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Mill - SAM BLACK PHIL 120 Utilitarianism I Definition...

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SAM BLACK, PHIL. 120: Utilitarianism I. Definition Utilitarianism: An act, rule or principle is right , if it promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of persons (or perhaps sentient beings). Lectures on Utilitarianism are divided into two topics: 1) Theories of intrinsic value or the “good” that figures in the “greatest good for the greatest number” test (2 lectures: 1 overview of theories of intrinsic value and 1 in-depth discussion of Mill’s theory of intrinsic value). 2) Theories of the right that define “right action” as the actions that cause the greatest good for the greatest number (2 lectures on R.M. Hare). II. A Quick Overview of Different Conceptions of Happiness, the Good Life, or “Intrinsic Value” (Values are instrinsic if they are valuable for their own sake, rather than being valuable in virtue of being a means to something else) These provide different theories about the “good” that could be slotted into the utilitarian formula: promote the greatest good for the greatest number (the utility calculus). We will pinpoint the location of Mill’s theory of ‘higher pleasures’. 1. Desire (or preference) satisfaction theories of Intrinsic Value : The satisfaction of desires is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable. The value of an outcome (or the happy life) is determined exclusively by the quantity of desires for that outcome that are satisfied. A person’s life is better if more of their desires are satisfied. Examples: Thomas Hobbes, R.M. Hare Hobbes: “whatsoever a man desireth it is that which he calleth good”. Some problems for desire theories of the good: i) Misinformed desires: Imagine your last partner (the creep). Does your life go better in virtue of having satisfied your desire to date him or her? 1
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(Desire theorists may reply that the desires that serve as the measure of good must be informed desires.) ii) Time-Sensitive Desires: I have very intense desires at 5 years old to spend the rest of my life watching Sesame Street and marrying the girl next door. Would I really be better off if other people tried to ensure that those “then for now” desires were satisfied? (It is possible that the “then for now” desires are more intense than my “now for now” desires.) NB: priorities can change among adults as well. When Smith was in the Priesthood he desired that he would not date women for the rest of his life, but he’s since left the Priesthood. iii) Benign External Desires: You desire that some stranger you’ve seen on TV be happy. Does the satisfaction of that desire make your life go better? iv) Noxious External Desires: You desire that some stranger whose race, religion, or sexual orientation you disapprove of be thrown to the Lions. Does your life go better if they are tossed in the ring?
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