Phil A301

William Jamison


Philosophical Ethics - Chapter 4 Mill and Utilitarian Theories


Approach to the chapter that I will take:

What is the highest value for this ethical system? (Principle of Utility note: Socrates!) Confusion with notion of security?

Are JSM and Harriet Taylor more like Socrates or more like a fool? Do we think this way today? Give food to people who are starving? Give cars to people who have none? Free vacations to Hawaii? Fantasy.

What should I do if this is my highest value? What is the goal of my life? Happiness. We cannot measure happiness.

What is the logic of this ethical system? (Bottom up! Not top down! What is the bottom? Compare with the theory of evolution. This is a dynamic system that requires the concept of dialectic already available from Hegel.

Health Policy for Hypertension

p. 101 Concerning the cost effectiveness of treating high blood pressure: utilitarian criteria show it is too expensive to help everyone. Instead, ignore the poor and treat only the rich.

p. 103 The Objectives of Normative Ethics: Make principles explicit and defend them systematically. The fatal flaw(?) is what conditions must be satisfied to judge an action right?

p. 104 The Utilitarian Conception of Morality: There is one supreme principle of morality. Consequentialists theories (Utilitarianism is one) assert that actions are right according to their consequences. Utilitarians: an act is right or wrong depending on the total good or evil it produces. Mill used two criterion: normative foundation in the principle of utility and psychological in theory of human nature.

John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism

Chapter 1: What is proof?

Chapter 2: Utility or the Greatest Happiness Principle holds that actions are right as they promote happiness. Epicureans rebuttal includes human happiness as superior to the pleasures of pigs.

p. 108 Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

Chapter 5: On the connection between justice and utility. "Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right. No one has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence." Generosity and beneficence is not part of justice, but morality. Most make no distinction and merge all morality in justice. Security is the most vital of all interests. P. 110 "The principle, therefore, of giving to each what they deserve, that is, good for good as well as evil for evil, is not only included within the idea of Justice as we have defined it, but is a proper object of that intensity of sentiment, which places the Just, in human estimation, above the simply Expedient."

p. 111 Impartiality is an obligation of Justice. "Treat all equally well (when no higher duty forbids)" *What higher duty is this?

The Greatest - Happiness Principle is the foundation. An inflexible conception of moral obligation is implausible.

The Concept of Utility: Intrinsic versus extrinsic values. Extrinsically valuable things are desired for the sake of obtaining intrinsically valuable things. What is morally good is distinguished from what is intrinsically good, because the morally good is trying to maximize the production of the intrinsically good. p. 112 For Bentham and Mill this is based on goals for leading a good life.

Hedonistic versus pluralistic: B & M say calculate total - but rely on common sense to do this. Note: we do not have perfect predictability of what will result from our actions. Pluralistic utilitarians feel there are many values besides happiness worthy of possessing. p. 114 G.E. Moore argues the principle should be to aim for the greatest aggregate good determined by multiple intrinsic goods. *Point - we are all somewhat different? Or not? How would a hedonistic calculus help us pick what flavor of malted milk we want? Some feel we should be after the subjective satisfaction of desires. This is based on individual preferences. p. 115 We cannot measure happiness. So current utilitarians accept the subjective satisfaction goal as superior. Preference utility has a problem though - some desire the morally intolerable - ex. raping children. This is not a fatal flaw though. "As Mill noted, any ethical theory whatever may lead to unsatisfactory outcomes if one assumes that idiocy is widespread." But these odd balls can be rejected because their pleasures cause a greater pain. Conclusion: Preference based theory needs some exclusions but they seem inconsistent with the theory. There must be some agent-neutral values to overrule subjective values.

Act Utilitarianism: Act or rules? Act Utilitarians - use the principle as a direct guide. Rule Utilitarians - use rules as a guide.

p. 117 Hume noticed 3 differences between the two:

1. Sometimes we are motivated to follow the rule because it is there,

2. a rule isn't always the best guide,

3. sometimes rules require bad choices.

Act Utilitarian - "What should I do now?" not "what has been generally good in the past?"

p. 118 J.J.C. Smart - An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics: When there is no time to think, follow the rule. p. 119 but selective obedience to rules can improve our moral life as long as we follow the principle of utility itself.

p. 121 Rule Utilitarianism: Rules cannot be compromised by particular situations.

p. 123 Richard B. Brandt Some Merits of One Form of Rule-Utilitarianism: "The Ideal Moral Code" = "An act is right if and only if it would not be prohibited by the moral code ideal for the society; and an agent is morally blameworthy (praiseworthy) for an act if, and to the degree that, the moral code ideal in that society would condemn (praise) him for it... Need at least 90 % agreement. (i.e. vote on it!)

Code requirements:

(a) can't be too complex

(b) relationship of the code to the current institutional setting - better or worse?

(c) figure out what situations happen - what do people really do to one another?

(d) weigh the benefits of the restriction against the cost of the restriction - a policeman on every corner? Too expensive.

W.D. Ross (this article is deleted from the new edition) criticized Act Utilitarianism because it ignores the personal relations important in ordinary morality.

But the IMC implies that moral rules are binding only so long as they maximize the common welfare. Not work on the Sabbath? Hoppi Indians not taking care of their old men? Answer may be an "obligation of fairness."

But a question remains: Can rule - utilitarians escaped their own criticism? Need to steal to live? When there are conflicts in priority, do over-rules rule? Or what? In practice, is there really a difference between rule and act utilitarians? Will there ever be two right choices?

p. 127 Criticisms and Defenses of Utilitarianism:

What about minority interests? Are consequences all that matter?

Problems in Measuring Goodness and Comparing Utilities: how do you do it?

p. 128 Does Utilitarianism Demand too much?

The Problem of Requiring Supererogatory Acts:

Alan Donagan: to die for the people. Elderly commit suicide to help society? Jewish guards commit suicide rather than fulfill Nazi orders to kill their own people? Defense is: these are very unusual circumstances and the rules do not dictate here.

Does Utilitarianism Permit too much? The Problem of Unjust Distributions:

p. 130 can it be used to support slavery? Mill: principles of justice are dependent upon rather than independent of utility. Rights can constrain application of utility maximization as long as they are based on a system of rules that maximizes utility.

Is Utilitarianism Inconsistent with the Value of Autonomy? There seems to be a general indifference in Utilitarianism to the separateness, uniqueness, and identity of individuals.

Bernard Williams argues against Peter Singer who says: the principle forces us to give up wealth until all are equally miserable (since there is not enough for everyone), by arguing that individuals should be allowed to follow their goals and accomplish their dreams even when it turns out they do not coincide with the goals of everyone - artists for example?

John Mackie call this "the ethics of fantasy."

Robert Nozick Moral Constraints and Moral Goals

(No notes on this section)

Deleted from the new edition:

Samuel Scheffler, The Project and its Motivation: virtually any moral theory makes it necessary for an individual to depend on the concurrence of everyone else. We allow the project to go on or not depending on the proportion of peoples commitments to them. So, how about the distribution of wealth? It seems that utilitarianism requires us to ignore the misery of the a few and concentrate on the pleasures of the many. *(or - the pleasure of the few and misery of the many?)

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls argues it is because the theory stresses choice for the society instead of for the individual. This does not take seriously the difference between persons. We have no interest in maximizing the total aggregate of satisfaction. People are separate.

There are two different ways they make the same mistake: making the overall good rank higher even if it requires the total sacrifice of some individuals. The "mistake is made by incorporating a conception of the right that requires an agent to abandon his or her own projects and plans, any time some alternative set of activities would be productive of a better overall state of affairs."

A suggestion is that we allow each agent to "assign a certain proportionately greater weight to his won interests than to the interests of other people." All that must be maintained is the general overall good in our actions, not the best overall good. So, don't give up all your interests for the common good, but put the common good forward as one of your main interests.

Does Utilitarianism Overplay "Impartiality"?: Godwin: Save mom or the bishop? How could anyone really be impartial here? Obviously, Godwin hated his mother. Whose welfare is at stake? Who is the "all" we have to be concerned about? The Utilitarian can argue that this is a problem for any ethical theory.

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