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Utilitarianism - Kymlicka.docx

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Department
Philosophy
Course
Philosophy 2801F/G
Professor
Lawson
Semester
Fall

Description
UTILITARIANISM  Rawls to begin a survey of contemporary theories of 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 assert and defend themselves  Claims that the morally right act or policy is that which produces the greatest happiness for the members of society  The basic structure of society not to the personal conduct of individuals TWO ATTRACTIONS  Two features of utilitarianism that make it an attractive theory of political morality  DEPENDS O NTHE EXISTENCE OF God or a soul  Utilitarians just demand that the pursuit of human welfare or utility be done impartiality 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  Consequentialism says that something is morally good only if it makes someone’s like 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  Consequentialism also seems to provide a straightforward method for resolving moral questions – becomes a matter of measuring changes in human welfare  At its best utilitarianism is a strong weapon against prejudice and superstition  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 into two parts  1. An account of human welfare or utility and  2. An instruction to maximize utility, so defined, giving equal weight to each person’s utility DEFINING UTILITY – WELFARE HEDONISM  This is a dubious account for why we prefer some activities over others, poets often find writing to be a painful and frustrating yet they think it is valuable NON-HEDONISTIC MENTAL STATE UTILITY  Wrong for the things worth doing and having in life are not all reducible to ones mental state like happiness  Many different kinds of experiences re valuable – rewarding without being pleasurable  Nozick’s invention is in fact called an 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  Variety says that something is made valuable by the fact that lots of people desire it. But that is wrong and indeed backwards. 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 persuade oneself that the unattainable goal was not in fact worth seeking  The general phenomenon of adaptive 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 our those which are mistaken and irrational  The chief human good is the satisfaction of rational preferences  Once we view utility in terms of satisfying informed preferences, we have little guidance  Even if we know which preferences are rational, there are many different kinds of informed preferences with 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 life 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 give 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 not just within a particular life  If we were una
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