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Utilitarianism - for A2 philosophers, in slight detail
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Utilitarianism - for A2 philosophers, in slight detail


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  • 1. Utilitarianism:Developing our grasp
  • 2. Definition: Hedonic Utilitarianism• Focus is on consequences.• Hedonism: Only pleasure is intrinsically good, and only pain intrinsically bad.• The proper aim of morality is therefore to promote happiness and diminish misery.• Classical hedonic utilitarianism (Bentham): – We ought to do whatever maximizes the balance of pleasure over pain for everyone. – ‘Push-pin to poetry’ – all pleasures are the same
  • 3. Rationale: Mill’s Utilitarianism• Non-egoistic – ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’• (against Bentham/ ‘pleasure hogs’ accusation) – there are different kinds of pleasure – ‘It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’ – self-evident that higher should be preferred to lower• can be reconciled with Christianity etc – takes others into account• all goals can be reduced ultimately to pleasure (virtue, wealth etc)• Appeal to natural facts to prove claim that we always ultimately desire pleasure
  • 4. (Modern) reasons for supporting Mill• Rejects exceptionless rules – flexibility – it’s not always wrong to lie, steal, break your promises, or disobey your parents.• Human happiness and misery give a solid basis for evaluating the norms of different cultures.• (Singer) arguably any non-egoistic moral theory must consider outcomes for others, so utilitarianism is basic.• Cost/benefit analysis a common management tool – clear benefits
  • 5. How might desirable consequences be maximised?• Act – JJC Smart. Approach sums up likely benefits and harms for each act. – Easy to describe, responsive to circumstance – But difficult to apply, potentially erratic, (Mill: ‘Godless expediency’)• Rule – Richard Brandt. Rule-based approach follows rules (of thumb?) established in advance (e.g. stealing usually doesn’t have the best consequences) – Quicker, less erratic, might not be responsive to circumstances.
  • 6. What consequences could we choose to maximise?• Hedonic: Mill, Bentham• Preference/pluralist - Peter Singer - evaluate consequences in terms of various goods: virtue, knowledge, pleasure, life, and freedom, or animal desires.
  • 7. Issues: reductio ad absurdam arguments• Could have bizarre implications: – Could justify slavery/racism? – Could justify being (a murderous) Robin Hood? – George and the Chemical Warfare job: is it best to choose the least worst consequences? – Jim and the Indian Massacre – isn’t it wrong in itself to kill an innocent person, even if it had the best consequences?
  • 8. Issues: Deontological views• Right results, wrong reasons (= Kant’s attack) – Are good deeds done by a psychopath of equal merit to those done by a boy scout? – Isn’t there a difference between decent behaviour because of reward, and decent behaviour for its own sake? – Rules out possibility of self being virtuous • Response - Mill: pleasure of being good• the issue of Justice and Rights as moral absolutes – Aren’t some deeds simply wrong? (Bernard Williams’ examples) – Aren’t some rights inalienable? – Aren’t some rights inviolable?
  • 9. Issues: ‘Natural’ Facts questioned• Nozick and the Experience Machine = good empirical evidence that we would not choose a life of pleasure: – Response: vicissitudes point the contrast • pleasure is therefore meaningful • It remains as an ultimate goal• Bad Pleasures – a natural fact? – Mill says that the importance of pleasure is self- evident/known non-inferentially non-inferential arguments for bad pleasures? (psychopaths etc)• the matter of Special Obligations – e.g. natural facts concerning obligations to one’s children outweighing those to society as a whole – Can these be justified by utilitarian accounts?
  • 10. Methodology: Can the good be weighed up?• Quantifying Happiness – – Do tools like the Felicific Calculus really work? How? – Might some have greater capacity for e.g. pleasure?
  • 11. Issues with mapping consequences• Can the consequences of actions always be exactly determined? – Predictable v Actual Consequences – e.g.? – Short-term v Long-term Consequences – e.g? – Local v Global Consequences – e.g.?
  • 12. Questions, Questions…• These are on the critical material in the handout…• Groups to discuss, then report back…
  • 13. Bernard Williams: ‘Integrity’• What is the ‘George’ example and what does it show?• What is the ‘Jim’ example and what does it show?• What is ‘integrity’ and why does Williams think utilitarianism is incompatible with it?• What does Williams say about possible and/or remote effects?• What is Smart’s response to Williams’ thought- experiments?
  • 14. J.J.C. Smart – Act-Utilitarianism• Act vs. Rule – what’s the difference?• What objections to Rule-Utilitarianism are there? – What are hedonistic, ideal utilitarianism? Name some adherents… – Why are higher pleasures more ‘fecund’?• What use does Smart think an act-utilitarian can make of rules? – How do we learn when to apply a rule of thumb?• What does Smart say about ‘average’ and ‘total’ happiness?
  • 15. Richard Brandt – Rule-Utilitarianism• How does Brandt define act-utilitarianism?• What does he see as its weaknesses?• What is his defence of rule-utilitarianism?• Are Brandt and Smart really so different?
  • 16. Peter Singer: Preference Utilitarianism• What is the difference between hedonic and preference utilitarianism?• What is Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’ idea, and how is it relevant to a defense of preference utilitarianism?• Why might an animal-rights activist prefer preference utilitarianism?
  • 17. Homework:• Is utilitarianism compatible with having integrity in one’s moral opinions and behaviour?• (50 marks)