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Unformatted text preview: Utilitarianism Maximize good Jeremy Bentham Principle of utility: Maximize good "... the greatest happiness of the whole community, ought to be the end or object of pursuit. . . . The right and proper end of government in every political community, is the greatest happiness of all the individuals of which it is composed, say, in other words, the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Bentham's Principle "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness." John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." Consequences Consequentialism: an act's value depends on its consequences (effects on the amount of good) Universalism: everyone's good counts equally Motives, intentions, etc. Utilitarians treat what comes before the act as relevant, but only because of consequences: 1. An intention is good if it tends to lead to good actions. 2. A motive is good if it tends to lead to good intentions. 3. A character trait is good if it tends to lead to good motives. 4. A person is good if he/she tends to have good character traits. 5. A society is good if it tends to have good people. Intrinsic good Maximize what? Utilitarians need a theory of basic or intrinsic good Moral good = maximizing basic good Basic good = ? Hedonism Intrinsic good: Happiness What is happiness? Happiness Bentham & Mill: pleasure and the absence of pain Hedonism: pleasure and pain are the only sources of value Bentham's Utilitarianism A good act increases the balance of pleasure over pain in the community A bad act decreases it The best acts maximize the balance of pleasure over pain Bentham's Utilitarianism We must consider, not just ourselves, but everyone affected Individualism: effect on community is sum of affects on members Moral Calculus People affected A B . . . Z Pleasure P(A) P(B) . . . P(Z) Pain L(A) L(B) . . . L(Z) L Difference B(A) B(B) . . . B(Z) B Total P Bentham's Arguments Common sense: common sense moral judgments agree with PU Arguments for other principles assume PU: "if people don't follow this rule, bad things happen." We can resolve conflicts; we must have a measure of value that allows us to do that Bentham against conscience "Principle of sympathy and antipathy" tends to severity or leniency Capricious: people's reactions differ Confuses motive with justification PU is justification, not motive Utilitarianism You ought to do it Too narrow? (False negative) Too broad? (False positive) It maximizes the balance of pleasure over pain Carlyle's Objection Thomas Carlyle: "Pig philosophy!" Utilitarianism: good = feeling good Mill's 1830s response The goal is to maximize the good for mankind as a species This has two implications: I can best do that by promoting my own good; we are all best off when each tends his own I have reason to develop my capacities, my talents, and my intellect; they produce benefits for mankind, not just for me Qualities of pleasures Mill: pleasures differ in quality as well as quantity "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." We are capable of better pleasures than pigs are Judging Quality Which pleasures are higher? See what the competent judges prefer Who is competent to judge? Those with experience of both Intellectual > social > sensual Qualities of Pleasure Intellectual Social Sensual Virtue Even if higher pleasures were not more intrinsically valuable, utilitarianism would not be pig philosophy Higher pleasures --> virtues --> benefits for others Mill affirms his 1830s answers Bentham v. Mill Bentham agrees that pleasures differ in quality: "In regard to well-being, quality as well as quantity requires to be taken into account." He has an entire chapter on kinds of pleasures Bentham v. Mill But Bentham thinks you are the most competent judge of quality for you: "Quantity depends upon general sensibility, sensibility to pleasure and pain in general; quality upon particular sensibility: upon a man's being more sensible to pleasure or pain from this or that source, than to ditto from this or that other." Bentham on Liberty I can know quality for me by reflection But I can judge qualities for others only by what they say and do So, each can judge best for him/herself: "every man is a better judge of what is conducive to his own well-being than any other man can be." Mill on Liberty Harm principle: The only justification for restricting liberty is harm to others Self-regarding actions: sphere of liberty We ought to be free to do what we please so long as we don't violate someone else's rights Mill on Rules Principle of utility justifies acts It need not be a motivation or even a practical test We apply it by "secondary principles," common sense moral rules We justify these rules by utility We appeal to the principle of utility only when secondary principles conflict Act v. Rule Utilitarianism Act utilitarianism (Bentham): an act is right if it maximizes good Utility --> act Rule utilitarianism (Maimonides): an act is right if it accords with the rules that maximize good Utility --> Rules --> Act Disagree when a rule conflicts with utility Breaking Rules What if we can do better by breaking a (good) rule? Don't break it! Rules essential to moral thought We are tempted to break rules for our own advantage We'll usually go wrong Moral chaos Interpreting Mill Is Mill an act or ruleutilitarian? His greatest happiness principle speaks of acts But he stresses secondary principles Mill: Breaking Rules Letter to John Venn: Advocates act utilitarianism But agrees with Maimonides If we break a rule, we'll usually go wrong So, better to obey the rule Mill: Acts and Rules Act utilitarianism is right, but act as a rule utilitarian Act utilitarianism is theoretically correct: it tells us what makes right acts right But rule utilitarianism is a better practical test ...
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- Fall '08