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Some 53 problems for utilitarianism problems a third

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Unformatted text preview: rd of living in the history of mankind. But the rejoinder is that in maximizing all those goods, some people get much and others get little or nothing. some 53 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems A third problem for utilitarianism is the problem of third deciding what is the good. John Stuart Mill and his mentor Jeremy Bentham were hedonists. They equated the good with happiness, and happiness with pleasure. But there are numerous difficulties with hedonism. Philosophers usually view goods as objects of desire or objects we aim at. Generally, they break them down into two types: intrinsic goods or extrinsic (instrumental) goods. An intrinsic good is something desired or desirable for its own sake, whereas an extrinsic or instrumental good is good because it will lead to or is instrumental in obtaining another good. Money is an example of an extrinsic good. good. 54 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems Happiness is clearly an intrinsic good. We show this Happiness by pointing out that when someone asks why you want money, you can answer, “Because it will make me happy.” But if they ask why you want to be happy, there is no further answer. there Mill recognizes pleasure as the only intrinsic good. Mill Others recognize other things, such as freedom or knowledge, as intrinsic goods. Some claim there is a plurality of intrinsic goods. Thus we can have a disagreement among utilitarians about what is good: pluralists think there are a number of intrinsic goods; eudaimonists think happiness as wellas being is the only intrinsic good; and, finally, hedonists being 55 think happiness is the same as pleasure. is Problems for Utilitarianism Problems Mill was a hedonistic utilitarian. But the fact that there Mill is disagreement about what counts as good should point out an area where we can expect disagreement in ethical matters. For example, capitalism is often defended because it brought about the highest standard of living in the history of the world. But others criticize it because they think that a high standard of living is not necessarily a good thing. So we can agree about what an action will lead to, but disagree whether that goal is good or not. Anyone who does cost-benefit analysis will recognize that determining what will count as a cost and what will count as a benefit is a difficult matter. will 56 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems A further problem with utilitarianism is the problem of further predicting the future. predicting To decide whether an action is right by looking at the To consequences means you have to look into the future and try to predict. Sitting looking out the window at a dismal day when the weatherman predicted it would be sunny reminds us how tenuous and risky predictions are. The unreliability of predictions creates several problems. unreliability Should utilitarians do what they think will bring about Should good or should they do what actually will bring about good—and how are they to know? 57 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems Very often what we think will be good turns out to be Very bad, or has unforeseen consequences. Economists speak of externalities—undesirable, unpredicted side effects of some activity. effects If nothing else, these problems for utilitarians show us If some of the areas where we might expect disagreement about what is right or wrong. Even though we can use benefit to society as a good reason to support an action or practice, we might have disagreements about what counts as a benefit, how much benefit is required, how the benefits should be distributed, and whether the benefit will come at all. 58 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems Beyond these difficulties, there is one that opponents of Beyond utilitarianism think is the most serious. We call it the problem of illicit means. problem Utilitarians are accused of allowing the ends to justify the means; even if the means are immoral. That is, utilitarians give precedence to results over fairness and commitment. give History is replete with examples of actions and practices History that are considered immoral being performed for the sake of bringing about some desirable end. of Suppose I could save 100 people by killing three innocent children? Utilitarians should recommend the killing if the happiness of the one hundred saved would seem to outweigh the pain of the loss of three dead children. 59 Problems for Utilitarianism Problems But our ordinary moral sentiments are outraged at But such a suggestion, for they tell us that taking the lives of these innocent children is immoral. Suppose I could achieve law and order by convicting a despicable (deserving hatred) character who happened to be innocent of the crime? Suppose I could improve my grade by cheating on an exam? could Suppose Lockheed could keep employees working by Suppose bribing Japanese government officials? Suppose I could keep my plant open and a hundred people employed by lying to a government inspector? Suppose I can keep a healthy economy in...
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