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Utilitarianism

Lecture on Bentham & Mill. Just try to make it go through in 50 minutes!
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nico jenkins

on 6 February 2015

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Transcript of Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham
1748-1832

John Stuart Mill
1806-1873

"Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end."
"The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals "utility" or the "greatest happiness principle" holds that "
actions are right
in proportion as
they tend to promote happiness
;
wrong
as
they tend to produce the reverse of happiness
. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure."
"It is better to be a human being disatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates disatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question."
What is Utilitarianism?
It is the action whereby we bring about the greatest good for the greatest number.
Consequentialist:
Things apply and are measured only on the consequences.
Also, in relation to those ideas, first promoted the radical concept of utilitarianism.
Laid out system whereby actions could be judged quantitatively.
Felicific Calculus:
Intensity
duration
certainty/uncertainty
propinquity (nearness)/remoteness
fecundity
purity
extent
All pleasure is equal (can be judged only on quantity) not quality. Therefore, one pleasure is equal to the next, provided it provides the same amount happiness
In contrast to
Kant,
ethics should not be done by duty, but instead from other motives which an underpinning of duty informs.
Majority of actions are done for personal reasons, and as long as they are not violating another's rights, they are o.k.
How do we draw on the principle of utility?
We learn by the experience of the history of man.
Panopticons
Pluses to Utilitarianism
Simple
Decision procedure which is easy to follow
Criterion of right action
Intuitively appealing (at least at first)
Deterministic
Applies to both acts and omissions
Impartial
Cons (against Mill)
Imprecision (contrast short term/long term)
Pleasure is not always good.
Pleasure is not the only good.
Value Monsim
Value Pluralism
Act Utilitarianism:
An act is right if and only if it results
in as much good as any available alternative.
Rule Utilitarianism;
An act is right if and only if it is
required by a rule that is itself a
member of a set of rules whose acceptance
would lead to greater utility for society
than any available alternative

My freedom to swing my fist ends where your face begins.
"...actions are
right
as they tend to
promote happiness
;
wrong
as they tend to produce
the reverse of happiness.
"
"I believe that, before they devote themselves exclusively to the one, they have already become incapable of the other. Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and to the society to which it has thrown them, are not favorable to keeping that higher capacity in excercise." (ee, 95)
But by happiness, Mill does not claim the happiness of the individual but rather the happiness "off all concerned."

The Demand of Utilitarianism

"...the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right...is not the agent's own happiness but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others,
utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator
."
We discover this happiness of all two ways;
Through "laws and social arrangements [that] place the happiness and interests of every individual in harmony with the whole.
Through "education and opinion" which "establish in the minds of every individual" a "indissoluble" connection between "his own happiness and the good of the whole."
"The greatest majority of good actions are not intended for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals of which the good of the world is made up....the occassions on which any person has the power...are but exceptional....on these occasions alone he is called on to consider public utility; in every other case, private utility, the interest or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to attend to.
Is it to demanding?
Utilitarianism speaks to us through two possible ways;
The first is that there exists
a set of simple rules to follow,
a calculus. Compare this to the open-ended morality of deontology.
The second is that is
simplifies morality to a clear code
;
alleviate suffering
and help
promote happiness.
The question then is where does your face begin?
CONSEQUENTIALISM
(OR THE DEMAND OF UTILITARIANISM)
Distributive & Retributive Justice
The burden of taxes and the burden of punishment.
Demandingness
Superogatory acts vs. obligatory
Integrity and Negative Responsibility
Doing something against our beliefs.
Friendship and Special Obligations
The choice of family over what is right
Utilitarianism can be calculated in two ways:
As a
decision
procedure
As a
criterion of right action
Right Actions
are simply the ones that produce the
BEST CONSEQUENCES
Hedonism
Can one person predict or manage anothers happiness?
Singer's Argument
"I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.
"My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally to do it."
"This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and not to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without
sacrificing anything that is
, from the moral point of view,
comparably important.
"
Stated Otherwise:
If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it."
On Mother's Day in the United States alone, we spend $14 billion; that includes...
This is enough to pay for a primary school education for all 60 million girls who cannot attend school in the world. That would pretty much end female illiteracy.
These numbers are fuzzy and uncertain, but it appears that there would be enough money left over for programs to reduce deaths in childbirth by about three-quarters, saving perhaps 260,000 women’s lives a year.
Doctrine or theory of ethics in which pleasure is regarded as the chief good or the proper aim of an action.
Compare this to the duty inherent in deontology...
"...that pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as
ends
; and that all desirable things (which are...numerous...) are desirable either for pleasure inherent in themselves or as a means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain."
—John Stuart Mill
Those of motives are
Pleasure
and the
Avoidance of Pain
(for oneself and others)
Mill also writes extensively on "liberty" and formulates what is now known as Libertarianism, in which a society based on a limited government (or no government at all.)
Therefore, if it is in our power to stop something bad (in the form of suffering and death) without sacrificing anything of comparable importance then we ought, even must, do it.
That is, an act is right if and only if it actually promotes happiness, and this is usually limited to the single act.
Rule utilitarianism claims; follow a rule whose
general observance
promotes happiness the most, and
whose rule
, when follows,
always results in the best outcome.
When confronted by some situation or when facing a choice or dilemma, the utilitarian would:
Consider
the options available, however many there are.
Calculate
how much happiness (utility) would be produced were each of the options to be acted upon
&
how many interests of how many people would be affected.
Determine
which option produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.
Choose
that option that will produce the most amount of good for the most amount of people.
That is, ask yourself if this act, in this situation, will result in the most amount of good for the most amount of people?
Value lies only in
states of affairs
And to talk about
inherent
or
intrinsic

values
is spooky.
Advocated for
individual
and
economic freedoms
, the
separation of church and state
,
freedom of expression
,
equal rights
for
women,
the
right to divorce,
&
decriminalizing homosexuality
, as well as the
abolition
of
slavery,
&
abolition
of
physical punishment.
Suffering is real and there are simply states of affairs that are better than others.
Group Exercise

Get into groups of three members. Each group will be responsible for coming up
with a situation (either real or imagined) in which utilitarianism has an implication
that goes against commonsense morality. You may not use any of the situations
already discussed, although you may come up with a situation that is similar.
The situation must involve a person who has to make a choice between two main alternatives, each of which has very different consequences.
(Think of the various trolley car examples.)

After coming up with your example and discussing it as a group, assign each
member to one of the following tasks:

A. Describe the situation in writing and state the two alternatives that must be
chosen between. State which alternative utilitarianism seems to favor and why.

B. State the "commonsense" moral principle that utilitarianism appears to conflict
with. Write a response on behalf of utilitarianism, using the Denial strategy.
(Here you are trying to convince someone that utilitarianism actually agrees with
commonsense morality, despite appearances to the contrary).

C. Write another response on behalf of utilitarianism using the “biting the bullet”
strategy. (Here you are trying to convince someone that utilitarianism really
does give us the right answer, and that commonsense morality is wrong on this
point).

Each member will present their portion of the assignment to the class, and then
turn
in

what they wrote for credit.
A Thought Experiment
A thought experiment is a hypothetical situation that we create in our minds in order to test a philosophical theory. The hypothetical situation should be something that could actually happen (and in many cases, it is something that has actually happened, or will happen in the future).
So that we can test the theory, the theory must have an implication about what would be true if the
hypothetical situation were real.

We can then compare this implication to our own beliefs about the thought experiment. If the implication of the theory agrees with our own beliefs, then the theory is confirmed (to some extent). If it does not, then we must ask ourselves, “Which is wrong: the theory or my beliefs?” Is it is reasonable to stick with our beliefs until the evidence is against them?
Important Note: It doesn’t matter whether the hypothetical situation is likely to
happen. If a theory has a false implication about something that could happen,
then the theory is wrong (on that point, at least).
Does utilitarianism "demand" a change in how we operate? Is that demand too much?
Would it be Right to
PUSH
the
BIG MAN
off the bridge
(even if it saved children's lives)
Both ACT and RULE utilitarians must
ASSUME NOTHING
. They must actually poll or measure what act will produce the greatest utility, or
happiness.
The RULE UTILITARIAN measures the consequences of the act repeated over and over again through time as if it were to be followed as a RULE whenever similar circumstances arise.
Consider
CHEATING
can it be justified through
act
or
rule
utilitarianism?
The ancient Romans used slaves as gladiators, forcing them to fight to the death for entertainment.

Exploitation:
President Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, knowing that many thousands of non-combatants would be killed, in order to save more lives by ending the war.

Assume that the decision did result in fewer lives lost. Was it morally right?
Ruthlessness:
Suppose that banning certain kinds of fast food and snack foods would result in millions of people living longer, healthier lives.
Would such a ban be morally justified? Should we ban extra large sodas or super sized meals in order to help the population?
Paternalism:
Challenges to
Utilitarianism
Bentham will refer to this as a "
moral calculus.
"
It is only states of affairs that we can determine whether something is "good" or "bad".
Utilitarianism tells us that it is the happiness or well being of sentient beings that is the valuable thing.
An attractive thing about utilitarianism is that it is concerned with humanity as a whole. It is impartial and not subjective.
It looks at the goodness of states of affairs, assuming that it is happiness and nothing more that makes them good.
Utilitarianism was invaluable in getting rid of prejudices based on sex, race, social rank, etc.
"Each should count for one, and none for more than one."
The happiness of any one person is just as valuable as that of any other.
(How should I proceed?)
(How should we judge an action?)
For Bentham,
pleasure was pleasure
no matter the source.
Drawbacks to the Calculus:
Is science always correct?
Who decides utility?
Is "happiness" all there is?
We, as a society, are happiest—most contented, most well off—when all are happy.
In this case, Mill was saying that Bentham was wrong—that there are certain pleasures which are "inherently" better.
Would it be morally acceptable to pay people to fight to the death?
Should we limit advertising to kids?
98% of food related ads that children view ( estimated to be 3920 per year) are for products high in fat, sugar, sodium.
For the radical utilitarian, customary morality may seem to be full of
convenient rules
which
justify
our lifestyle, and
prevent
or
excuse us
from doing as much to
benefit the world
as possible.
The rational solution—for the utilitarian—is to do away with "conventional" morality, and attend directly to
what matters
;
ending suffering
and
making the world a better place.
Remember; utilitarianism calls for acting in such a way that you provide
the most amount of good for the most amount of people
.
Utilitarianism offers certain clear benefits;
It tells us what morality is about—PRODUCING STATES OF AFFAIRS IN WHICH THERE IS HAPPINESS AND FREEDOM FROM SUFFERING.
It tells us how to go about this—CALCULATING COSTS AND BENEFITS
It does not set moral limits to what we can do—IT JUST TELLS US TO MAXIMIZE THE GOOD
It is rooted in
impartiality
and
equality
In all of this, utilitarianism provides a radical and critical theory that can inform our moral thinking and actions, as well as our social institutions.
Peter Singer
Famine, Affluence and Morality
14.9 Trillion USD GDP
46,400 per capita GDP

Of that 14.9 Trillion is spent on foreign aid?
Less than .2 percent (compared to 4.8% on defense)
1.15 Billion promised to Haiti in March.
(Compare to DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-$1.8 billion.)
"I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.
"My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally to do it."
A child drowning...
The fact that a person is physically near to us, so that we have personal contact with him, may make it more likely that we
shall
assist him, but this does not show that we
ought
to help him rather than another who happens to be farther away. If we accept any pinciple of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far way from us..."
What is the point of marginal utility?
Charity versus obligation.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett
Bill and Melinda Gates started an organization with 30 Billion USD. Warren Buffet matched it.
How much of our affluence comes on the backs of the poor?
“If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.”
—Warren Buffett
The Nobel Prize-winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government.
"The suffering and death that are occurring there now are not inevitable, not unavoidable in any fatalistic sense of the term."
The idea of fatalism and inevitably are common amongst us...
"The decision and action of human beings can prevent this kind of suffering."
Moral Imagination
The argument that we only know that which is in front of us is derided by Singer due to instant communication (and that was in 1971)
The fact that there are others that can help the drowning child (or millions that can help starving refugess does not free one from moral responsibility (though it may be convenient to hide behind it.)
Because giving money is considered an act of charity, it is not thought that there is anything wrong with not giving...When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look 'well dressed' we are not providing for any important need.
To [give money away] is not charitable, or generous. Nor is it the kind of act which philosophers and theologians have called 'superogatory'an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do.
On the contrary, we ought to give money away, and it is wrong not to do so.
"The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless."
Thomas Aquinas
Tzedakah
means
justice
and
charity
in hebrew and it requires a 10% donation of ssets. It is condisered more important than all the other commandments combined.
"It us how we act toward "the least of these brothers of mine" that will determine, Jesus says, whether we inherit the kingdon of G-d or go into the eteral fire. He places far more emphasis on charity for the poor."
Zakat
in Islam requires that muslim give a 2.5% of their wealth per year.
charity
the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.
obligation
an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment
or
the condition of being morally or legally bound to do something: they are under no obligation to stick to the scheme.
Write a list of ten things that you can do without, right now, in your life.
(These do not have to be dramatic or over the top...think of the luxuries you could do without.) What is luxury?
ten things;
extra cup of coffee
new ipad (really want that!)
trip to Costa Rica
pair of kill city jeans
new stereo for office
collected letters of Samuel Beckett
new coat
sushi in Rockland
extra pint last night
?
SOCIAL CAPITAL
"...features of social organisation, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of socieyu by facilitating coordinated actions."
Singer's Argument
"I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.
"My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally to do it."
"This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and not to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without
sacrificing anything that is
, from the moral point of view,
comparably important.
"
Stated Otherwise:
"If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it."
Therefore, if it is in our power to stop something bad (in the form of suffering and death) without significantly harming or impacting ourselves, then we ought, even must, do it.
$1.9 billion in flowers
$2.5 billion in jewelry
$2.9 billion in meals
On Black Friday in 2013, in a single day, we spent, as a nation, $57 billion. This works out to $407.23 per person in the United States.
It is estimated that the cost to end world poverty is $30 billion dollars a year, sustained over ten years.
This may seem like a lot, but the defense budget for 2012 was:
$737 Billion
Remember what Singer is arguing is that, if we can do something good without
sacrificing anything of comparable moral worth
, then we ought,
ethically
, to do it.
"If [this] were acted upon, even in its qualified form, our
lives
, our
society
, and our
world
would be
fundamentally changed.
"
Singer is arguing that we have an
obligation

&
that
we must act
on that
obligation.
"The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.
—J.J.C. Smart
For the utilitarian,
"the only reason for performing action A rather than an alternative action B is that doing A will make mankind (or perhaps all sentient beings) happier than will doing B."
What we are asking in ethics is, essentially, when is an action, or series of actions,
forbidden
or
impermissible
?

Thomas Aquinas
(1225-1274)
Is it right to force a small number of people to be gladiators if it gives millions of people pleasure?
Can you relate recent controversies around concussions in the game of football to this same argument?
In contrast, for Mill, there were certain categories of pleasure that were "simply" better because they were more life affirming, and qualitatively more pleasurable.
Full transcript