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1 Utilitarianism pp Assuming that moral realism is true and that there are objectively true moral principles, what are they? What, for example, is the correct principle concerning lying? Three possibilities: i) Lying is impermissible in all circumstances. (To believe this is to be an absolutist about the wrongness of lying). ii) Lying is impermissible except when it s necessary to prevent a great evil on the order of a murder, in which case it s obligatory. iii) Lying is impermissible only when it produces worse consequences than being honest would (as it usually does). When lying would produce better consequences than honesty, it s obligatory. Consider two cases: a) The Nazis come knocking on my door asking if I know where any Jews are hiding. I do, but the only way to save my own life and that of the Jews is to lie to the Nazis and say that I don t. b) Joe is on his deathbed, but he is lucid during the last few moments of his life. He asks me how his adult daughter whom he loves dearly is doing. Instead of telling him the truth that she and her children were killed by a drunk driver last night I lie to him, telling him that she just won the lottery. I do this so that he can die happy. Principle i) forbids both lies; principle ii) requires the lie in a) but forbids the lie in b); principle iii) requires both lies. Another sort of case: telling a little, white lie to avoid hurting someone s feelings. Mary shows you her newborn baby and says Isn t he beautiful? and you answer, yes even though you think that he s one of the uglier babies you ve ever seen. (Of course in this case, unlike the Nazi case, you may be able to get away with artful evasion). Different moral theories take different views about what the correct moral principles are. The moral theory defended by Immanuel Kant holds that i) is the correct principle, while act utilitarianism ( AU ) says that iii) is. AU defined Out of all the acts that one could perform in a given situation, the morally right one is the one that would result in or produce the largest total amount of utility in the world. The morally right act is the one that will maximize utility. Utility means happiness, well-being, or welfare. Whose utility should I am at maximizing? Just my own, my family s, my nation s, or that of everyone in the whole world? AU says, everyone s.

2 AU is not the same as EE (Ethical Egoism, or the view that one ought to aim at maximizing one s own happiness, not the happiness of everyone). Suppose you could do A or B, and only three people would be affected, you, Jim, and Jane, in the following way (the numbers here indicate whether the act increases or decreases that person s happiness, and by how much): A B you Jim Jane total EE says that you ought to do A, whereas AU says that you have a duty to do B. What is happiness? What determines how well-off someone is, how a good a life they have? Here are 3 different answers (AU is compatible with all of them): i) Hedonism the only thing that has intrinsic value is pleasure, or what you re experiencing when you like or enjoy what you re doing. The activity that s giving you the pleasure is not valuable for its own sake, but only as a means to that pleasure. The only things that are intrinsically bad are unpleasant mental states (e.g. pain, fear, anxiety, boredom, feeling bothered or irritated, nausea, depression, etc.). -- Quantitative vs. qualitative hedonism. Bentham vs. Mill. (pp ). Quantitative hedonism (defended by Jeremy Bentham) says that how well off you are depends entirely on how much pleasure you have in your life (not just at present, but over the course of your entire life). Quantity of pleasure is a function of two variables: intensity and duration. J.S. Mill argues that this view is wrong, because quality of pleasure should matter too. Mill holds that if experts (i.e. people familiar with and capable of fully appreciating both) prefer one type of pleasure over another, even though the second type is quantitatively bigger, then the first type is of higher quality. In fact, quality is more important than quantity, for Mill. He thinks that you re better off with smaller, high quality pleasures than bigger, low quality ones. ( Better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied ). Mill claims that intellectual pleasures (e.g. the enjoyment people experience solving crossword puzzles, reading good books, etc.) are of higher quality than animal or carnal pleasures (food, drink, sex, back rubs, jucuzzis, etc.), because most people acquainted with both prefer them to the carnal ones. Some people have doubted that Mill s empirical generalization here is true. -- The experience machine (EM) objection to hedonism. (pp ) 1. If hedonism were true, then I m better off plugging into the EM for the rest of my life than living my life in the real world. (This is so because I would experience more pleasure in the EM than I could possibly get from living in the real world).

3 2. I m not better off plugging into the EM for the rest of my life. Doing that would be a kind of spiritual death. I d think I m doing wonderful things, but in reality I d be an indeterminate blob in a flotation tank. I don t want that. I want to really accomplish some fine things in my life, and I want to have beliefs about my situation that are true. 3. Therefore, hedonism is not true. ii) Preference or desire satisfaction. According to this view, how well-off you are depends on how well your strongest preferences about your life are satisfied. -- The deceived wife example to illustrate the difference between this view and the previous one. The key here is this: it s possible to feel great because you falsely believe that one of your preferences is satisfied, and it s possible to feel lousy because you falsely believe that one of your preferences has been thwarted. According to the preference satisfaction view, it s bad for you to have your preferences frustrated even if you never learn that they ve been frustrated. -- Question: How does an AU that tells us that right acts maximize society s total amount of preference satisfaction differ from majoritarianism, or the view that the right act is the one that the majority favors? Answer: AU takes strength of preference into account, while majoritarianism doesn t. Hence, suppose that 49% of all people strongly prefer policy A to policy B, while 51% of all people are almost indifferent but just barely prefer B to A. Then according to majority rule we should enact policy B, while according to utilitarianism we should enact policy A. This brings us to what Sober calls the apples and oranges problem (p. 436): how do you determine that one person has a stronger desire for something than another person does? iii) Perfectionist views, e.g. Aristotle. (Not mentioned by Sober in this chapter). Happiness consists in leading an objectively good life, one that realizes or perfects human nature and what it is capable of. The good life is one that develops and uses capacities that normal humans have but animals lack, such as our capacities for rational thought, moral deliberation and choice, artistic creativity, etc. -- The example of the blades of grass counter as support for this sort of view. Imagine someone who is blissfully happy spending all of his free time counting the blades of grass in his back yard. Suppose that if he were to spend that time socializing with other people, going on nature hikes, reading good books, solving crossword puzzles, doing woodworking, etc. he would derive just a tiny bit less pleasure and preference satisfaction than from counting blades of grass. According to i) and ii) he is better off spending his time counting blades of grass. According to iii) he is better off doing the finer, more worthwhile things. Three objections to AU. No matter which of the 3 accounts of happiness distinguished above AU uses, it seems vulnerable to the following objections: 1) It doesn t take rights of individuals seriously, because it tells us to violate rights whenever doing so would produce more total happiness than respecting them would.

4 Violating peoples rights is unjust, so AU (sometimes) supports unjust acts. This objection is illustrated by the following examples. Example of surgeon, 1 healthy, and 5 dying patients (not in the textbook) Example of lonesome stranger (pp ). Note the difference between AU and retributivism here. ( Retributivism is the view that in order for punishment to be just, it must be deserved, and only the guilty can deserve punishment. It also holds that the severity of punishment should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime). Example of fanatical majorities (pp ). The utilitarian reply to the justice objection: replace AU with RU. RU is Rule Utilitarianism. It says that instead of performing whatever act will produce the most happiness, we should obey whatever moral rule will produce the most happiness. People who follow the rule always respect other people s rights produce more total happiness for society than people who go around violating rights, such as murderers, rapists, and robbers. So RU says that we should always respect others rights. But Sober points out that RU probably collapses into AU. After all, won t the people who follow the rule respect others rights, except when violating them will produce more total happiness for society produce even more happiness than people who follow the rule always respect others rights? So it looks like RU will tell us to violate rights in exactly the same cases as AU does. 2) Personal integrity/dirty hands (pp ). AU makes it impossible for people to retain their integrity, because it demands that they do evil, if that s the way to maximize utility in the long run. Example of person who must decide whether to work for the Nazis; if he doesn t, then someone else will, and that person will work more diligently for them, and thus, end up doing more evil. Most of us think that the right thing to do, in a case like this, is to maintain one s personal integrity, not get one s hands dirty, even if that means that there will be more evil in the world. But there are some examples that suggest that a preoccupation with one s own integrity, or not getting one s hands dirty is not so admirable. Example of soldier in a tyrannical country who is about to execute 20 citizens for publicly criticizing the tyrant and his policies. Joe, a tourist who happens to be visiting the country, arrives on the scene. The soldier says to Joe: we don t get many tourists around here. We re honored by your visit. To mark the occasion, I ll spare the 20 whom I was going to execute, but only if you punch one of them on the nose hard enough to cause a nosebleed. Joe happens to be an extreme pacifist, someone who believes that the use of violence against others is never justified. To remain true to his pacifist principles/faithful to his own conscience, Joe declines the soldier s offer. If Joe were to accept the offer, he would have dirty hands /compromise his integrity. We don t admire Joe. This second example shows that while there might well be a good objection to AU that appeals to the value of personal integrity, the objection is probably more complex than Sober suggests.

5 3) AU is incompatible with the value of loyalty to friends and close relatives, because it demands an extreme form of impartiality in one s dealings with all other people. (pp ) Example of passengers abandoning a sinking ship, I have a life vest, and I have to decide whom I should give it to my 18 year old son (who dropped out of high school, prefers stealing to work, abuses drugs and alcohol, is cruel to animals and children, etc.) or a 25 yr. old man who is not related to me, but whom I know is extremely talented, intelligent, and public spirited (i.e. devoted to helping his community). AU says I should give the life vest to the stranger. But don t I have a special responsibility to my children? A related objection to AU is that it is wrong because demands too much self-sacrifice. Go back to the example of the surgeon, the one healthy patient, and the five dying ones. Suppose that I am the healthy patient and the doctor asks me to sacrifice my life to save the five. If I say yes, others might well praise me for being heroic, saintly, etc. But isn t such a sacrifice above and beyond the call of moral duty? We don t think that I m doing anything wrong if I say no. And yet AU implies that I have a moral duty to say yes.

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