Utilitarianism Philosophy 4 (Summer 2012) The Trolley Case - Revised What should you do? The Trolley Case - Revised The Intuition In other words, we care about the consequences of our actions. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) Influential in economics, moral and political theory, logic, and philosophy of language Building on the thoughts of John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Jeremy Bentham (in utilitarianism) Major works: ◦ System of Logic, Raciocinative and Inductive (1843) ◦ On Liberty (1859) ◦ Utilitarianism (1861) ◦ The Subjection of Women (1869) Mill on Kant “It is not my present purpose to criticize these thinkers; but I cannot help referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by one of the most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of Ethics, by Kant. This remarkable man, whose system of thought will long remain one of the landmarks in the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the treatise in question, lay down an universal first principle as the origin and ground of moral obligation; it is this: -’So act, that the rule on which thou actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings.’ But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.” What is Utilitarianism? “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. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” What is Utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is a combination of consequentialism and hedonism. Consequentialism Even if you increase the amount of goodness in the world, you did the morally wrong action if you do not maximize the amount of goodness. In other words, the goal is not to simply increase good and decrease bad, but rather to optimize actions. Consequentialism Under consequentialism, only the outcome of an action determines whether or not the action was right or wrong. Hence, the ends justify the means (as long as the ends are optimific). Act- vs. Rule-Consequentialism Act-Consequentialism: ◦ Acts are morally right just because they maximize the amount of goodness in the world. Rule-Consequentialism: ◦ Acts are morally right just because they conform to a rule that maximizes the goodness in the world. We will return to rule-consequentialism later. Value Theory Consequentialism says to maximize the goodness in the world. But we need to know what counts as good to figure out how to maximize it. Intrinsic Value Something is intrinsically valuable if it is valuable for its own sake. Something is instrumentally valuable if it is valuable because of the goods it brings about. Happiness has intrinsic value. Hedonism “[P]leasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain” (emphases added). Hedonism In the words of David Hume (from Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals): “Ask a man, why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your enquiries farther, and desire a reason, why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give any. This is an ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object…. Perhaps, to your second question, why he desires health, he may also reply, that it is necessary for the health of his calling. If you ask, why he is anxious on that head, he will answer, because he desires to get money. If you demand Why? It is the instrument of pleasure, says he.” Numerous Desirable Things Interestingly, Mill notes that the desirable things “are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme”. What he is pointing to is that the activity or object itself can be pleasurable or painful. Hedonism: Bentham vs. Mill Mill, on the other hand, wanted to distinguish between the amount of pleasure and the type of pleasure. Mill: Quality of Pleasure According to Mill, there are different qualities of pleasure, distinct from the quantity of pleasure: “Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference… that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison of small account.” Mill: Quality of Pleasure Poll Question: Would you rather: Mill: Quality of Pleasure Mill thinks that the higher quality pleasures are the ones that involve our higher (e.g. rational) faculties: “Few human creatures would consent to being changed into any of the lower animals for a promise of the full allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base….” Hence, he writes: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” Problem for Quality of Pleasure We often exchange higher pleasures for greater amount of lower pleasures. Poll Question: Would you rather: Problem for Quality of Pleasure Mill’s response: “Men often, from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer good, though thy know it to be less valuable…. [T]hey addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying” (emphasis added). . Moral Community Kant stressed rationality and autonomy; hence, for Kant, the moral community includes all rational and autonomous beings. Moral Community So we should value animals as much as humans? Though all sentient beings are part of the moral community, rational beings like humans will be given additional consideration because they are capable of higher level pleasures, unlike animals. Act-Utilitarianism Act-utilitarianism is a combination of act- consequentialism and hedonism: ◦ Act-consequentialism: an action is morally right just because it maximizes the amount of goodness in the world. ◦ Hedonism: the only thing that has intrinsic value (i.e. intrinsic goodness) is pleasure; the only thing that has intrinsic badness is pain. Hence, act-utilitarianism states: An action is morally right just because it maximizes the amount of pleasure (over pain) in the world. Act-Utilitarianism Decision Procedure: 1) Identify all options (all available actions). 2) For each option, calculate the overall value of the consequences. Short- vs. long-term consequences Higher vs. lower level pleasures 3) Perform the action that yields the highest ratio of good to bad results. Example #1: Buying a Television Example #1: Buying a Television Calculate the overall happiness produced if you buy the TV: Example #1: Buying a Television Calculate the overall happiness produced if you give to Oxfam: Example #2: Robbing Bill Gates Example #2: Robbing Bill Gates Calculate the overall happiness if you steal the money: Example #2: Robbing Bill Gates Calculate the overall happiness if you do not steal the money: Benefits of Utilitarianism 1) Impartiality ◦ Everyone’s interests count equally. 2) Justifies Conventional Moral Wisdom ◦ Slavery, rape, and killing are usually wrong. ◦ Helping the poor and keeping promises are usually right. 3) Moral Flexibility ◦ It explains why moral rules may sometimes be broken. 4) Conflict Resolution ◦ It gives us a way to navigate through difficult decisions. Objection #1: The No-Rest (Too- Demanding) Objection Part 1: Calculating the right action is too demanding. Objection #1: The No-Rest (Too- Demanding) Objection Response: We can rely on general rules to determine the right action because often, certain actions produce optimal results (or certain actions do not produce optimal results). For instance, generally, killing others does not maximize aggregate happiness. Objection #1: The No-Rest (Too- Demanding) Objection One way to view these general rules is to view them as simply “rules of thumb”, as general guides that are not binding. But if that is all that these rules are, then we should not follow them whenever they do not optimize results. And to figure out whether they do or not, we need to do the utilitarian calculations! Rule-Utilitarianism The alternative is to see the rules themselves as binding, such that we should follow the rules even if they may not always produce the best outcomes. This approach is taken by rule- utilitarianism, which is a combination of rule-consequentialism and hedonism. Rule-Utilitarianism Rule-utilitarianism states: In other words, we are not calculating the consequences of one particular action, on a case-by-case basis; rather, we are calculating the consequences of a rule. Rule-Utilitarianism Rule-Utilitarianism How does this help us? Once we calculate which rules optimize aggregate happiness, we do not need to do any calculations; we just need to follow the rules. Problems with Rule-Utilitarianism 1) Why rule over act? Problems with Rule-Utilitarianism 2) Rule-utilitarianism collapses into act- utilitarianism. ◦ But then, aren’t we just back to act-utiltiarianism? Problems with Rule-Utilitarianism 3) Calculating the optimal rules is just as difficult, if not more, than calculating the optimal action? ◦ Rules are easier once you figure out the right rules, but figuring out the right rule is not easy. Objection #1: The No-Rest (Too- Demanding) Objection Part II: Even if we were to figure out the right action, doing the right action is often far too demanding. But then it seems we are asking for too much from everyone. Objection #1: The No-Rest (Too- Demanding) Objection Part II: Even if we were to figure out the right action, doing the right action is often far too demanding. Objection #2: The Absurd- Implication Objection Act-utilitarianism produces some highly unintuitive results. I will present two here (but you can think of many more): ◦ The Two Worlds Objection ◦ The Utility Monster Objection Objection #2: The Absurd- Implication Objection The Two Worlds Objection: ◦ According to utilitarianism, these two worlds are equally good. Objection #2: The Absurd- Implication Objection The Utility Monster Objection: ◦ Suppose you are in charge of distributing some necessary good, e.g. food. There are two possible distributions with the same aggregate pleasure over pain: Objection #2: The Absurd- Implication Objection Response: We are relying too much on our intuitions in these cases. Our intuitions are shaped by our culture and personal biases, and can often be wrong. Objection #3: The Integrity Objection Utilitarianism at times forces us to act against our most deeply held principles; it forces us to violate our personal integrity. For instance, if killing an innocent person will maximize aggregate happiness, then that is what you should do, even if you feel that killing an innocent person is wrong. Objection #3: The Integrity Objection Response: We want people to have some moral squeamishness about, e.g., killing, lying, raping, and so on. Generally, the best outcomes involve avoiding these actions. So we want people to have integrity. Objection #4: The Justice Objection Act-utilitarianism cannot account for our sense of justice. I will present three cases (but you can think of many more): ◦ The Organ Harvesting Case ◦ The Scapegoat Case ◦ An Alternative Trolley Case Objection #4: The Justice Objection The Organ Harvesting Case: Objection #4: The Justice Objection The Organ Harvesting Case: ◦ Assuming that the doctor will not get caught for murder, utilitarianism would say that the doctor should harvest the organs. Objection #4: The Justice Objection The Scapegoat Case: Objection #4: The Justice Objection The Scapegoat Case: ◦ But doing so seems unjust! Objection #4: The Justice Objection An Alternative Trolley Case: Objection #4: The Justice Objection An Alternative Trolley Case: ◦ But once again, pushing this person over the bridge seems unjust! Objection #4: The Justice Objection Response: For one, when considering long-term consequences, it is unclear whether a utilitarian should claim that you should sacrifice one for the sake of many. For instance, what would happen if doctors routinely harvested organs without the patient’s permission to save many? No one would go to the hospital! Objection #4: The Justice Objection Objection #5: The False Happiness Objection Objection #5: The False Happiness Objection But it seems like we want to say that the former is worse than the latter. Objection #5: The False Happiness Objection Nozick makes this exact point with his example of the experience machine. Objection #5: The False Happiness Objection Response: Further Objection: Reflection What these objections show is that we are concerned with more than mere pleasure. We are also concerned with, e.g., integrity, justice, fairness, sincerity, and truth, all of which deontology handles a bit better. But that does not mean we do not care at all about pleasure and pain, as seen with the problem of moral luck.
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