EMP Chapter 8
The Debate over Utilitarianism
Classic Version of Utilitarianism (Mills)
a) Actions are to be judged right or wrong solely by the virtue of
b) In assessing consequences, the only thing that matters is the
amount of happiness or unhappiness that is created
c) Each persons happiness counts the same.
Right actions are those that produce the greatest balance of happiness
over unhappiness, with each persons happiness counted the same
Hedonism- pleasure is the ultimate good and pain is the ultimate evil.
Flaws in this theory
-Someone who you think is your friend is ridiculing you behind your
back. You never know but so you never feel pain, but you are still
being made a fool of and you suffer no unhappiness
-a promising guitar players hands are injured in a car accident and he
can no longer play. Hedonists would say this is bad because it causes
pain and eliminates his source for joy. But suppose he finds just as
much enjoyment in something else, like watching tv. Is the accident
now a tragedy? Hedonists would say that frustration is only caused
when the guitar player thinks of what could have been. But this doesn’t
really eliminate the tragedy by simply getting him to cheer up.
We value all sorts of things such as creativity and friendship for their
own sakes. It makes us happy to have them but that is not the reason
we value them. It seems like a misfortune to lose them, even if there is
no loss of happiness
Moore argues that there are three obviously intrinsic goods- pleasure,
friendship, and aesthetic enjoyment- so right actions are those that
increase the worlds supply of these things.
Others say that we should maximize the satisfaction of people’s
Are Consequences all that matter?
We should look at what will happen as a result of doing our actions. If other consequences are important in determining what is right, then
utilitarianism is incorrect.
Justice: suppose a black man rapes a white woman and race riots
ensue. Should we wrongfully convict an innocent white man to bring a
quick end to the race riots? Justice requires us to treat someone fairly
while utilitarianism would require us to treat someone unfairly. The
best outcome would be achieved by lying under utilitarianism… this is
Rights: york vs story: police violated her rights and took nude pics of
her. Ultimately the police had more utility out of the nude pics but her
rights were violated. Utilitarianism would conclude that the police
actions were right but that seems like a perverse way of thinking.
Backwards Looking Reasoning: Suppose you promise a friend to go
to the movies but you have school work to do and they don’t answer
the phone when you try and call to cancel.