Ethics wk 4

Module 4:Utilitarianism Part 1

7.1Read this section to give you historical background to utilitarianism

8.1The Classical Version of the Theory

Utilitarianism:We should always act in such a way to promote the greatest balance of pleasure minus pain for all sentient beings affected by our actions.

A point about sentience: A sentient being is one capable of experiencing pain or pleasure.It is very common to portray utilitarianism as telling us to promote the greatest happiness/pleasure for the greatest number of people, as Rachels sometimes does.But that would misrepresent both Bentham and Mill.Consider, then, the following question:

According to Utilitarianism, we should always act in such a way to promote the greatest balance of pleasure minus pain for all and only people.a. True b. False

The answer is b. False.This should become clearer in Module 6 when we consider whether we have obligations to non-human animals.

Rachel summarizes utilitarianism in three propositions.The remainder of the chapter examines, explains, criticizes, and defends them.

By the end of the module, you should be able to state the definition of utilitarianism, explain Rachels three propositions of utilitarianism, and know the main problems with them and the utilitarian responses to them.

8.2Is Pleasure All That Matters?

The view that pleasure is the only thing valuable in itself (pleasure alone is intrinsically valuable) is called “hedonism”

You should read this section and then read the Nozick piece in The Right Thing.

Does Rachels’ discussion in 8.2 and Nozick’s discussion convince you that hedonism cannot be true?

8.3Are Consequences All That Matter?

The three criticisms discussed in this section (justice, rights, and backward-looking reasons) are thought to be the most serious objections to utilitarianism.You should be able to explain how the utilitarian standard is supposed to conflict with important beliefs we have about justice and rights and to explain why it cannot recognize the importance of backward-looking reasons.Later in the chapter we’ll see utilitarian responses to these charges.



Backward-looking reasons

8.4Should We Be Equally Concerned For Everyone?

This objection is raised against proposition c:each person’s happiness counts the same. . .Rachels quotes Mill as saying that this requires we must be “strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator”

Is such strict impartiality a good thing or a bad thing morally?

8.5The Defense of Utilitarianism

We are now going to add another level of complexity to the discussion.Don’t lose track of where we are.We are considering the utilitarian standard of morality that says we should always act in such a way to promote the greatest balance of pleasure minus pain for all sentient beings affected by our actions.In 8.2-8.4 we considered objections to the utilitarian standard.In 8.5, Rachels presents important utilitarian responses to three important objections followed by three responses.The defenses are defensive strategies designed to show that the objections to utilitarianism fail.The three responses are offensive strategies designed to present positive considerations in favor of utilitarianism.

First Defense:Denying That the Consequences Would Be Good

Second Defense:The Principle of Utility Is a Guide for Choosing Rules, Not Acts

This point will come up again in Module 5, so you should make sure you understand it.

Third Defense:Common Sense Is Wrong

First Response:All Values Have A Utilitarian Basis

Second Response:Our Gut Reactions Can’t Be Trusted

The Third Response:We Should Focus On All the Consequences

8.6Concluding Thoughts

Utilitarianism has some serious problems, but some have found the defenses satisfactory and the responses compelling.Do you?Choose one and explain your reasons.

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