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PH1026: Week 5a Lecture
Transcript of PH1026: Week 5a Lecture
Week 5a Lecture
i. Does the Distribution of Goodness Matter?
ii. Average vs. Total Utility
iii. Equality vs. Well-being
Average vs. Total Utility
Does the Distribution of Goodness Matter?
Up until Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was legal for white people in the American South to keep black people as their property. The treatment of slaves by their white masters was generally characterized by brutality and degradation. Floggings, killings, and rapes were commonplace. Suppose that despite all of the bad that came with slavery, the institution was nonetheless a source of great good for the slave owners and Southern society – so much so that, on balance, the society with slavery was better off than without it. Does this mean that slavery was morally justified?
Most people experience diminishing marginal utility after a certain point. That is, they enjoy utility from consuming resources up until a certain point. But after that point, the amount of utility enjoyed decreases with every further unit of resource consumed. Suppose, however, that there is such thing as a utility monster – a person who enjoys as much or more utility from each additional unit of resource that he consumes as he does from the first. Furthermore, suppose that this person “get[s] enormously greater gains in utility from any sacrifice of others than these others lose” (Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, Utopia, p. 41). In other words, our utility monster is a person who, by some freak of nature, enjoys so much utility from consuming resources that this always offsets any possible loss of utility that might come from diverting resources to him and away from others. If such a person existed, wouldn’t we be morally justified in diverting all of the world’s resources to the utility monster and sacrificing everyone else?
Christians and Lions
American Chattel Slavery
(i)We can make the people who actually exist better off.
(ii)We can increase the number of people who exist with on balance good lives.
What are We Increasing?
“Suppose the first outcome contains one billion people, all at a high level of well-being, while the second outcome contains one billion people and one people, all at the same high level. The ‘original’ people are no better off in the second outcome – does the mere addition of the extra person make the outcome better?” (Kagan 1998, 46)
Maximization by Addition
A.Average Utility – the greater the average level of well-being, the better the outcome.
B.Total Utility – the greater the aggregate level of well-being, the better the outcome.
Equality vs. Well-being
“Suppose we have two possible outcomes – each with ten people, and each with a total of 1,000 units of well-being … In the first outcome, each of the ten people has 100 units. In contrast, in the second outcome, nine of the people have only 50 units each, while the tenth person has all of the remaining 550 units!”
Total: 1000 vs. 1000
Avg: 100/person vs. 100/person
C.Welfarism – the only thing that matters to the goodness of outcomes is well-being.
D.Egalitarianism – “…whenever there is an increase in equality, there is at least one aspect with regard to which the outcome is better (even if this is, on balance, outweighed).” (Kagan, 1998, 53)
E.Prioritarianism – whenever there is an outcome in which the worst off does better this is at least one aspect with regard to which the outcome itself is better.
(i)We cannot directly distribute well-being itself, but only resources.
(ii)The equality of resources matters (instrumentally) but the equality of well-being does not.
(iii)The egalitarian is committed to levelling down – i.e. accepting an outcome with lower total well-being but greater equality.
Suppose we have two possible outcomes – each with ten people. In the first outcome, there is a total of 1000 units of well-being distributed thusly: nine of the ten people has 50 units, while the tenth person has all of the remaining 550. In contrast, in the second outcome, there is a total of 500 units of well-being and each of the ten has a share of 50 units. Which outcome is better?
Total: 1000 vs. 500
Avg: 100/person vs. 50/person
One reportedly popular form of entertainment in ancient Rome was to watch Christians be thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. Suppose that relatively few Christians were tortured and killed this way but that a great many Romans took extreme pleasure in these rare events and that, all-things-considered, their pleasure significantly outweighed the pain and suffering of the Christian minority. If you are a good utilitarian, mustn’t you accept not only that throwing the Christians to the lions is better than not but also that doing this is morally required?
Objections to Egalitarianism