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Lecture 4

PHLA11H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Consequentialism

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Julia Nefsky

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Unit 1: Moral Theories
-utilitarianism wants to explain what is it that makes right acts right and wrong acts wrong at the
most fundamental level; act is right if and only if it maximizes happiness
-happiness means pleasure in the absence of pain
-an act is right if it maximizes utility, if and only if there is no action available to the agent that has
a higher utility
-utility = total pleasure total pain
Two Parts of Utilitarianism
-consequentialism: whether an act is right or wrong depends entirely on its consequences, not its
intrinsic nature, right action brings about the right consequences
-hedonism: pleasure and freedom from pain is the only thing that is desirable in itself, anything
else is desirable only as a means to pleasure or avoiding pain
Objection 1-Doctrine Worthy of Swine
-the life of humans boils down to pleasure and freedom from pain and that objective seems worthy
of the swine
-Mill replies that the objection assumes that the sources of pleasure are only bodily but we get
pleasures from other things too, there are higher and lower pleasures
-higher pleasures are intellectual pleasures, pleasures of the imagination while lower pleasures
are bodily and Mill argues that higher pleasures are more valuable and of higher quality so be
weighted more heavily
Objection 2: Too High for Humanity
-the theory is too high for us because it asks us to promote the general happiness of society,
utilitarianism says you have to consider everyone when considering what act to undertake and
maximize overall happiness
-Mill’s reply is that this objection confuses the rule of action with the motive of it, utilitarianism is
giving you a rule of action, what is takes for your action to be right or wrong but it doesn’t say you
don’t have to the motivated by the goal of maximizing utility
-motives are unimportant, utilitarianism just maximized happiness but doesn’t require you act
from the aim of promoting happiness
-but still this itself seems too far demanding because utilitarianism says you have acted wrongly
unless you maximize overall happiness
-Mill’s reply is that in most cases private utility, the interest or happiness of some few people, is all
he has to attend to because most of the time we are not in a position to benefit people on a large
-usually we are bringing about the most happiness when we focus on doing what is good for
ourselves and for those around us, our friends, family and colleagues
-whether your act is right or wrong is one thing, whether you are praiseworthy or blameworthy
for it is another, “motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much to do with
the worth of the agent”
Objection 3: No Time to Calculate
-there is no time prior to acting, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct
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