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Western University
Philosophy 2801F/G

READINGS WEEK 1 LECT 2 CHPT 2 UTILITARIANISM  John Rawls begin a survey of contemporary theories o justice  Rawls requires understanding the theory to which he was responding – namely, utilitarianism  Society utilitarianism operates as a kind of tacit background against which other theories have to assert and defend themselves  Claims that the morally right act or policy is that which produces the greatest happiness for the members of society  Principles apply the basic structure of society not to the person conduct of individuals TWO ATTRACTIONS  Two features of utilitarianism that makes it an attractive theory of political morality 1. Does not depend on the existence of God or a soul  Utilitarian’s just demand that the pursuit of human welfare or utility be done impartially for everyone in society  Consequentialism its importance is that it requires that we check to see whether the act or policy in question actually does some identifiable good or not  It demands of anyone who condemns something as morally wrong that they show who is wronged  Sequentialism says that something is morally good only if it makes someone’s life better off  Utilitarianism provides a test to ensure that such rules serve some useful function  Consequentialism is also attractive because it conforms to our intuitions about the difference between morality and other spheres  Consequenialism also seems to provide a straightforward method for resolving moral questions – right answer becomes a matter of measuring changes in human welfare  At its best, utilitarianism is a strong weapon against prejudice and superstition  If human welfare is the good which morality is concerned with, then surely the morally best act is the one which maximizes human welfare giving equal weight to each person’s welfare  Utilitarianism can be broken down into two parts a. An account of human welfare or utility b. An instruction to maximize utility so defined giving equal weight to each persons utility DEFINING UTLITY  The greatest happiness of the greatest number WELFARE HEDONISM  Is the view that the experience or sensation of pleasure is the chief human good  Dubious account of why we prefer some activities over others – poets often find writing to be painful and frustrating yt they think it is valuable NON-HEDONISTIC MENTAL STATE UTILITY  For the things worth doing and having in life are not all reducible to one mental state like happiness  Many different kinds of experiences are valuable  Rewarding without being pleasurable  Nozicks invention – experience machine PREFERENCE SATISFACTION  Human well being is something more than or other than getting the right sequence of mental states  Increasing peoples utility means satisfying their preferences  Equate welfare with the satisfaction of preferences  Satisfying our preferences does not always contribute to our well – being  When we lack adequate information or have made mistakes in calculating the costs and benefits of a particular action then what is good for us can be different from the preferences we currently have  Preferences therefore do not define our good  People want to have or do the things which are worth having or doing, and this may be different from what they currently prefer to have or do  Says that something is made valuasble by the fact that lots of people desire it, but that is wrong – having the preference does not make it valuable, its being valuable is a good reason for preferring it  One way to deal with this disappointment is to persude oneself that the unattainable goal was not in fact worth seeking  The general phenomenon of daptive preferences is well established  It is quite possible that there are more unsatisfied preferences in a free society than in a repressive society that teaches people from birth not to desire certain things INFORMED PREFERENCES  Defining welfare as the satisfaction of rational or informed preferences aims at satisfying those preferences which are based on full information and correct judgements while filtering out those which are mistaken and irrational  The chief human good is the satisfaction of rational preferences  Once we view utility in terms of satisfying preference we have little guidance  Even if we know which preferences are rational there are many different kinds of informed preferences which no obvious way to aggregate them  Informed preferences can be satisfied and hence our utility increased on this fourth account without it ever affecting our conscious experiences  Inexperienced preferences should count in determining well being. It really does make my lie worse when my preferences are violated without my knowing it.  We must accept the possibility that our lives can go worse even when our conscious experiences are unaffected  The informed preference account is plausible in principle but very difficult to apply in practice  We may find ourselves in a situation where it is impossible to know which act maximizes utility either for a given individual or for society at large  We constantly need to make decisions about how to balance different kinds of goods  If we have no rational basis for making these judgements due to our lack of information or the incommensurability of goods, then it is the entire structure of prudential reasoning not just utilitarianism which is at risk  Utilitarianism as a political philosophy requires that we be able to compare utility gains and losses across lives n
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