Lecture 6 – Jan 28
The morally right act is the act that will produce the greatest sum of pleasure minus
Can be broken down into 2 parts
1. Consequentialism about Morality – the morally right act is the one that will
produce the greatest total amount of good (the least amount of bad) out of the
acts available to you.
2. Hedonism about the Good – the only thing good in itself is pleasure and the
absence of pain
Nozick’s Experience Machine
A challenge to Hedonism
• Argues that something else matters to us other than how much pleasure and
pain we experience
How can Utilitarians reply?
1. Argue that Nozick is incorrect and that Hedonism is true after all
2. Adjust their view – adopt a broader view than Hedonism about the good
Today’s Lecture – focus on the consequentialist component of Utilitarianism
A way to think of the question:
• Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Hedonism is true
• Should we, then, accept that the morally right act is the one that brings about the
greatest sum of pleasure minus pain?
The ‘Too High for Humanity’ Objection (Last Tuesday’s lecture)
“It is exacting too much to require that people shall always act from the inducement of
promoting the general interests of society.” (p. 175)
Suppose that a person must choose between two courses of action: A and B
Your choice will have on the following people – there are 6 people, one is you.
• Act A: Utility (A) = (10+15+24+2) – (6+40) = 5 o Good things for 4 people, bad things for 2
• Act B: Utility (B) = (10+4+5) – (5+6+9) = -1
o Good things for 3 people, bad things for 3 people
The right thing to do is act A. It would be morally wrong to do act B
• Even though, really, B is more equal. A does give more good but two people have
to suffer for the good of four.
But in other cases…
Example: “Suppose that the sheriff of a small town can prevent serious riots (in which
hundreds of people will be killed) only by ‘framing’ and executing (as a scapegoat) an
innocent man.” (Smart, p. 69-70)
• The sheriff knows that no one will find out about the framing
Utilitarianism – the right thing to do is to frame and execute the innocent man.
For example, it could be
• The utility of framing and executing 1 innocent man = -500
• The utility of letting the riots occur = -250 (per death) X 150 deaths = -37, 500
Justice and Punishment
Justice: getting what one deserves
The common-sense view of punishment: one should only be punished when one
Utilitarianism’s view of punishment:
• What matters is not whether the punishment is just or unjust
• What matters is whether it will produce the greatest sum of pleasure minus pain
In Utilitarianism’s Defense
Situations like the sheriff situation are ‘empirically unlikely”. (Smart, p. 70)
Is this a satisfactory reply? Just because the situation is unlikely, doesn’t mean that it
might never happen. This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be thought of and that
utilitarianism shouldn’t have a response to it.
A More General Problem
Utilitarianism: the morally right act is the one which produces the greatest total amount
of pleasure minus pain
• The distribution of pleasures and pains (i.e. who gets what) does not matter Rawls
On this view, “There is no reason in principle why the greater gains of some should not
compensate for the lesser losses of others; or more importantly why the viola