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Utilitarianism and Justice

Utilitarianism and Justice. J. J. C. Smart. Morality and Justice. Morality is generally regarded as “doing the right thing”. Justice is regarded as “doing the fair or just thing”.

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Utilitarianism and Justice

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  1. Utilitarianism and Justice J. J. C. Smart

  2. Morality and Justice Morality is generally regarded as “doing the right thing” Justice is regarded as “doing the fair or just thing” Since the criteria for rightness and the criteria for fairness amy be different, sometimes the moral thing to do and the just thing to do will not be the same thing. Plato has an example: Imagine someone borrows a knife from a neighbor and sometime later that friend, in an obvious murderous rage demands that you return their knife to them. If it is fair and just to keep promises and to give people what you owe them, then it is just to return the knife. However if it is right or moral top prevent great harms to others, it is moral to not return the knife. In cases like these it is important to determine whether morality or justice is more important.

  3. The Sheriff (see reading for full description of the example) Do Nothing Hang the innocent If the sheriff makes a scapegoat of the innocent person, the crowd disperses without further disruption. Also, in the community’s eyes, the sheriff has done a great service, and confidence in law and order is increased, leading to further positive consequences. • If the sheriff does nothing, a riot will ensue and many people will be seriously harmed and/or killed. • Also, the community may lose respect for law and order, leading to further bad consequences.

  4. The problem: • McCloskey (who provides the example in the first place) says that this example demonstrates why Utilitarianism doesn’t go along with justice. • McCloskey thinks that Utilitarians would clearly choose to hang the innocent, and that that is the wrong decision, owing to its being so unjust. • McCloskey adds that only J.J.C. Smart is happy with the Utilitarian position on the Sheriff case.

  5. Smart’s response (1) • Smart replies that of course he isn’t happy with deciding to hang the innocent in such cases, but he’s even less happy with the sheriff sitting on his/her hands and doing nothing, to the great cost of many people.

  6. Smart’s response (2) • Additionally, Smart points out that when our feelings about some particular case conflict with a generally plausible moral theory, so much the worse for our feelings about that particular case. • We ought to find the best moral principles (and he thinks Utility is it) and when some particular feeling in some case conflicts with that, we should do away with that feeling rather than a whole theory which has great appeal and evidence.

  7. Study questions • How would Smart respond to the critiques of utilitarianism advanced by Williams? • Provide a novel example of a case in which the moral thing to do is not the same as the just thing to do. • Would justice ever be more important than morality in Smart’s view? Why or why not?

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