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Modern applications of utilitarianism

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Safina Ilyas

on 20 March 2014

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Transcript of Modern applications of utilitarianism

Peter Singer
R. M. Hare
"The satisfaction of people's preferences rather than aiming to achieve the greatest balance of pleasure over pain."

In this form of utilitarianism, it is important to take into account the preferences of the individuals involved, except in situations where those preferences come in direct conflict with the preference of others.

The right thing to do, therefore, is to maximise the chance that everyone's preferences will be satisfied.
Preference utilitarianism was first put forward by John Harsanyi in 1977, but is more commonly associated with R. M. Hare and Peter Singer.

Harsanyi stated:

preference utilitarianism is the only form of utilitarianism consistent with the important philosophical principle of preference autonomy. By this I mean the principle that, in deciding what is good and what is bad for a given individual, the ultimate criterion can only be his own wants and his own preferences

Preference Utilitarianism
R. M. Hare stated:

In this form of utilitarianism it is important to take into account the preferences of the individuals involved, except where those preferences come into direct conflict with the preferences of others. The right thing to do, therefore, is to maximise the chance that everyone’s preferences will be satisfied.

Peter Singer stated:

the preferences of the victim could sometimes be outweighed by the preferences of others”, this showing that preference utilitarianism could sometimes support the killing of someone. However, Singer still held respect for the life of others, “a wide range of the most central and significant preferences a being can have."
Preference Utilitarianism
Modern applications of utilitarianism.
This form of utilitarianism is one of the most popular forms of utilitarianism in the world of contemporary philosophy.
It defines a morally right action as that which produces the most favorable consequences for the people involved.
It considers a wide number of people's preferences, not just individuals.
Examples of preference utilitarianism
A good and simple example of preference utilitarianism is the cake example:

If my friends are all on diets and would prefer not to have cake, it would be more moral for me to eat it without sharing, according to preference utilitarianism.

A bit more of a complicated example is the gang violence example:

If a gang decided to rob and kill someone, then they would have more pleasure from killing the person and they would also have more money, which means that the gang hold more pleasure after the person has been killed, than they did when they were alive. There are found to be more people in the gang, so they would get more pleasure and by using preference utilitarianism this would be seen as the morally right thing to do as more happiness over the killing of this one person.
• Everyone’s interests must be given equal consideration.

• Makes the world a happier place.

• Practical and useful, e.g. if someone won the lottery, they would share it rather than keep it to themselves, this being very useful to those people receiving the money.

• Easy to apply to real life situations.
• Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure) is wrong. Just because there are some people who enjoy a certain activity, it does not make that activity right, e.g. paedophilic pornography, it isn’t a right act.

• It is unpredictable, you might think it will help a lot of people, but something could change and that could mean a lot of people would not benefit from it.

• Incalculable – you could make a decision that does benefit a lot of people but could make matters worse for a lot more people without even realising it.

• It is unfair to some people, it makes a lot of people happy, but you might have to cause suffering to innocent people, which is wrong.
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