John Stuart MillOn LibertyUtilitarianism
OverviewProblem of RightsUtilitarianism
The Problem of RightsAgent PreferencePatient PreferenceWants to do somethingPreferences of those affected by the act
The Problem of RightsThe difficulty with rights talk is that we have no real way of distinguishing the merit of separate and conflicting rights claimFor example, lets look at religious right freedom of conscienceSuppose my religious practice disgusts everyone else in the surrounding community. Should I continue to practice?
The Problem of RightsIsnt that making me in effect a dictator in that the social decision is what I say it should be, no matter how many votes to the contraryWe need to develop a higher order principle/theory to decide the tough questionsUtilitarianism is that theory
UtilitarianismUtilitarianism has 2 basic premises:Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend produce the reverse of happinessGreatest Happiness PrincipleAs Mill notes, it is an idea deeply rooted in the Western tradition, going back at least to Epicurus (341 270 B.C.E.)
UtilitarianismMore immediately, in the 18th century David Hume argued that pleasure/pain is the basis of all our actionsJeremy Bentham (coined the term, developed systematic theory)James Mill (J.S. Mills father)John Stuart Mill was Bertrand Russells godfather
UtilitarianismAs an ethical theory, it attempts to provide a rational rather than a religious basis for moralityWhich means we will be able to sanction and judge acts as good or bad on something other than religious grounds.This is crucial since common sense morality requires a religious premise
UtilitarianismBut note that once we reject that religious premise, the morality no longer has any hold over usThat is, if were not worried about getting nailed in the afterlife, why bother being moral?Why should I care about how my actions affect other people?
UtilitarianismBenthams original version rested on notion of psychological hedonism:An act is good which sets off all the pleasure pods in my headAs a social theory, then, Utilitarianism distinguishes the morality between alternative states of affairs by examining the amount of pleasure and pain it producesThat act which produces the most pleasure is the one to be preferred
UtilitarianismDialysis machine exampleContingent relation does not entitle someone to special treatmentWrong to have decision based on who I or you happen to beWrong because we are not being impartialChild in Outer Mongolia exampleSacrifice child for cat?Wrong as better for girl than the cat
UtilitarianismWe shouldnt count our own preferences for more than we count others (since if we did so wed be dictating the social outcome)Question that arises, then, is how do we achieve utilitarian objectivity?In rights based accounts, it is the notion of moral sympathy I wouldnt want my rights violated so I shouldnt violate others rights
UtilitarianismIf we are going to have to decide between different social states, how can we make sure the decision on which state to adopt is an impartial (objective) one?How do we become impartial?Bentham formula:Everyone to count for one, no one to count for more than one
UtilitarianismTwo points to noteDemocracy is integral to utilitarianismThe way we determine what to do is to take a vote, and whatever the majority wants winsIt doesnt matter where goods/bads happen to fall, so long as en toto more pleasure is produced than pain.
UtilitarianismIn other words, utilitarianism is a consequentialist theoryWhat makes a given action just is the consequences, the action produces, where the merits of the consequences are assessed by how much pleasure is producedRights theory, on the other hand, is a deontological theory, one where the correctness of the action is defined independently of its consequences
Suppose you are a District Attorney in a community that is composed of easily recognizable majority/minority communities.
A member of the majority community has been killed and witnesses have reliably identified a member of the minority community as the perpetrator, but the police have been unable to find the exact person
The majority community is screaming for vengeance and on the verge of rioting.
We know that in the course of the riot, at least 10 people from the minority population will be killed in mob violence.
As the DA you suggest the following course of action to the mayor:
In order to avert the riot and save lives, you take a member of the minority community at random, accuse that person of the crime, and stage a very public arrest/executionAs the mayor, what do you do?As the D.A. what should you do?Volunteer for execution?
UtilitarianismA bit more generally, then, suppose you are faced with the following decision:
Choosing B would be a moral catastrophe as it would incredibly limit the amount of happiness that could be produced, insofar as only one person could now experience the pleasure where before billions could experience itAYou dead, everyone else aliveBYou alive, everyone else dead
UtilitarianismDoesnt matter, morally speaking, who is having wants, just as long as we satisfy as many wants as possibleThe idea is to act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest numberFor our moral calculations, we need to view people as vessels of utility satisfaction
UtilitarianismWhat we most want is to experience things in a certain way (i.e., pleasure over pain)Here we reach one of Mills major revisions to Benthams theoryFor Bentham, a want is a want is a wantNo difference between wanting to stay home and watch Smackdown and reading War and Peace
UtilitarianismFor Bentham, as long as a given set of choices produces equal amounts of pleasure, then we can be indifferent in our choices between themSo to decide on what social state of affairs we want, simply take a vote, everyone votes on own preferenceAnd when X wins over Y, we know that X would produce more happiness and so should be adopted as a social policy
UtilitarianismWe vote in lots of different waysCan vote with our money for instance (in the economic sphere)
BritneyVS.BeethovenThe fact that people buy more Britney than Beethoven shows that theyprefer that type of music and so stores should stock more of that type
UtilitarianismTV WatchingvsNeilson ratings shows that people would rather watch OReillys spin on politics, rather than watch actual politics means we should broadcast much more of the former rather than the latter.
UtilitarianismMill argues that that view is sillyHe makes a rather significant change in utilitarian theory by introducing qualitative differences among wantsFor Mill, utilitarians should aim not at simply satisfying wants, but satisfying better wants.How do we distinguish between wants?
UtilitarianismOf two pleasure, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure (p. 531).
UtilitarianismIn other words, to compare wants, find someone who has, for instance, read Tolstoy and watched professional wrestling and see which is preferredOn the whole, people who have done both will prefer TolstoyMaybe not a perfect example, but how about if instead we compare
UtilitarianismNow it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beasts 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, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs.
UtilitarianismThis implies that we only count wants given perfect informationNeed to look at authentic wants, not whimsSome wants should count for more than others:Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
UtilitarianismMill, unlike Bentham, argues that we need to devise a social decision process by which we not only satisfy wants at time t, but also one that changes or develops our wants so that at t2 we have more utility.We get more utility by creating more satisfactionWe create more satisfaction by creating and satisfying better wants
UtilitarianismHow do we do that?Through democracy!Mill sees democracy as the means to satisfy wants and shape future wantsDemocracy is a way of making us more efficient pleasure machines.