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Chapter

PHIL 240 Justifying the State - Utilitarianism & Fairness


Department
Philosophy
Course Code
PHIL 240
Professor
Adam Etinson

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Utilitarianism
Primary value is not autonomy but happiness. For utilitarians, the state is justified
if and only if it produces more happiness than any alternative. Whether consent is
given is irrelevant.
Problem: is happiness quantifiable?
Problem of interpersonal comparisons of utility: comparing happiness in two or
more individuals
Indirect utilitarianism: although one action may result in an individual's increase in
happiness, if all of society does the same action then there will be a collective
decrease (stealing, etc.) Therefore, it is good to enact a set of Laws that would
prevent the collective erosion of happiness from such acts.
On Law:
1) Laws should be passed if, and only if, they contribute more to human
happiness than any competing law (or the absence of law) would do.
2) Laws should be obeyed because they are laws (and will be obeyed because
disobedience means punishment), and should only be disobeyed to avoid
disaster
3) Laws should be repealed and replaced if they fail to serve the proper
utilitarian function
Criticisms:
scapegoatism: innocent individuals can suffer for the overall happiness of
society
counter-criticism: indirect utilitarianism
counter-counter-criticism: why the lack of faith in utility? Error in
calculation?
Principle of Fairness
Hume believes that reason itself is not sufficient as a motivating factor, and that
reason is the slave of passions in human beings.
He also believes that a State and its corresponding legal system is in the long-
term interest of all citizens, but that as man is incapable of being fully motivated
by reason, that in the absence of punishment men would seek the short-term gain
of breaking the law over the long-term gain of adhering to the law.
Therefore, Hume reasons that the threat of punishment must be enacted to deter
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