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Utilitarianism

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Justin Litaker

on 16 February 2017

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Transcript of Utilitarianism

Review of Moral Theories
Common Deductive Argument Form
Subjectivism
: the morally right act is the act I (the speaker) approve(s) of

Cultural Relativism
: the morally right act is that act approved of by a society’s moral code

Divine Command Theory
: the right act is the act commanded by God

Ethical Egoism
: the morally right act is the act that best promotes the agent’s self-interest

Social Contract Theory
: morally right acts are those acts that follow the rules necessary for social living (and to avoid a state of nature) that rational people would agree to on the condition that others agreed to follow the rules as well
Utilitarianism
Principle of Utility
: In all circumstances, as far as we can, we should act so as to maximize happiness (utility)
Utilitarianism
: the theory that the morally right action is the action whose consequences bring into the world the greatest total amount of happiness (after subtracting any unhappiness caused)
Three Features of Utilitarianism
Only the Consequences Matter
The morality of an action depends solely on the consequences of the action; nothing else matters.
Objections to Three Features
(A)
Utilitarianism Ignores Considerations of (In)Justice
(O1) It is False that Only the Consequences Matter
(B)
Utilitarianism Ignores Individual Rights
(C)
Utilitarianism Ignores Backward-Looking Moral Reasons
Hedonism
:
the idea that happiness is the only thing good in itself, or that pleasure is the only intrinsic good/pain the only intrinsic bad
This falsely assumes that things are good & bad only in terms of how we
feel
Objections to Three Features
(O2) It is False that Happiness is the only thing we value in-itself
We intrinsically value things other than happiness and pleasure
artistic creativity
friendship
So utilitarians are mistaken that only (un)happiness of the consequences matter.
Rachels' counterexamples:
Pianist Damaged Hands
Friend Ridicules You Behind Your Back
Objections to Three Features
(A)
Equal Concern for Everyone is Too Demanding
(O3)
It is False that We Should Be Equally Concerned for Everyone
(B)
Personal Relationships Require Partiality
Feature 1
Only the (Un)Happiness of the Consequences Matter
An action’s consequences matter insofar as they involve the greater or lesser happiness of individuals.
Feature 2
Strict Impartiality
In assessing consequences, each individuals’ happiness gets equal consideration
Feature 3
Three Features of Utilitarianism
Consider the Consequences
It is far from clear that punishing innocent people, violating people's rights, ignoring one's promises, etc. would bring about the overall best consequences
Furthermore, utilitarianism can explain why we should treat people justly, not violate their rights and keep our promises: Because doing so promotes good consequences
Defense 1
Rule Utilitarianism
Principle of utility is a guide for choosing rules, not individual acts
This version of utilitarianism claims that right acts are those that follow the set of rules whose existence would maximize happiness overall
Defense 2
Common Sense Can't Be Trusted
That utilitarianism goes against common sense morality is not a criticism of utilitarianism, but shows that common sense morality is flawed
Defense 3
Critique
:
Can we make exceptions to these utilitarian rules in atypical cases where breaking the rule maximizes happiness/utility?
If so we are back with the original version of (act) utilitarianism
If not, then we seem to have an irrational rule worship; a utilitarian telling us we should do something that does not maximize happiness...
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