1 How should I live? I should do whatever brings about the most pleasure (or, at least, the most good)
2 Suppose that some actions are right, and some are wrong. What s the difference between them? What makes some actions right, and others wrong? Here is one very simple, but also very plausible, answer to this question: Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would lead to the best outcome. Consequentialism says, simply, that we should judge actions by their consequences. Whatever will lead to the best overall outcome is what one ought to do. A slightly different way to get the general idea is this: if I am deciding between doing action A and action B, I should try to figure out what the world would be like if I did A, and what the world would be like if I did B; and I should do whichever action would lead to the better world.
3 Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would lead to the best outcome. This view raises two questions. The first is: what makes one outcome, or state of affairs, better than another? To answer this question is to give a theory of value: a theory about what makes one state of the world better, or worse than, another. Let us say that a good is something that makes a state of affairs better, and an evil is something that makes a state of affairs worse.
4 In the reading for today, John Stuart Mill gives the following statement of his theory of value his view of which things are goods and evils. 186 Utilitarianism feel themselves called upon to resume it, if by doing so they can hope to contribute anything towards rescuing it from this utter degradation.* 2. 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. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure; and to what extent this is left an open question. But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded namely, that pleasure, 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. 3. Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure no better and
5 This view is sometimes called hedonism: Hedonism Pleasure is the only good and pain is the only evil. Suppose that this is true. Then how do we tell whether one outcome is better than another? Here is a very natural answer. We add up the pleasure, and subtract out the pain. Whatever situation has the highest net pleasure is the best. In general, one might think, it is fairly straightforward to compare two different situations. One adds up the goods, subtracts out the evils, and determine the net good. On this view, one should always aim to maximize the net good.
6 Hedonism Pleasure is the only good and pain is the only evil. In general, one might think, it is fairly straightforward to compare two different situations. One adds up the goods, subtracts out the evils, and determine the net good. On this view, one should always aim to maximize the net good. This view can be stated as follows: Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. (You might wonder: aren t Consequentialism and Maximizing Consequentialism pretty much the same thing? As we will see, they are not.)
7 Hedonism Pleasure is the only good and pain is the only evil. + = Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. Utilitarianism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would produce the highest net pleasure.
8 Utilitarianism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would produce the highest net pleasure. Utilitarianism is a very clear and plausible-sounding view about ethics. This is the view which is often summed up with the slogan that one ought always to act to cause the greatest happiness for the greatest number. It is a paradigmatically unselfish theory: no one s pleasures and pains are more important than anyone else s.
9 Utilitarianism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would produce the highest net pleasure. A historically influential objection to utilitarianism is that it is a doctrine fit for swine, because it does not recognize the fact that, unlike pigs, human beings have goods other than mere pleasure. Against this, Mill replies as follows: 4. When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but would then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of What is Mill s reply to the objection?
10 A more serious challenge to utilitarianism can be brought out by Robert Nozick s example of the experience machine.
11 What must the utilitarian say about the relative goodness of the state of affairs in which everyone (or almost everyone) plugs in and the state of affairs in which no one does? Suppose you face the decision whether to get into the experience machine. What would a utilitarian say about what you ought to do? Suppose now that you face the decision of whether you should put everyone into the experience machine. (The machines are maintained by extremely reliable robots.) What would a utilitarian say about what you ought to do? Does it matter if people ask you (or beg you) not to plug them in? Is Nozick right that these consequences of utilitarianism are incorrect?
12 Here is a second challenge for the Utilitarian, which is based on another example due to Robert Nozick. Imagine that there is a utility monster which gets more pleasure out of everything than any human does. No matter what things bring you pleasure, this thing gets more pleasure out of those things than you do. Now suppose that you face a choice. You can either give some pleasure-causing thing to a friend of yours, or give it to the utility monster. Which course of action does the Utilitarian say you ought to pursue?
13 Recall that we presented Utilitarianism as the combination of two claims. Hedonism Pleasure is the only good and pain is the only evil. Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. You might think that the examples we have discussed the experience machine and the utility monster are problems for hedonism, but not for Maximizing Consequentialism. Couldn t the Maximizing Consequentialist just say that there are goods besides pleasure, and evils besides pain?
14 Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. Here are some other candidates for goods: The extent to which the desires of agents are satisfied. The extent to which the states of affairs contain beauty, or love, or friendship, or something else taken to be of objective value. The extent to which the states of affairs maximize the wellbeing, or welfare, of agents. Corresponding to each of these views about the good is a different version of Maximizing Consequentialism. For example, the first would yield the result that one should always act in such a way that maximizes the number of desires of people which are satisfied. What would that view say about the experience machine?
15 Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. However, in the reading from John Rawls, we get a different sort of objection to Maximizing Consequentialism. Rawls objection is summed up with the concluding sentences of the passage we read: allocation of limited means. The correct decision is essentially a question of efficient administration. This view of social cooperation is the consequence of extending to society the principle of choice for one man, and then, to make this extension work, conflating all persons into one through the imaginative acts of the impartial sympathetic spectator. Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.
16 To see what Rawls has in mind here, let s think about an example. Suppose that we have a group of five people, whose goodness of life however we characterize goodness is indicated by the numbers beside them Now imagine that I have the chance to bring about one of two states of affairs.
17 Situation A Situation B Which one, according to the Maximizing Consequentialist, should I bring about?
18 This is what Rawls means when he says that Maximizing Consequentialism fails to take account of the distinctness of persons. The Maximizing Consequentialist simply sums goods across persons, and thereby rules out the possibility that the goodness or badness of a situation can also depend on the distribution of goods across people. Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would produce the best outcome. Maximizing Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it produces the highest net good. Does this sort of objection rule out Consequentialism generally? It does not, because there is nothing to stop the Consequentialist from saying that what makes one situation better than another has to do with the distribution of the good, as well as the total net good. Many contemporary versions of Consequentialism are constructed in this way.
19 Consequentialism An action is the right thing to do in certain circumstances if, of all the actions available in those circumstances, it would produce the best outcome. Once one sees how flexible Consequentialism is, one might be tempted to think that some version of that view must just obviously be true. One might also think that Consequentialism is so general that, without some explanation of what best outcome means, it does not tell us much at all about how we ought to act. The reading from Peter Singer, however, shows that this is a mistake. In particular, he argues that even very basic consequentialist assumptions imply that we owe much more to the poor than many people think.
20 This is the topic of Peter Singer s 1971 paper Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Singer describes the contemporary example of refugees in Bengal and says the following: To understand Singer s position and argument, we need to do two things: (1) understand what sorts of situations he is talking about, and (2) understand what he thinks we are morally obliged to do in response to such situations.
21 Singer describes the situation in Bengal as follows: There seem to be two relevant aspects of the situation in Bengal: that it in involves massive human suffering, and that it is, at least in large part, avoidable. This leads to a natural question: are there today any situations of this sort in other words, situations that both involve massive human suffering and are avoidable?
22 The following data from the United Nations and UNICEF suggests that there are: Every 3.6 seconds, someone dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of million people per year, or 6,000 people per day, die from drinking contaminated water due to lack of access to safe drinking water. 300 million children go to bed hungry every day. About 29,000 children under the age of 5 die every day. More than 70% of these are due to the following preventable causes: depleted immune systems due to chronic malnourishment, lack of safe water and sanitation, and insectborne disease. Each of these situations involves massive human suffering, and each seems, at least in large part, preventable.
23 The next question is: what are our moral obligations, given this fact? Here is what Singer says:
24 In this passage, Singer states two different moral principles, which might be stated as follows: The strong principle One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. The moderate principle One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything of any moral importance. Can you think of any examples where we seem to take for granted principles of this sort?
25 Let s look at a concrete example of what these principles imply, starting with the strong principle. The strong principle One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. The importance of an ND education (vs an education at one s state university) is not of comparable importance to the lives of 30 people. A Notre Dame education costs $140,000 more than an average education in a state university It costs roughly $1 to feed one child in Africa for one day The difference between an ND education and a state school education could feed 30 children in Africa, who would otherwise die of starvation, from age 5 to adulthood
26 1. One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. (Strong Principle) 2. A Notre Dame education costs $140,000 more than an average education in a state university. 3. It costs roughly $1 to feed one child in Africa for one day. 4. The difference between an ND education and a state school education could feed 30 children in Africa, who would otherwise die of starvation, from age 5 to adulthood. (2,3) 5. The importance of an ND education (vs an education at one s state university) is not of comparable importance to the lives of 30 people. C. No one should attend Notre Dame. (1,4,5) Is the argument valid? It is difficult to reject premises 2 or 3. So if one wants to reject the conclusion of the argument, one must reject either premise 1 or premise 5.
27 It is natural to think of Singer s view as extremely radical. But, as Singer points out, many others throughout history would have regarded his suggestions as far from radical: It is also worth pointing out that, for most of human history, moral opposition to slavery would have seemed extremely radical.
28 5. The importance of an ND education (vs an education at one s state university) is not of comparable importance to the lives of 30 people. How might one argue against premise (5)?
29 Let s turn instead to the first premise: Singer s strong principle. 1. One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. (Strong Principle) If everyone gave to alleviate world hunger, it would only take very little money per person. So why should I give more? Giving money to alleviate hunger only delays the problem, since doing so would only lead to further population growth, which in turn will just lead to more starvation. If everyone gave the amount the strong principle recommends to alleviate world poverty, rich country economies would collapse. And then there would be no one in a position to help with future disasters.
30 If everyone gave the amount the strong principle recommends to alleviate world poverty, rich country economies would collapse. And then there would be no one in a position to help with future disasters. 1. One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. (Strong Principle) To evaluate this last objection, it might help to know some facts about world economic aid: the United Nations suggests that developed nations should contribute 0.7% of their gross national product to assist developing countries. Countries which meet this target include Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom. A more typical nation is France or Ireland, which contributes roughly 0.4%. The United States is one of the worst contributors of rich nations, at 0.19% of gross national product. Americans give more than most others in private contributions, but the total national contribution, including private contributions, is still only about 0.3%.
31 1. One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything with moral importance comparable to the thing to be prevented. (Strong Principle) It is plausible that something like this principle will follow from most versions of consequentialism. But it also has some surprising consequences. Imagine, for example, that killing one of my children will, for whatever reason, lead to 30 lives being saved. Is it clear that I must kill my child? Let s turn to Singer s moderate principle.
32 This principle, though, can also be used to derive some surprising results. The moderate principle One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything of any moral importance. It is bad for children to starve to death. Starbucks coffee is of no moral importance. A Starbucks coffee costs $3. One can prevent three children from starving for a day by donating the amount of money you would have spent on a Starbucks coffee. It costs roughly $1 to feed one child in Africa for one day
33 1. One always ought to prevent something bad from happening if one can do so without sacrificing anything of any moral importance (the moderate principle). 2. A Starbucks coffee costs $3. 3. It costs roughly $1 to feed one child in Africa for one day. 4. One can prevent three children from starving for a day by donating the amount of money you would have spent on a Starbucks coffee. (2,3) 5. Starbucks coffee is of no moral importance. 6. It is bad for children to starve to death. C. No one should buy a Starbucks coffee. (1,4,5,6) Is the argument valid? Suppose that one were to argue that if no one drank Starbucks coffee, then the company would go out of business, and lots of people would lose their jobs, and that this would be of some moral importance. If all of this were true, would this falsify any premises in the argument?
34 We have now discussed a number of objections to specific forms of consequentialism such as hedonistic consequentialism and maximizing consequentialism and have discussed Singer s attempt to derive results about our obligations to the poor from very general consequentialist principles. The last series of arguments which we will discuss is an attempt to show, not that some specific form of consequentialism fails, but rather that any consequentialist approach to morality should be rejected.
35 The last series of arguments which we will discuss is an attempt to show, not that some specific form of consequentialism fails, but rather that any consequentialist approach to morality should be rejected. One general feature of consequentialism is its indifference to how consequences are brought about. What matters when deciding what to do is what one s various actions will bring about, not what those actions are. One consequence of this general feature might be stated like this: Act/omission indifference Whether I bring about some state of affairs by doing something or failing to do it is morally irrelevant. Some aspects of this principle are quite appealing. For example, the principle refuses to let people stand idly by as others suffer, on the grounds that one is not the cause of that suffering. One whose failure to act leads to suffering is, according to consequentialism, just as responsible for it as one whose action leads to that suffering.
36 But some troubling consequences of this principle are brought out by the following example, due to Judith Jarvis Thomson.
37 What does the consequentialist say that David ought to do in this case? What ought he to do? This sort of case might lead you to think something like this: killing someone in order to save the lives of others is never morally permissible. If this were true, this looks like it would be trouble for the Consequentialist, since it is hard to argue that killing someone, especially when it saves the lives of others, can never lead to an outcome which is, overall, the best of the available options. But, as some of Thomson s other examples show, matters are not quite this simple.
38 Consider one of her examples involving a trolley car: Is it permissible for Edward to turn the trolley? If so, wouldn t this be a case in which it is permissible perhaps even obligatory to kill one person in order to save five lives? But then why might it be OK for Edward to turn the trolley, but clearly not permissible for the doctor to cut up his healthy specimen? One might try to explain the difference here like this: Edward is choosing between killing one and killing five; either way, he is killing someone. David is choosing between killing one and letting five die, and this is something quite different. We have a stronger duty to avoid killing than to prevent people from dying.
39 But it is not clear that this is the right explanation of the difference between Edward and David, as is brought out by the example of Frank. Here it seems as though Frank is faced with a choice between letting five die, and killing one so his choice seems, in this respect, just like David s (the surgeon s). But it seems as though it is morally permissible for Frank to turn the trolley, even though it is not morally permissible for David to cut up the healthy specimen.
40 More complications are introduced by yet a third trolley example: Many people think that it is not permissible for George to push the fat man. But why is this any different from turning the trolley to kill the one on the right hand section of the trolley tracks? After all, in both cases, you are killing one rather than letting 5 die.
41 One thought is this: the fat man has a right not to be pushed onto the tracks in a way that people standing on trolley tracks don t have a right not to be run over by trolleys. This sort of thought also promises to make sense of the example of David the surgeon; perhaps healthy specimens have a right not to be cut up, but that dying patients in need of transplants have no right to be saved. This way of thinking about these cases is very different than the way of approaching them suggested by Consequentialism. According to this view, we should think about what we ought to do by first thinking about the rights and obligations of the people involved and not, at least in the first instance, about which action would bring about the best outcome. Beginning next time, we will begin discussing this other, non-consequentialist approach to ethical questions.
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From: Who Owns Our Genes?, Proceedings of an international conference, October 1999, Tallin, Estonia, The Nordic Committee on Bioethics, 2000. THE CONCEPT OF OWNERSHIP by Lars Bergström I shall be mainly
JUDITH JARVIS THOMSON Turning the Trolley i The trolley problem is by now thoroughly familiar, but it pays to begin with a description of its origins. In The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the
Lecture 6 Workable Ethical Theories I Participation Quiz Pick an answer between A E at random. (thanks to Rodrigo for suggesting this quiz) Ethical Egoism Achievement of your happiness is the only moral
ON NORMATIVE ETHICAL THEORIES: SOME BASICS From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been accounted the
Jada Twedt Strabbing Penultimate Version forthcoming in The Philosophical Quarterly Published online: https://doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqx054 Responsibility and Normative Moral Theories Stephen Darwall and R.
The free will defense Last time we began discussing the central argument against the existence of God, which I presented as the following reductio ad absurdum of the proposition that God exists: 1. God
Studying Religion-Associated Variations in Physicians Clinical Decisions: Theoretical Rationale and Methodological Roadmap Farr A. Curlin, MD Kenneth A. Rasinski, PhD Department of Medicine The University
Course Syllabus PHILOSOPHY 333 Instructor: Doran Smolkin, Ph. D. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Course Description: Is euthanasia morally permissible? What is the relationship between patient
1 A NOTE ON UTILITARIANISM & CONSEQUENTIALISM FOR PHILOSOPHY 13 Richard Arneson Fall, 2004 Broadly speaking, utilitarianism holds that morality should guide conduct in such a way that the outcome is best
Draft of 3-6- 13 PHIL 202: Core Ethics; Winter 2013 Core Sequence in the History of Ethics, 2011-2013 IV: 19 th and 20 th Century Moral Philosophy David O. Brink Handout #9: W.D. Ross Like other members
Backward Looking Theories, Kant and Deontology Study Guide Forward v. Backward Looking Theories Kant Goodwill Duty Categorical Imperative For Next Time: Rawls, Selections from A Theory of Justice Study
Handout 1 ELEMENTS OF LOGIC 1.1 What is Logic? Arguments and Propositions In our day to day lives, we find ourselves arguing with other people. Sometimes we want someone to do or accept something as true
The ethical issues concerning climate change are very often framed in terms of harm: so people say that our acts (and omissions) affect the environment in ways that will cause severe harm to future generations,
Suppose.... Kant You are a good swimmer and one day at the beach you notice someone who is drowning offshore. Consider the following three scenarios. Which one would Kant says exhibits a good will? Even
Miracles Last time we were discussing the Incarnation, and in particular the question of how one might acquire sufficient evidence for it to be rational to believe that a human being, Jesus of Nazareth,
Is It Morally Wrong to Have Children? 1. The Argument: Thomas Young begins by noting that mainstream environmentalists typically believe that the following 2 claims are true: (1) Needless waste and resource
Manjari Chatterjee Utilitarianism The fundamental idea of utilitarianism is that the morally correct action in any situation is that which brings about the highest possible total sum of utility. Utility
In Defense of The Wide-Scope Instrumental Principle Simon Rippon Suppose that people always have reason to take the means to the ends that they intend. 1 Then it would appear that people s intentions to
Autonomous Machines Are Ethical John Hooker Carnegie Mellon University INFORMS 2017 1 Thesis Concepts of deontological ethics are ready-made for the age of AI. Philosophical concept of autonomy applies
Introduction to Ethics Ethics is Practical! But men must know, that in this theatre of man s life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Advancement of Learning,
promoting access to White Rose research papers Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/ This is an author produced version of a paper published in Ethical Theory and Moral
Challenges to Traditional Morality Altruism Behavior that benefits others at some cost to oneself and that is motivated by the desire to benefit others Some Ordinary Assumptions About Morality (1) People
Gandalf s Solution to the Newcomb Problem Ralph Wedgwood I wish it need not have happened in my time, said Frodo. So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them