7 - Utilitarianism.ppt
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Consequentialism: Utilitarianism MAIN SOURCES: - “Consequentialism”, SEP - “Consequentialism”, IEP - Thiroux and Krasemann, Ethics, Chapter 2 - Mac. Kinnon, Ethics, Chapter 4 - Lawrence Hinman, Course at San Diego University
Introduction • Utilitarianism is one of the two main consequentialists approaches to ethics. • The other is egoism, which we don't address directly during this course. • Utilitarianism has a very long history, however the most clear and complete formulation was made by the so-called classic utilitarianists: • Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832) • John Stuart Mill (1806 -1873) • Henry Sidgwick (1838 -1900)
Definition • Utilitarianism can be defined as the normative theory that human conduct is right or wrong because of its tendency to produce favorable or unfavorable consequences for the people who are affected by it. • The hedonistic utilitarianism of Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick maintains that all moral judgments can be derived from the “greatest happiness principle”. • The ideal utilitarianism espoused by G. E. Moore (1873 -1958), on the other hand, regarded aesthetic enjoyment and friendship as the highest ethical values. • Contemporary utilitarians differ about whether theory should be applied primarily to acts or rules.
Act- vs. Rule-Utilitarianism • Act-utilitarianism supposes that each particular action should be evaluated solely by reference to the merit of its own consequences, while rule-utilitarianism considers the consequent value of widespread performance of similar actions. – The act-utilitarian asks, "How much pleasure or pain would result if I did this now? " – The rule-utilitarian asks, "How much pleasure or pain would result if everyone were to do this? " • Since the answers to these questions may be quite different, they may lead to distinct recommendations about moral conduct.
CONSEQUENTIALISM MOTIVE ACT CONSEQUENCES Consequentialism is a teleological theory (it stresses the end or goals of actions) focusing on the consequences of those actions (usually asking to maximize the good of those and deriving from those actions) A general formula for consequentialism: The morally right action is the one producing the best (or better) overall consequences Questions: - Consequences for whom? - What kind of good? - What kind of consequences?
UTILITARIANISM Classical formulation by Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832) “Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation” (1789) and John Stuart Mill (1806 -1873) “Utilitarianism” (1861) Democratic: work for the good of all persons (not just for the good of the upper class) and promote the interests of the greater number Progressive: change the political status quo in order to promote the usefulness of what is good Empiricist: what is good is determined by the empirical observation of whether a policy is promoting what is good Optimist: human wisdom and science can improve the condition of humanity
UTILITARIANISM Two simplified formulations: - The morally best (or better) alternative is that which produces the greatest (or greater) net utility, where utility is defined in terms of happiness or pleasure - We ought to do that which produces the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people
UTILITARIANISM - Consequences for whom? For everyone affected by my action* - What kind of good? Pleasure or Happiness and Satisfying Preferences - What kind of consequences? Best consequences for the greatest number (more pleasure; pleasure minus pain; intensity; duration; likelihood). Consequences that are intentional (or even those we didn’t want to? ) actual (or in the long period? ), expectable (or best reasonably expectable? ) * Bentham and Mill even spoke of every “sentient being” including animals
UTILITARIANISM Hedonism: pleasure or happiness (as psychic states of satisfaction) is the good that should be promoted Bentham: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. ” Pleasure and/or Happiness are intrinsic goods: we look for them as such Other goods (such as fame, education…) are instrumental: they are useful for attaining the goals of pleasure and/or happiness
UTILITARIANISM The Utilitarian Calculus A universalistic theory: the pleasure and/or happiness of all who are affected by an action or practice should be considered In other words we are asked to look not only at our good (egoism) but neither only to other people’s good (altruism): We need to look at the general good. For example, sacrifice is not good in itself, but if and only if it promotes the greatest good for the greatest number. (Mill: “A sacrifice which does not increase or tend to increase the sum of total happiness, [utilitarianism] considers as wasted”)
UTILITARIANISM IMPARTIALITY and EQUALITY Everyone affected by some action is to be counted equally: there is no special privilege equally for anyone. Example: - Act A makes me happy and two other people happy - Act B makes me unhappy but five other people happy In this example Act B is a better choice than Act A
UTILITARIANISM Pleasure minus Pain An act usually produces both pleasure and pain, so in order to evaluate it we need to calculate the net happiness or unhappiness (even if we cannot make exact mathematical calculations). For example: - Act A produces twelve units of happiness and six units of unhappiness (12 – 6 = 6 units of happiness) - Act B produces 10 units of happiness and one of unhappiness (10 – 1 = 9 units of happiness) Therefore Act B is preferable because it produces a greater net amount of happiness
UTILITARIANISM Intensity All things, being equal, the more intense the pleasure, the better. We can imagine a scale better of 1 to 10 degrees of intensity For example: - Act A gives forty people each mild pleasure (40 X 2 = 80 degrees of pleasure) - Act B gives ten people each intense pleasure (10 X 10 = 100 degrees of pleasure) Therefore Act B is preferable even though Act A gives pleasure to 30 more people (or not? )
UTILITARIANISM Duration Intensity is not enough, it may well be that the more serene pleasures last longer. So the longer lasting the pleasure, the better For example: - Act A gives three people each eight days of happiness (3 X 8 = 24 days of happiness) - Act B gives six people each two days of happiness (6 X 2 = 12 days of happiness) Therefore Act A is preferable even though Act B gives pleasure to the double of people (or not? )
UTILITARIANISM Likelihood If before acting we are attempting to decide between two available alternative actions, we must estimate the likely results of each before we compare their net utility. It may turn out that we ought to choose an act utility with lesser rather than greater beneficial result if the chances of it happening are better. For example: - Act A has a 90 percent chance of giving eight people each five days of pleasure (40 days X 0. 90 = 36 days of pleasure) - Act B has a 40 percent chance of giving ten people each seven days of pleasure (70 days X 0. 40 = 28 days of pleasure) Therefore Act A is preferable because it gives more pleasure discounted by the possibility of its realization
UTILITARIANISM Bentham VS Mill or Quantity VS Quality Bentham: we ought to consider only the quantity of Bentham pleasure produced the AMOUNT of pleasure. In pleasure his words, “quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin [a game] is as good as poetry”) Mill: the quality of pleasure counts as well. For Mill example, the quality of reading a good book is superior to the quality of eating. In particular Mill is thinking about the qualitative superiority of those pleasures that are specifically human (for example, aesthetic experiences) The KIND of pleasures. In pleasures his words, it is better “to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”.
ACT AND RULE UTILITARIANISM Act Utilitarianism: consider the consequences Utilitarianism of some particular act such as keeping or breaking one’s promise in this situation (and usually considering only consequences at this time) Rule Utilitarianism: consider the consequences Utilitarianism of some practice or rule of behavior – for example, the practice of promise keeping or promise breaking
ARGUMENTS FOR UTILITARIANISM 1) Only results remain 2) Considering the importance of other people 3) Reasons for action: produce some sort of good 4) It is wrong to choose the worse over the better 5) The ideal spectator (someone who knows everything and its equally sympathetic with everyone)
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 1) APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE (A) The theory is too complex: it requires to calculate the complex number of people involved, whether and how many of them will get pleasure or pain, how much of pleasure they will experience, for how long, what is the likelihood that we estimate will happen à No one can really consider all the variables involved à It is difficult to determine the consequences for others Reply: although this may be complex, the more we are Reply able to evaluate the variables, the better judgments we will make
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 2) APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLE (B) There are cases where the maximization of happiness conflicts with greatest number of people having beneficial outcomes For example, - Act A produces 200 units of happiness for one person - Act B produces 150 units of happiness for three persons (50 units each) Theoretically following an utilitarian calculus we should choose Act A, but do we think this is the best course of action?
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 3) Utilitarianism and Personal identity There is a problem concerning the requirement that we should always do what maximizes overall happiness This theory does not respect our personal identity: A) This theory does not give us or those whom we love any special privilege (partiality) B) This theory is not respecting our personal ways of life or ‘identity-conferring commitments’. Reply: it is important that a person gives due Reply consideration to his personal identity because this will have better consequences for both society and him/herself
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 4) The end justifies the means Utilitarianism seems to lead to conclusions that are contrary to common morality (for example, killing some people for the sake of the good of the greatest number, cheating and lying when these actions maximize the actual outcome) Reply: the considerations concerning the harm Reply produced by those kind of actions are counted in the utilitarian calculus and usually they lead to a worst outcome (specially in the long-term). Therefore utilitarianism will not promote such actions (but this may not be always true)
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 5) The pleasure machine a specific problem of hedonism: If we are concerned only about pleasure it is possible that we would be totally satisfied ‘living’ in a pleasure machine without doing anything but experiencing a virtual world. This idea was proposed by the philosopher Robert Nozick some years before (in 1974) the movie “The Matrix” (Wachowski Brothers, 1999). For example, Matrix think about the choice by the character Cypher to get an agreement with the ‘Agents’ in order to go back to his previous life in the pleasure machine
UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS 6) Who is included? We said that everyone affected by our action should be included, but where do the effects of our actions end? Is there a predetermined limit? How is it possible to state it?
ACT UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS Impracticality of beginning anew Since every single case requires to be judge anew and the calculation is difficult, act utilitarianism is an impractical theory
RULE UTILITARIANISM: PROBLEMS The question of exceptions Is it possible to formulate a rule that will work in any case? If such a rule is generating a highly painful state of affaires is it required to make an exception? But then is it not rule utilitarianism going back to act utilitarianism?
PREFERENCE UTILITARIANISM Some philosophers and economists (K. Arrow) think that is difficult to measure and compare human feelings of happiness or pleasure. Therefore they developed a new version of utilitarianism based on preferences. Preference utilitarianism: the action that is best is the utilitarianism one that satisfies the most preferences, either in themselves or according to their strength or their order of importance. One method for understanding people’s preferences is looking at what they say they want or prefer (but there is the problem of how much informed people are) An alternative is to derive people’s preferences from their behavior (for example, we can understand if people appreciate natural parks by counting the number of visitors) Problem: any preference seems to count equally with Problem any other, no matter if it is hurting or helping others
COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS Cost-benefit Analysis: one policy is better than the Analysis other if it is the least costly compared with the benefits expected. Often the measure is money. Problems: Problems - it is difficult to assign a value in money to things like life, friendship, love (but there are times when we make such dollars assignments explicitly or implicitly, for example insurances) - the power of deciding the variables that should be involved and the assignment of different monetary values becomes the more important issue as a matter of fact - Are things commensurable? That is, is it really commensurable possible to compare even two simple things like a good night’s sleep and a fine dinner?
A FINAL PRAISE FOR UTILITARIANISM As a Decision Procedure or Guide, that is, as a Guide method that agents consciously apply to acts in advance to help them make choices, Utilitarianism seems to require too much information to the agent As a Criterion or Standard, that is, as a method Standard for spelling out the necessary and sufficient conditions for an act to be morally right, regardless of whether an agent can tell in advance whether those conditions are met, Utilitarianism seems to be a fruitful theory