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)
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).
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)
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.
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)
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)
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 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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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 comparisons are encoded in a single `individual preorder'. The individual preorder then uniquely determines the social preorder. The theorems have features that may be considered characteristic of Harsanyi-style utilitarianism, such as indifference to ex ante and ex post equality. If in addition the individual preorder satisfi es expected utility, the social preorder must be represented (...) by expected total utility. In the constant population case, this is the conclusion of the social aggregation theorem of Harsanyi (1955) under anonymity, but contra Harsanyi, it is derived without assuming expected utility at the social level. 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. Thus expected utility is inessential to Harsanyi's approach under anonymity. 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 therefore give further results related to additional constraints on the individual preorder. First, stronger utilitarian-friendly assumptions, like Pareto or strong separability, are essentially equivalent to the main expected utility axiom of strong independence. Second, the individual preorder satisfi es strong independence if and only if the social preorder has a mixture-preserving total utility representation; here the utility values can be taken as vectors in a preordered vector space, or more concretely as lexicographically ordered matrices of real numbers. Third, if the individual preorder satisfi es a `local expected utility' condition popular in nonexpected utility theory, then the social preorder is `locally utilitarian'. (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)
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.
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)
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 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)
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)
Jeremy Bentham is often interpreted as defending a satisficing, rather than maximizing, version of utilitarianism, where an act is right as long as it produces more pleasure than pain. This lack of maximization is surprising given Bentham’s maximizing slogan ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Against the satisficing interpretation, I argue that Bentham consistently defends a maximizing version of utilitarianism, where an act’s consequences are compared to those of not performing the act. I show that following this (...) version of utilitarianism requires that one realizes the greatest happiness for all affected individuals. (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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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 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.
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)
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, But 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.
The objective of the paper is to critically explicate the views of JS Mill in his "Utilitarianism" in regards to his efforts to clarify the concept of utilitarianism. In the first part of the paper it examined how successful was Mill in clarifying the idea of utilitarianism. In the second part of the paper, a critical discussion is presented to justify the applicability of his theory in dealing with contemporary moral dilemmas.
The self-other asymmetry is a prominent and important feature of common-sense morality. It is also a feature that does not find a home in standard versions of act-utilitarianism. Theodore Sider has attempted to make a place for it by constructing a novel version of utilitarianism that incorporates the asymmetry into its framework. So far as I know, it is the best attempt to bring the two together. I argue, however, that Sider's ingenious attempt fails. I also offer a (...) diagnosis that explains why no theory that remains recognizably act-utilitarian can successfully incorporate the asymmetry. (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. 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)
John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism is one of the most important philosophical works of the nineteenth century. Its advocacy of utilitarianism--the view that individual and political action should be directed at the "greatest happiness"--not only influenced political life, but attracted a great deal of criticism. This is the first book dedicated to the interpretation and critical discussion of this significant work.
The notion of rule utilitarianism (a twentieth-century addition to the canon of utilitarian thought) has been discussed under two main headings—ideal-rule utilitarianism and 'indirect' utilitarianism. The distinction between them is often hazy. But we can sketch out each perspective along three different dimensions, contrasting the two conceptions of rule utilitarianism at each of three main hinge points: (1) the grounding of rules, (2) the allowed complexity of rules, (3) the conflict of rules. These two profiles constitute (...) ideal types, but they help us see that we can regiment and focus utilitarian intuitions in two quite distinct ways. An interesting test case is provided by J.S. Mill. He has been associated with each of these perspectives (with a utilitarianism of ideal rules by R.B. Brandt and with indirect utilitarianism by John Gray), but careful attention to Mill's main arguments indicates, I believe, that he adheres to neither consistently, though he is closer to the indirect utilitarian position. (shrink)
The author re-examines Hare's multiple ways of connecting his metaethical with his normative doctrine, which is in formal sense determined as "Kantian utilitarianism", and in substantive sense as "preference-utilitarianism". Critical references to both dimensions of utilitarian doctrine aim at indication on scopes and limits of Hare's ambitious redefinition of the doctrine. Further on he discusses about so-called "necessary ingredient" of moral reasoning under the name of "sympathetic imagination", which Hare grasps in his developed theory not only as a (...) normative demand but also as a logical thesis. Finally, he considers kinds of preferences that can or cannot be recognized as morally relevant. (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)
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.
Fairness can be incorporated into Harsanyi’s utilitarianism through all-inclusive utility. This retains the normative assumptions of expected utility and Pareto-efficiency, and relates fairness to individual preferences. It makes utilitarianism unfalsifiable, however, if agents’ all-inclusive utilities are not explicitly specified. This note proposes a two-stage model to make utilitarian welfare analysis falsifiable by specifying all-inclusive utilities explicitly through models of individual fairness preferences. The approach is applied to include fairness in widely discussed allocation examples.
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)
It is widely accepted that one of the main objectives of government expenditure on health care is to generate health. Since health is a function of both length of life and quality of life, the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) has been developed in an attempt to combine the value of these attributes into a single index number. The QALY approach - and particularly the decision rule that healthcare resources should be allocated so as to maximise the number of QALYs generated - (...) has often been equated with the utilitarian philosophy of maximising `the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. This paper considers the extent to which the measurement and aggregation of QALYs really is utilitarian by developing a new taxonomy in order to classify utilitarianism and the different aspects of the QALY approach. It is shown that the measurement of QALYs is consistent with a number of different moral positions and that QALYs do not have to be aggregated according to the maximisation rule. Therefore it is inappropriate to necessarily equate QALYs with utilitarianism. It is shown that much turns on what in principle the QALY represents and how in practice it can be operationalised. The paper highlights the category confusion that is often present here and suggests possible avenues for future theoretical and empirical research. (shrink)
Apart from a short introduction, this contribution consists of a translation of Tadeusz Kotarbinski’s “Utilitarianism and The Ethics of Pity”. In that very concise and relatively unknown early note, written before he embarked on his long and influential career as a nominalist logician and philosopher of science, Kotarbinski had formulated four astonishingly ‘modern’ objections to utilitarianism. Unlike Christian ‘ethics of pity’, utilitarian ethics disregards the normative importance of the distinction between preventing suffering and promoting happiness, leaves no room (...) for supererogation, leaves no room for agent-relativity in morality insofar as it disallows ‘inefficient’ self-sacrifice, and rejects the possibility of genuine ethical dilemmas. To what extent was Kotarbinski a pioneer in his critique? This question is posed but not answered. (shrink)
In this paper I shall consider the difficulty for Ethical Egoism, Act Utilitarianism and later what I shall call Cumulative Effect Utilitarianism, that they both commit the fallacy of pragmatic inconsistency. I shall distinguish various forms of the fallacy of pragmatic inconsistency; in particular I shall distinguish between the fallacy of direct and indirect pragmatic inconsistency, and shall argue that though both Ethical Egoism and Act Utilitarianism probably commit both, Cumulative Effect Utilitarianism does not.
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)