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The Good. Utilitarianism is a theory of right action: A right act is one that produces the maximum possible good. A theory of right presupposes a theory of the good.

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The Good

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The Good

  • Utilitarianism is a theory of right action: A right act is one that produces the maximum possible good.

  • A theory of right presupposes a theory of the good.

  • Value and goodness – If there were no living creatures, then nothing would have any value, because there would be no one to take an interest in it. We do have interests, though. Thus some things have positive value for you and some things have negative value.

  • Things are of value when they make a difference to you.


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Value and Goodness

  • Something can be of value to other sentient beings.

  • When something is of positive value to us we tend to call it good, and when it is of negative value we tend to call it bad.

  • We have to be clear about what we mean by good. For example, we may call a night out drinking with friends good; but we may also call the experience bad when we wake up the next morning with a hangover.


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Value and Goodness

  • Usually, something is good if it help us achieve some desire, purpose or goal.

  • Is everything we call good, good as a means to something else? For example, if you come to school as a means to get good grades and you get good grades as a means to graduate and you want to graduate as a means to getting a good job then does this series go on forever? Is everything pursued as a means to something beyond itself?

  • Aren’t there things that are good or worth having, not as a means to anything but for their own sake (good in themselves)?


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Intrinsic good

  • For example, why do you want to come to class and get good grades so that you can graduate and get a good job? Why do you want a good job? You say, “so that I can be happy.” I ask, “Why do you want to be happy?

  • That question makes no sense.An intrinsic good is not a means to something else. An intrinsic good is something worthwhile for its own sake alone.


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Intrinsic good

  • There is a considerable consensus that only states of consciousness are intrinsically good.

  • G.E. Moore asks for us to imagine an uninhabited world. Imagine the most beautiful world that you can, and then imagine the ugliest world you can possibly conceive. Imagine it simply as one heap of filth. In neither world will be experienced by anybody, then what could it possibly matter?What about aworld with intelligent but non-feeling beings? Would there be notions of good and evil in such a world?


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Instrumental Good

  • Instrumental good is something considered as a means to some other good.

  • For example, Being alive might be a necessary condition for an intrinsic good, but being alive is not itself an intrinsic good. (Think of a person in great pain on a respirator). Thus, being alive is not desirable for its own sake.


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Hedonistic Theories

  • Hedonists allege two things:

  • All pleasure is intrinsically good.

  • Nothing but pleasure is intrinsically good.

  • The Hedonist will claim that all pleasure is intrinsically good. Of course, other things are good, too – liberty, for example. However, liberty is only good instrumentally, as a means towards greater happiness.

  • Pain as a means to pleasure. Pain is intrinsically bad. However, it is sometimes good as a means. For example, putting your finger on a hot stove.


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Hedonistic Theories

  • Pleasure vs. sources of pleasure

    • My pleasure is spending time with my family, his pleasure is going for long, solitary walks. This is not exactly right. These are not the pleasure but the sources of it.

  • Intrinsic good versus Moral good

  • Calling something intrinsically good is not the same as calling it morally good. Calling someone “a good person” does not mean that she enjoys herself. As a matter of fact, there may be no correlation between a moral person and a person that enjoys herself a lot.


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The Hedonistic Paradox

  • The Hedonistic Paradox: "Pleasure to be got must be forgot."


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Quantifying Pleasures

  • Jeremy Bentham wanted to develop a "moral science" that was more rational, objective, and quantifiable than most ethical theories about right and wrong. Bentham believed that the rightness of an action is determined by its tendency to increase pleasure and decrease pain.

  • According to Bentham, the value of a pleasure or pain considered by itself will be greater or less, according to the four following circumstances:

  • Its intensity

  • Its duration

  • Its certainty or uncertainty

  • Its propinquity or remoteness.


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Quantifying Pleasures

  • These are the circumstances that are to be considered in estimating a pleasure or a pain considered by itself. But when the value of any pleasure or pain is considered for the purpose of estimating the tendency of any act by which is produced, there are two other circumstances to be taken into the account, these are:

  • 5. Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind, that is, pleasures, if it is to be a pleasure; Pains, if it be a pain.

  • Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is, pains, if it be a pleasure; pleasures, if it be a pain.

  • Bentham was attempting to lay the foundation for a “calculus of pleasure.” How successful would you guess that this has been? Why?


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John Stuart Mill

“It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that, while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.”

If one experience is less pleasurable than another, and yet intrinsically better, it would seem as if is not just pleasure that is the criteria of the good.


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Happiness

  • What is the difference between happiness and pleasure?

  • Pleasures tend to be evanescent.

  • You know at any given moment whether you feel a pain or whether you are pleased by something. Happiness is sometimes harder to know.

  • A pain is an occurent state. Happiness is more than an occurrent state; it also involves a disposition to behave in a certain way.

    • “Call no man happy until he is dead.”

  • Is happiness an achievement? John Stuart Mill said that “Socrates dissatisfied is better than a pig satisfied.” Why is this?


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    Is Hedonism Enough?

    Undeserved happiness: Suppose a murderer gets pleasure from killing people? The hedonist believes that the worth is the same intrinsically, but they are instrumentally different.

    There is a difference between ethical hedonism and hedonism in general.

    Fruitful vs. unfruitful enjoyments:Suppose two people get an equal amount of pleasure from two different activities: (1) throwing dishes and (2) playing the piano.Aren't these activities of different worth?Once again, believes the worth is the same intrinsically.

    Kinds of happiness: Mark Twain’s story The Mysterious Stranger (page 125) Is the happiness of insanity intrinsically good/


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    Some Criticisms of Hedonism

    • Rachels’ example:

      • A promising young pianist’s hands are injured in an automobile accident so that she can no longer play.

        • Why is this bad for her? Hedonism would say it is bad because it causes her unhappiness. She will feel frustrated and upset whenever she thinks of what might have been and that is her misfortune. But doesn’t this type of reasoning explain things the wrong way around?


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    Some Criticisms of Hedonism

    • It is not as though, by feeling unhappy, she has made an otherwise neutral situation into a bad one. On the contrary, her unhappiness is a rational response to a situation that is unfortunate. She could have had a career as a concert pianist, and now she cannot. That is the tragedy. We could not eliminate the tragedy just by getting her to cheer up.


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    Some Criticisms of Hedonism

    • You think someone is your friend, but he ridicules you behind your back. No one tells you, so you never know. Is this unfortunate for you? Hedonism would have to say no, because you are never caused any unhappiness. Is something bad still going on?


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    Some Criticisms of Hedonism

    • Both of these examples make the same basic point. We value things such as musical talent and friendship, for their own sakes. It makes us happy to have them, but only because we already think them good. We do not think them good because they make us happy.

    • What do you think? Is pleasure the only intrinsic good. Can you think of other things that are intrinsically good?


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    Pluralistic theories

    • What is it that makes the life of Socrates more worth living than that of the pig, whether pleasanter or not? Surely not the quality of his pleasure, whatever that may mean, but something more obvious. It is simply that in the mind of a great thinker we have a richer fulfillment of the faculties that makes us men. – Brand Blanchard


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    Fulfillment

    • Because we are rational animals, fulfillment – not happiness but the fulfillment of desire – has been thought by many to be intrinsically good.

    • Some desires when fulfilled clash with other ones. A compulsive gambler wants to constantly gamble and save money for a new house.


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    Fulfillment

    • To achieve maximum fulfillment of desires, then, we need to have our desires so selected as to be harmonious with one another. What is wanted is maximally coherent desires. But it is very difficult to achieve this. As with competing values, we often have competing desires.


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    Knowledge

    • The more knowledge people have, the greater is the potential for instrumental good.

    • Is all knowledge good?

    • Instrumentally, it may not always be good. However, is knowledge intrinsically good?

    • A person is a value pluralist if he or she believes that more than one kind of thing is of intrinsic worth – for example, happiness and knowledge.


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    Moral Qualities

    • Are moral qualities intrinsically good? Why or why not?


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