Utilitarianism

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Justice
Utilitarianism
Basic Insights
•
•
The purpose of morality is to make the world a better a
place.
We should do whatever will bring the overall
greatest benefit to the world.
• Implication:
Since the focus is upon making the world a better place,
the focus is upon consequences and not intentions.
Prying Apart Consequences and Intentions
Two shipments of vaccines have arrived in port. The
vaccines of shipment A are all laced with poison. Dr. Evil
intends to distribute these vaccines and kill hundreds of
children. The vaccines of shipment B are untainted. Dr.
Dogood intends to distribute these vaccines, so as to
minimize the spread of a disease expected to kill hundreds
of children if not vaccinated. The shipments were mixed
up, however. Dr. Dogood distributes A-vaccines, while Dr.
Evil distributes B-vaccines.
• Who made the world a better place? Dr. Evil or Dr.
Dogood?
Utilitarianism Is A Morally Demanding Position
• It requires us to increase and not decrease overall
happiness
• On top of that, it requires us to do the most we can to
increase overall happiness and to prevent decreases in
overall happiness
• It requires us not to give our own interests greater
priority in the calculation of overall happiness than the
interests of any other individual.
Utilitarianism Is Deeply Serious About Moral
Progress In THIS World
•
If we can agree that the purpose of morality is to make
the world a better place; and
•
If we can rigorously assess various possible courses
of action to determine which will have the greatest
positive effect on the world; then
•
We can provide a rigorous answer to the question of
what we ought to do.
Act Utilitarian Method
1.
2.
3.
4.
Identify conflicting values, obligations
Determine alternate courses of action
Determine relevant audience
Determine consequences of each alternative
act for every person in the audience
5. Select the act that maximizes happiness
(minimizes unhappiness)
Case 1: County Road
Kevin is the engineering manager for the county road
commission. He must decide what to do about Forest
Drive, a local, narrow, two-lane road. For each of the past 7
years, at least one person has suffered a fatal automobile
accident by crashing into trees, which grow close to the
road. Many other accidents have also occurred, causing
serious injuries, wrecked cars, and damaged trees. Kevin is
considering widening the road. Thirty trees will have to be
cut down for him to do this. Kevin is already receiving
protests from local citizens who want to protect the beauty
and ecological intergrity of the area. Should Kevin widen
the road or not?
Act Utilitarian Analysis of Case 1
1.
2.
3.
Conflicting values:
 Public Health and safety
 Beauty of and ecological integrity
Alternative actions:
 Widen the road
 Don’t widen the road
Determine relevant audience:
 65,000 users of the road, families and friends of
accident victims, county taxpayers.
Act Utilitarian Analysis of Case 1 (cont.)
4.
Consequences of alternative actions
a.
Widening the road






b.
Save 1 life, 2 serious, 5 minor injuries per year
250 friends of potential victims not unhappy
Avoid lawsuits against county (risk of millions in penalties)
Spend $1,000,000 on construction
65,000 users lose aesthetic pleasure
Lose 30 trees
Not widening the road

Reverse of a.
4. Consequences of a are better than b.
Therefore, Kevin is morally obligated to widen the road.
How do you measure happiness?
Bentham’s answer. For a pleasure or pain, look at:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Its intensity
Its duration
Its certainty or uncertainty
Its propinquity or remoteness
Its fecundity
Its purity
Its extent
Presupposes a common currency of
value
• Everyone’s preferences count equally.
• We thus need to aggregate preferences.
• To aggregate preferences we need to measure
preferences on a single scale.
Suppose you were forced to choose one of the following. Which
would you choose?
1
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
1
9
3
2
3
4
2
Have an upper front tooth
pulled out.
Have a pinkie toe cut off.
Eat a worm.
Choke a stray cat to death
with your bare hands.
Live the rest of your life on a
farm in Kansas.
1
5
Edward Thorndike
• 1930s social psychologist.
• Tried to prove what the utilitarian assumes: there is a common
currency of value.
• Here’s what he found:
Tooth
Toe
Worm
Cat
Kansas
$4500
$57,000
$100,000
$10,000
$300,000
Information about consequences is not always
available.
▫
Do your research
▫
Sometimes you have to make reasonable sincere
guesses
▫
Utilitarianism is a cognitively demanding moral
theory.
Who counts as part of the audience?
▫
Future generations?
▫
Animals?
Bentham:
“The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in
which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves,
have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in
England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day
may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those
rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the
hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness
of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without
redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be
recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the
termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for
abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that
should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps
the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond
comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than
an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case
were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they
reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
Distribution of happiness seems to matter, not just
total happiness.
▫
Does it?
Resort Society
• 1,000 people
• 100 are workers; the rest
are free to do whatever they
wish
• The workers provide for the
needs of the entire society
• They are poor and unhappy
• Suppose the workers each
have 1 unit of utility; the
rest each have 90 units of
utility.
• The average utility is 81.1
Commune Society
• 1,000 people
• at any given time there are
100 workers; the rest are free
to do whatever they wish
• The workers provide for the
needs of the rest of the society
• There is a rotation scheme,
such that everyone takes a fair
turn at being a worker.
• Everyone has the same utility,
say, 45 units each
Which society do you think is more just?
81%
1. Resort Society
2. Commune Society
19%
1
2
Which society would a utilitarian say is more just?
0%
0%
1. Resort Society
2. Commune Society
1
2
Which society would you choose?
0%
0%
1. Resort Society
2. Commune Society
1
2
Repoll: Which society would you choose?
1. Resort Society
2. Commune Society
0%
1
0%
2
Act Utilitarianism seems to have problems capturing some
of our strong moral intuitions—fairness, justice, inviolable
rights.
▫
Maybe so.
▫
John Stuart Mill takes this problem very seriously
and attempts to show that utilitarianism can indeed
capture these intuitions.
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