Lecture #3: Utilitarianism

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1 2 Recall the three aspects of moral theory an account of a good human life an account of good character Lecture #3: Utilitarianism an account of goodness in action (including duty) We are going to begin with a look at theories of duty From Moral Rule to Moral Theory: Arguing about the Second War in Iraq 3 Rules & Theories 4 Three possible views might be heard 1. The war was justified. 2. Some wars are justified, but this one was not. 3. No wars are justified. Some parts of the controversy (especially between #1 & #2) would focus on disagreement about the situation: - How serious were Hussein s violations of the Armistice of 1991? - Was it important to prevent Hussein s resumption of WMD development? - If so, was war necessary to achieve this end? Other parts of the controversy would focus on moral questions: - Can war ever be just? (#1 & #2 vs. #3) - What are the criteria of a just war? (necessary to both #1 & #2) Determining whether war can be just &, if so, under what circumstances, requires a more general theory, answering the question what makes right acts right? Duties (& prohibitions) might be specified by relatively particular moral rules (sometimes theories ) just-war theory a theory of punishment a principle about euthanasia or abortion But these must be defended on the basis of a more general theory about right & wrong (or goodness & badness) in human actions, e.g., consequentialism (e.g., Mill s utilitarianism) presumptivism (e.g. Ross theory of prima facie duties) absolutism (e.g., Thomism) A moral theory offers answers to that question Theories of Goodness & Rightness in Human Actions: A Taxonomy Supererogation Basis for Evaluating Human Actions Theory of Duty need not imply that duty is the only concept relevant to act-evaluation acts might be morally obligatory or prohibited but acts that are neither might still be good Consequentialism: Consequences Alone Utilitarianism makes the act prima facie right or wrong Presumptivism Intrinsicalism: The Intrinsic Nature of the Action (badness) makes the act always wrong Absolutism Supererogatory acts Definition: Acts which would be good to do, but not wrong not to do Example, Bennie Adkins was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor last year for (among other acts) rescuing wounded fellow-soldiers at great risk to himself or, as the citation puts it extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty They have been an important theme in Catholic theology Jeremy Bentham John Stuart Mill W. D. Ross St. Thomas Aquinas They were discussed by J. O. Urmson in an article revealingly entitled Saints & Heroes

2 Outline of Lecture Utilitarianism a. Fundamental Principles b. The Doctrine of Swine Objection c. Bentham s Challenge: A Defense of the Utility Principle d. Applying the Utility Principle The Fundamental Principles of Utilitarianism Consequentialism The question: What makes right acts right? Any moral theory proposing a criterion for the evaluation of human actions must add a middle term to the following syllogistic schema: Any act which is good [or the right thing to do]. X [some particular action] is. So, X [some particular action] is good [or the right thing to do]. Consequentialist theories propose a middle term referring exclusively to consequences The consequences are the results or effects of an action Colloquial use ( face the consequences ) or misuse (as a euphemism for punishment by teachers too dishonest to admit what they do to students who misbehave) gives the word a negative connotation that is not part of the definition That leaves two questions Which consequences? Consequences for whom? 9 1. Consequences for whom? Egoism (good for oneself) 2. Which consequences? Quantitative Hedonism (Bentham) Hedonistic Utilitarianism (pleasure) Consequences (but good for whom?) Particularism (good for some, but not necessarily for all) Consequences (but which?) Qualitative Hedonism (Mill) Ideal Utilitarianism (pleasure, friendship, aesthetic experiences) (Moore) Two Questions Universalism (good for all affected) Any act which has good consequences for is good [or the right thing to do]. X has good consequences for. So, X is good [or the right thing to do]. Any act which produces for is good [or the right thing to do]. X produces for. So, X is good [or the right thing to do]. 10 (Classical) Utilitarianism 11 Philosophical Hedonism 12 Its Central Ideas Hedonism (a theory of value, or perhaps of life) Pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends. all desirable things are desirable either» for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or» as means of promoting pleasure or preventing pain. Utilitarianism (a theory of duty) The Greatest Happiness Principle Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. Happiness Pleasure, and the absence of pain. Jeremy Bentham ( ) John Stuart Mill ( ) The popular use of the term has made it mean sensual self-indulgence Philosophical Hedonism asserts that pleasure is the greatest good (or the only thing good in itself) but the doctrine is very different from sensual self-indulgence, as Epicurus insists in his Letter to Menoeceus ( How to Live a Happy Life ): Although pleasure is the greatest good, not every pleasure is worth choosing. We may instead avoid certain pleasures when, by doing so, we avoid greater pains. We may also choose to accept pain if, by doing so, it results in greater pleasure. So while every pleasure is naturally good, not every pleasure should be chosen. When we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasure of debauchery or sensuality. Despite whatever may be said by those who misunderstand, disagree with, or deliberately slander our teachings, the goal we do seek is this: freedom from pain in the body and freedom from turmoil in the soul. For it is not continuous drinking and revelry, the sexual enjoyment of women and boys, or feasting upon fish and fancy cuisine which result in a happy life. Sober reasoning is what is needed, which decides every choice and avoidance and liberates us from the false beliefs which are the greatest source of anxiety. Epicurus ( BC)

3 13 The Objection 14 The Doctrine of Swine Objection The structure of the objection Utilitarianism is [M] [M] is a doctrine fit only for swine The argument for that claim Proof (as always) is a search for the middle term What is the middle term? M = a doctrine that says actions are right to the extent that they promote pleasure The objection Clarification of the Middle Term Major Premise: Any doctrine that says actions are right to the extent that they promote pleasure is a doctrine fit only for swine. Minor Premise: Utilitarianism is a doctrine that says actions are right to the extent that they promote pleasure. What would the middle term have to mean to make the major premise true? a doctrine fit only for swine would be one that focused on bodily pleasures for the agent What would the middle term have to mean to make the the minor premise true? Utilitarianism is a doctrine that focuses on Problem all pleasures (mental as well as bodily) pleasures for everyone affected by the action (not just for the agent) The clarifications push the middle term in opposite directions There is no way to clarify it in a way that makes both premises true Fallacy of Ambiguous Middle Term 15 First Part of the Reply to the Objection: The Distinction among Kinds of Pleasures Mill s first response to the doctrine of swine objection is that it neglects the distinction between two kinds of pleasures bodily pleasures, which are available to animal & man mental pleasures, which are unique to man pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments He goes on to distinguish these as higher & lower pleasures On what basis can he claim that mental pleasures are higher than bodily pleasures? Bentham offers one answer (a Quantitative Hedonism) Mill proposes a second (a Qualitative Hedonism) 16 Bentham on Bodily & Mental Pleasures: Quantitative Hedonism Pleasure is simply a matter of quantity; the more, the better Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either. But some pleasures have many circumstantial advantages over others pleasures. E.g., mental pleasures do over bodily pleasures The Felicific Calculus helps us recognize these 17 The Factors Identified by Bentham s Felicific Calculus Intrinsic Features of the Pleasure or Pain Productive Features Extensive Features How intense are the pleasures (or pains)? How long will they last? How certain is it that the action will produce them? How quickly will it produce them? To what extent will the pleasures lead to further pleasures? To what extent will these pleasures include an element of pain? How many people will experience the pleasures (or pains) produced? Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure. Such pleasures seek if private be thy end: If it be public, wide let them extend. 18

4 Evaluating the Felicific Calculus 19 Testing the Felicific Calculus Push-pin & Poetry 20 Evaluating Bentham s Felicific Calculus Does the Felicific Calculus seem to generate the right answers? Does it seem to give the right reasons for why these answers are right? Does it seem to leave anything out of consideration? Push-pin A children s game in which each player pushes or propels a pin with the object of crossing that of another player OED Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country s flag, she said. A shade of sadness, a blush of shame, Over the face of the leader came; The nobler nature within him stirred To life at that woman's deed and word; Who touches a hair of yon gray head Dies like a dog! March on! he said... From John Greeleaf Whittier s Barbara Fritchie More Cases to Test the Calculus 21 Mill on Bodily & Mental Pleasures: Qualitative Hedonism 22 How would Bentham use the Felicific Calculus to evaluate the following cases? a. Choosing among competing pleasures For a high school student with some athletic talent, going out for football or spending weekday afternoons at the malt shop. b. Choosing risky behavior to achieve some good Speeding in order to arrive at class on time Speeding to get someone to the hospital c. Imposing harms on some in order to achieve a good for others Raising taxes to provide rent subsidies for the poor Using waterboarding on captured al-qaeda operatives to get information about future attacks Mental pleasures are higher than bodily pleasures because of their intrinsic nature a qualitative difference. In estimating all things, quality is considered as well as quantity, The evidence that mental pleasures are higher (more valuable) is the verdict of Competent Judges people who have experienced, & are capable of enjoying, both say that they are This is an empirical matter Mill asks: How would one decide quantitative differences? which of two bodily pleasures was more pleasant? which pains are more painful? An Important Distinction: Happiness & Contentment The problem: Won t cultivating desires for mental pleasures lead to our having desires that can t be satisfied & thus to our unhappiness? Mill s answer: No! A crucial distinction Contentment is the complete satisfaction of all one s desires. Happiness requires some cultivation and satisfaction of desires connected to higher faculties. Cultivating desires that cannot be fully satisfied diminishes our contentment it does not diminish our happiness. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. What s the difference between Socrates and the fool? The fool desires only lower pleasures; Socrates desires also higher pleasures. The fool may have all his desires satisfied; Socrates will not. The fool may be more content; he is not more happy. 23 The Utility Principle adds: Second Part of the Reply to the Objection: Individual & Universal Happiness of the greatest number. Mill says that the higher pleasures do provide more pleasure to the person who has them than do lower pleasures. But his case for the greater value of mental pleasures does not depend on the claim that the higher pleasures provide more pleasure for the person who is has them. They might outweigh lower pleasures because of the happiness they create for others. His example: nobility of character 24

5 Does Nobility of Character Make a Person Happier? I 25 Utilitarianism & Nobility of Character: A Second Consideration 26 A case of nobility of character: Captain Chris Carter (3-7th, 3rd Infantry Division) On 31 March 2003, he and two other soldiers risked their lives to rescue a woman caught on a bridge in the middle of a firefight in Hindiya, Iraq. Another case: Bl. Teresa of Calcutta Mill claims that nobility of character provides a kind of pleasure higher than the bodily pleasures. i.e., Capt. Carter, or Bl. Teresa, presumably got more pleasure out of being the kind of person who rescued those in danger or need than they could have by eating their favorite foods. PFC Ross McGinnis (1-26th, 1st Infantry Division) On 4 Dec 2006, while he was fighting in NE Baghdad, a grenade thrown by an insurgent fell through the gunner s hatch into the vehicle in which he was riding. Rather than leaping from the gunner s hatch to safety, he covered the live grenade, pinning it between his body and the vehicle and absorbing most of the explosion. He saved the four members of his crew, but was himself killed. On 2 June 2008, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Aitzaz Hasan (Ibrahimzai, NW Pakistan) In January 2014, Aitzaz Hasan and his friends were standing outside their school building when they saw a man wearing a suicide vest approaching the building. Hasan told his friends, I m going to stop him. He is going to school to kill my friends." Hasan succeeded, but at the cost of his own life. My son made his mother cry, his father said, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children. He has been recommended for the Sitara-e-Shujaat (Star of Bravery), Pakistan s highest civilian award. Question Did they experience higher pleasure from their nobility of character? Does this matter (according to Mill)? Individual & Universal Happiness Mill s theory might require one to do certain things that could have little to do with one s own personal pleasure: Anyone who has an obligation to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number has an obligation to cultivate nobleness of character (because of its benefit for everyone else). Everyone has an obligation to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number. So, everyone has the obligation is to cultivate nobleness of character. 27 The Example Set for Others: A Further Utilitarian Consideration Barbara Fritchie (really Mary Quantrell) and Aitzaz Hasan illustrate this So does Keshia Thomas At a 1996 KKK rally in Ann Arbor, a mob of irate liberal protestors began chasing a man wearing a Confederate flag. When he fell and the mob began beating him with their protest signs, Keshia Thomas (a black high-school girl came to his rescue). 28 Reactions to Keshia Thomas Mark Brunner, a news photographer on the scene She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her. Who does that in this world? Teri Gunderson, an Iowa mother who read about the story The voice in my head says something like this, If she could protect a man [like that], I can show kindness to this person. And with that encouragement, I do act with more kindness. I don t know her, but since then I am more kind. What if one of the hurtful people who had racially abused her girls was in danger, she wonders. Would I save them, or would I stand there and say, You deserved it, you were a jerk. I just don t know the answer to that, yet. Maybe that is why I am so struck by her. We would all like to be a bit like Keshia, wouldn t we? She didn t think about herself. She just did the right thing. 29 The Challenge: 1c. Bentham s Challenge: An Argument for Utilitarianism: If actions are not to be evaluated on the basis of their productivity of pleasure then on what basis are they be evaluated? Why is that more important than pleasure? Some Replies Justice & rights addressed by Mill in chapter 5 of Utilitarianism (next lecture) A variety of factors (including rights) see W. D. Ross (upcoming lecture) 30

6 Thomas Reflections on her Actions Utilitarian For the most part, people who hurt... they come from hurt. It is a cycle. Let s say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence? Non-Utilitarian? When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, This isn t right. I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me. 1d. Applying the Utility Principle General Note on Applying the Principle of Utility 33 Moral deliberation is determination of the consequences of an action (or practice). In any situation of choice, the agent must ask: What are the alternatives? How much pleasure & pain does each alternative bring to those affected by it? to all those affected in the long run as well as immediately to the agent himself in the long run by shaping his character (in a way that makes him more likely to promote the general happiness in the future) as side effects, not just as intended effects as the effects of practices (or of the act as example) as well as of the act itself Moral discourse is the demonstration of those consequences.

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