations on Representative Government and related writings. If this is right, then the tendency of interpreters to highlight their differences rather than their similarities has been to the detriment of both Mill and Bentham scholarship, and so to our understanding of the rise of liberal utilitarianism. (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.
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)
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)
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.
Open access: Philosophers and policy-makers concerned with the ethics, economics, and politics of development argue that the phenomenon of “adaptive preference” makes preference-utilitarian measures of well-being untenable. Poor women in the Global South, they suggest, adapt to deprivation and oppression and may come to prefer states of affairs that are not conducive to flourishing. This critique, however, assumes a questionable understanding of preference utilitarianism and, more fundamentally, of the concept of preference that figures in such accounts. If well-being is (...) understood as preference satisfaction, it is easy to see why poor women in the Global South are badly off: even if they do not desire more favorable conditions, they nevertheless prefer them, and that preference is not satisfied. Preferentism provides a rationale for improving economic conditions and dismantling the unjust institutions that prevent them from climbing higher on their preference rankings. Utilitarianism, therefore, insofar as utility is understood as preference satisfaction, is good for women. (shrink)
Utilitarianism has often been understood as a theory that concerns itself first and foremost with the rightness of actions; but many other things are also properly subject to moral evaluation, and utilitarians have long understood that the theory must be able to provide an account of these as well. In a landmark article from 1976, Robert Adams argues that traditional act utilitarianism faces a particular problem in this regard. He argues that a on a sensible utilitarian account of (...) the rightness of an agent’s motives, right motives will sometimes conflict with right actions, leaving the theory internally incoherent. The puzzle Adams raises has received a good deal of attention but few proposed solutions. Fred Feldman, however, has offered a solution that seems to be gaining adherents. In this paper I argue that Feldman’s approach cannot succeed. At bottom, it relies on a version of the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’—and subsequently an account of an agent’s alternatives—that is far too restrictive to be plausible. Despite the failure of this solution, however, I argue that the conflict Adams develops is not as theoretically troubling as he suggests. While traditional act utilitarianism may fail for other reasons, it will not fail due to the conflict between acts and motives. (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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
According to the eligibility theory of meaning, often attributed to David Lewis, the referent of a predicate is the property that best balances the twin constraints of charity and eligibility, where eligibility is a function of metaphysical naturalness. This sort of metasemantics, which is motivated by its ability to resolve problems of indeterminacy and secure shared reference between disputing parties, can be somewhat friendly towards revisionary theories, since highly natural properties can act as “reference magnets,” securing our reference despite some (...) mismatch with usage. In this paper, I apply these considerations to normative ethics and argue that the theory of rule utilitarianism achieves a high balance of charity and eligibility. I proceed by comparing rule utilitarianism to two of its well-known rivals, act utilitarianism and Rossian pluralism. I show how the former achieves a high degree of eligibility but only at a significant cost of charity, while the latter does the opposite, fitting very nicely with our considered judgments but at the price of very low eligibility. Rule utilitarianism, on the other hand, strikes a good balance between these extremes; it assigns to our core moral term a relatively natural property without doing too much damage to our moral convictions. Thus, rule utilitarianism should be regarded as a promising moral theory by any philosopher who takes seriously considerations of eligibility and naturalness. (shrink)
This paper raises a moral issue for contemporary post-revolutionary Muslim intellectuals in Iran. According to traditional Islamic teachings, ethics enables people to transcend from this mundane world and offers guidance on ways to improve virtues. Most contemporary Iranian Muslim intellectuals have attempted to pave the way for accomplishing this goal. After clarifying the ways in which Iranian Muslim intellectuals have faith in virtue ethics as a best possible moral normative theory, we claim that virtue ethics fails to support some of (...) our modern problems in the realm of politics such as human rights and democracy. Also, we argue that virtue ethics is not a good theory for ordinary average people who have weakness of will. A preliminary conclusion of the paper will be that utilitarianism, generally, and principle of utility, specifically, is a better solution to the modern problems. This, we believe, has been overlooked from the eyes of post-revolutionary Muslim intellectuals. Yet, we suggest that among different versions of utilitarianism, rule-utilitarianism is more justified to do this job. (shrink)
What if human joy 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. 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.2 If neither of these conditions holds, then the utility 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)
Mill was one of the most important British philosophers of the nineteenth century; his _Utilitarianism_ is a pivotal work in ethical thought. This book, written specifically for students coming to Mill - and perhaps philosophy - for the first time, will be an ideal guide. _Mill on Utilitarianism_ introduces and assesses: * Mill's life and the background of _Utilitarianism_ * the ideas and text of _Utilitarianism_ * the continuing importance of Mill's work to philosophy This is the first book dedicated (...) to _Utilitarianism_ itself. Concisely written and engaging, it is perfect reading for those studying Mill or moral philosophy. (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)
Most ethical work is done at a low level of formality. This makes practical moral questions inaccessible to formal and natural sciences and can lead to misunderstandings in ethical discussion. In this paper, we use Bayesian inference to introduce a formalization of preference utilitarianism in physical world models, specifically cellular automata. Even though our formalization is not immediately applicable, it is a first step in providing ethics and ultimately the question of how to “make the world better” with a (...) formal basis. (shrink)
This paper points out a number of long-standing objections to Mill’s theory of the good and shows how exactly Sidgwick’s more detailed approach can avoid these pitfalls. In particular, critics have always insisted that (i) Mill’s "proof" of utilitarianism represents a naturalistic fallacy, and that (ii) his qualitative hedonism is inconsistent. Sidgwick’s "ideal element" of the good allows him to avoid these charges, and sheds new light on the assumption that the 'hedonism' of classical utilitarianism is a purely (...) naturalistic concept. Instead, it has to be understood as a label for the modern, liberal notion of the individual good as opposed to the universal or utilitarian good. (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)
_Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics_ explores the foundations of early utilitarianism and, at the same time, the theoretical bases of social ethics and policy in modern Western welfare states. Matti Hayry sees the main reason for utilitarianism's growing disrepute among moral philosophers is that its principles cannot legitimately be extended to situations where the basic needs of the individuals involved are in conflict. He is able to formulate a solution to this fundamental problem by arguing convincingly that (...) by combining a limited version of liberal utilitarianism and the methods of applied ethics, we are able to define our moral duties and rights. _Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics_ will appeal to students and teachers of philosophy who are interested in the doctrine of utilitarianism or in ethical decison-making. (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)
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)
The paper begins by situating Singer within the British meta-ethical tradition. It sets out the main steps in his argument for utilitarianism as the ‘default setting’ of ethical thought. It argues that Singer’s argument depends on a hierarchy of reasons, such that the ethical viewpoint is understood to be an adaptation – an extension – of a fundamental self-interest. It concludes that the argument fails because it is impossible to get from this starting-point in self-interest to his conception of (...) the ethical point of view. The fundamental problem is its mixing the immiscible: the Humean subordination of reason to interest with the Kantian conception of reason as universal and authoritative. (shrink)
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.
Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer have recently provided an evolutionary argument for utilitarianism. They argue that most of our deontological beliefs were shaped by evolution, from which they conclude that these beliefs are unjustified. By contrast, they maintain that the utilitarian belief that everyone’s well-being matters equally is immune to such debunking arguments because it wasn’t similarly influenced. However, Guy Kahane remarks that this belief lacks substantial content unless it is paired with an account of well-being, and he (...) adds that utilitarian beliefs about wellbeing—e.g. the belief that pleasure is good and pain is bad—were probably shaped by evolution. Logically, de Lazari-Radek and Singer should therefore reject these beliefs along with the deontological beliefs that evolved. The present paper is a defense of their argument. After considering a number of unsuccessful replies to Kahane’s objection, I put forward a more promising solution: de Lazari-Radek and Singer should combine their objectivist view in metaethics with a subjectivist account of well-being, such as the desire theory. Such a hybrid account would tackle Kahane’s challenge because subjective accounts of value are immune from evolutionary debunking arguments. And it would be compatible with utilitarianism, which doesn’t fit very well with metaethical subjectivism. Before concluding, I deal with two concerns that this solution might raise: I argue that the desire theory is actually subjective enough to escape Kahane’s objection, and I deny that retreating to the combination of ethical objectivism and prudential subjectivism is ad hoc. (shrink)
It is argued that utilitarianism should be reformulated as a scalar theory admitting of degrees of wrongdoing. It is also argued that the degree of wrongness of an action should be sensitive both to the relative valueloss the action results in and to the difficulty of having acted better. A version of utilitarianism meeting these specifications is forumalted.
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)
I argue that a notorious passage from Utilitarianism concerning the relationship between morality and blameworthiness need not be an obstacle to a consistent act-utilitarian interpretation of Mill's moral theory. First, the Art of Life provides a framework for reconciling Mill's evaluation of conduct in terms of both expediency and blameworthiness. Like contemporary sophisticated act-utilitarians, Mill treats expediency as the more fundamental category of evaluation. Second, textual evidence suggests that, on Mill's view, evaluations of blameworthiness are not strictly bound by (...) rules, despite rule-ish considerations about punishment and discretion. Third, Mill's own jurisdictional account in terms of competent decision-making remains consistent with the act-utilitarian interpretation. (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)