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Tom Hurka

October 14/16 Normative Ethics – Utilitarianism Utilitarianism Mill calls „greatest happiness principle‟ and states on p. 299 top; also see Hare intro, p. 352; greatest happiness of greatest number, or „in all circumstances, that action is right that will result in the greatest overall surplus of happiness over unhappiness in the world‟  Utilitarianism takes a common moral idea, just states it more clearly so makes it into the one supreme moral principle  the right act is always the one that will result in the greatest happiness, or greatest surplus of happiness over unhappiness, for everyone affected.  on all views morality is at least partly about caring for others, or doing good to them and not doing evil, about benefitting them and not harming them Examples: Mill relates the utilitarian principle to the Christian Golden Rule (302 middle) Hare intro p. 352; utilitarianism distinctive in treating that as the only moral idea, or making promotion of happiness the only moral duty Three basic elements (like Hare, p. 353 but slightly different) (1) Consequentialism: Hare‟s discussion pp. 353-56 somewhat confusing, but the idea is that we should always do what will produce most good, or result in the best overall outcome possible; different options available, which will lead to different total courses of world, and we should choose the one whose resulting course of the world is best; it‟s important that it‟s just the outcome that matters and not how we brought it about: we may have actively caused good/evil or just allowed it to come about, but this doesn‟t matter for utilitarianism – just the result does; Hare p. 353, with allowing to die as bad as killing * all that matters is the outcome doesn‟t matter how you brough it about weather it is direct or indirect the best action is the one that brings about the best outcome (2) Welfarism/hedonism: the only good is welfare, often understood as pleasure or happiness, with the only evil as pain; Mill 299 x 2; Hare p. 356-57: can combine consequentialism with many views about good, including emergence of master race and human perfection; but utilitarianism restricts good to welfare, which some equate with pleasure (p. 357) but Hare thinks it can also be equated with satisfaction of preferences or desires, either just about your feelings now (which is close to pleasure) or more generally; let‟s follow Mill p. 299 and understand utilitarianism as equating the good with pleasure, happiness, or good feeling – not just humans, but also some animals; their pleasure/pain count too; Bentham on question as not „Can they reason?” but “Can they suffer?‟; utilitarian vegetarians; only pleasure/pain, so eating oysters is probably OK (3) Impartiality/aggregationism  could have consequentialism + hedonism with egoism, or the view that everyone ought to maximize just his own pleasure; this would be ethical egoism, in contrast with psychological egoism of week 1; BUT utilitarianism rejects egoism: Mill 302 middle, 305; Hare 357, 359; also time-neutrality, Hare 358, extended to future generations  not only against egoism, but also against self-referential altruism (which says you should care more about your family/friends/intimates, and so save one of your children rather than three strangers); utilitarianism says that‟s wrong, because it‟s not impartial  how do you put the three together? summation: identify all the different pleasures and pains that will be felt if you do a given act, and add them across persons/times in a way that‟s completely impartial with respect to persons/times, i.e. no more weight for pleasure at one time than for equally intense pleasure at another, or no more weight for pleasure of one person than for equally intense pleasure of another; then do act with best net outcome, or greatest surplus of pleasure over pain in its effects; Hare on aggregation pp. 359, 360  BUT see as arising from consequentialism – right act is always one that results in most good – plus welfarism/hedonism – good consists only in something like pleasure and absence of pain – and impartiality – all people‟s pleasure/pain count equally in determining overall value of outcome Utilitarianism is not the only moral theory – there are many competing ones – and all three of its features are controversial and have led some people to reject it; discuss these issues next week; NOTE no tutorial next week Objections 1. Utilitarianism is impractical – this is not a decisive objection a) We often don‟t know what‟s right; climate change? US military intervention in Syria? Higher taxes on smoking? Moral questions often difficult, and utilitarianism gives an explanation why they‟re difficult: the answers to them depend on difficult predictions about future, and when we can‟t make those we can‟t know what‟s right (b) The objection doesn‟t apply just to utilitarianism: surely any moral theory, including one that denies that the right act is always the one with the best consequences, thinks that one moral demand is to bring about good consequences; so any moral theory faces the same difficulty, which is therefore not unique to utilitarianism (c) There would be a serious problem if the difficulty went too far, so w
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