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Morality and Consequences. Agenda. Our Question Different Kinds of Answer Consequentialism : The Contingency of Right and Wrong Varieties of Consequentialism Attractions of Utilitarianism. Some Familiar Moral Facts. Some acts are wrong, others right.

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agenda
Agenda
  • Our Question
  • Different Kinds of Answer
  • Consequentialism: The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • Varieties of Consequentialism
  • Attractions of Utilitarianism
some familiar moral facts
Some Familiar Moral Facts
  • Some acts are wrong, others right.
  • Some acts are morally permissible, others morally impermissible.
  • Examples:
      • It is morally impermissible for you to lie to your parents about how you spend your book money.
      • It is morally permissible for you to lie to the Nazi who asks you if there are Jews in the house.
our question
Our Question
  • In virtue of what is a given act right or wrong, permissible or impermissible?
  • For instance, lying to your parents has a different moral status than lying to the Nazi.
  • That difference justifies taking a different attitude toward them.
  • What underlies this difference?
agenda1
Agenda
  • Our Question
  • Different Kinds of Answer
  • Consequentialism: The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • Varieties of Consequentialism
  • Attractions of Utilitarianism
different kinds of answer i actions and related matters
Different Kinds of Answer I:Actions and Related Matters
  • An action is related to many other things.
  • Different kinds of answers to our question locate the source of right/wrong in different parts of this picture.

I want to…,

I choose to…,

I plan to...

Caused by

Causes

performed by

Psychological Sources

The action itself

The consequences of the action

The agent

different kinds of answer ii consequentialism and its rivals
Different Kinds of Answer II:Consequentialism and Its Rivals
  • The rightness/wrongness of an act is determined by the nature of…
    • Consequentialism: “its consequences.”
    • Kantianism: “the intentions with which it was done.”
    • Virtue Theory: “what it reveals about the character of the agent.”
different kinds of answer iii what s distinctive about consequentialism
Different Kinds of Answer III:What’s Distinctive about Consequentialism

I want to…,

I choose to…,

I plan to...

Caused by

Causes

performed by

Psychological Sources

The action itself

The consequences of the action

Consequentialism

The agent

Kantianism

Virtue Theory

agenda2
Agenda
  • Our Question
  • Different Kinds of Answer
  • Consequentialism: The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • Varieties of Consequentialism
  • Attractions of Utilitarianism
explaining right and wrong
Explaining right and wrong
  • Lying to your parents is impermissible; lying to the Nazi is permissible.
  • Consequentialist: “What makes the difference is what consequences the lies would have.”
  • An upshot: Consequentialism implies that the moral status of any action is contingent.
consequentialism the contingency of right and wrong
Consequentialism:The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • In the actual situation, the action has horrible consequences;
  • But it’s possible that the horror of those consequences is outweighed.

Causes

Causes

Pol Pot

prevents

Actual killing

Possible killing

agenda3
Agenda
  • Our Question
  • Different Kinds of Answer
  • Consequentialism: The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • Varieties of Consequentialism
  • Attractions of Utilitarianism
varieties of consequentialism i
Varieties of Consequentialism I

The morally right act is that act (among those available to you) that

  • Utiliarianism: … maximizes everyone’s utility.
  • Egoism: … maximizes your own utility.
  • SatisficingConsequentialism: … meets some threshold for promoting utility.
  • Rights Consequentialism: … minimizes violations of rights.
varieties of consequentialism ii what s distinctive about utilitarianism
Varieties of Consequentialism II:What’s Distinctive about Utilitarianism
  • Everyone’s utility counts. (vs. Egoism)
  • Maximization required (vs. Satisficing)
  • Utility is the goal (vs. Rights Conseq’ism)

Utilitarianism: The morally right act is that act (among those available to you) that maximizes everyone’s utility.

agenda4
Agenda
  • Our Question
  • Different Kinds of Answer
  • Consequentialism: The Contingency of Right and Wrong
  • Varieties of Consequentialism
  • Attractions of Utilitarianism
attractions of utilitarianism
Attractions of Utilitarianism
  • Consequences are morally relevant.
  • Examples:
    • How should I break some bad news?
    • Medical triage.
  • Others’ pleasure/pain is morally relevant.
  • Examples:
    • Sadistic actions are morally reprehensible.
    • Moral heroes.
  • Consequences can outweigh other morally relevant factors.
  • Examples:
    • Breaking a promise to save a life
    • Just wars
  • Utilitarianism would explain these facts.
mill s utilitarianism
Mill’s Utilitarianism
  • John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)
  • Philosopher, Political Theorist, Reformer.
  • Mill is one of the most able defenders of Utilitarianism.
agenda5
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
mill s thesis
Mill’s Thesis

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. (p. 487, col. 2)

English Translation: “The only fundamental moral requirement is to promote happiness to the best of your ability.”

[All other moral requirements follow from that one.]

agenda6
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
mill s conception of happiness
Mill’s Conception of Happiness

By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. (p. 487, col. 2)

  • Note: Pleasure is a mental state.
  • So, e.g. bodily health is not a direct part of happiness.

Mill’s conception of happiness: A is happier than B if and only if A enjoys a higher balance of pleasure over pain.

agenda7
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
the pig s life who s happier
The Pig’s Life:Who’s Happier?

Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds … inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as [critics] express it) no higher end than pleasure – no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit – they designate as utterly mean and groveling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine …. (p. 487, col. 2)

the pig s life who s happier1
The Pig’s Life:Who’s Happier?

Objection:

  • According to Mill’s conception of happiness, Schmoe is happier than Joe.
  • Schmoe is not happier than Joe.

(C) So, Mill’s conception of happiness is false.

Ouch!

Joe:

(healthy, except for a backache)

Schmoe:

(enjoys nothing but heroin)

agenda8
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
bentham s defense
Bentham’s Defense
  • One could deny that Joe is happier than Schmoe.
  • Jeremy Bentham: “Pushpin is as good as poetry.”
  • Bentham updated: “Heroin is as good as health.”
  • Perry Farrell seems to be a contemporary adherent. (google“Pigs in Zen lyrics”.)
  • Call this Bentham’s Defense.
bentham s defense1
Bentham’s Defense
  • Bentham: Premise (2) is false.

Objection:

  • According to Mill’s conception of happiness, Schmoe is happier than Joe.
  • Schmoe is not happier than Joe.

(C) So, Mill’s conception of happiness is false.

False!

mill rejects bentham s defense
Mill Rejects Bentham’s Defense

The comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated that the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification. (p. 488, col. 1)

mill rejects bentham s defense1
Mill Rejects Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill: There are more pleasures than food, drink, sex, heroin, etc.
  • Mill: Joe is happier than Schmoe because he enjoys some of those pleasures.
  • Mill calls these “higher pleasures”.

Ouch!

Joe

Schmoe

agenda9
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
mill s defense
Mill’s Defense
  • Mill: Premise (1) is false.
  • On Mill’s conception of happiness, Schmoe enjoys a full measure of lower pleasures.
  • But Joe’s existence is overall more pleasant, because Joe enjoys “higher pleasures”.

Objection:

  • According to Mill’s conception of happiness, Schmoe is happier than Joe.
  • Schmoe is not happier than Joe.

(C) So, Mill’s conception of happiness is false.

False!

mill s defense higher vs lower pleasures
Mill’s Defense:Higher vs. Lower Pleasures

Two kinds of pleasures:

Higher Pleasures

Lower Pleasures

Pleasures we share with other sentient animals

What is it?

Pleasures peculiarly suited to our most sophisticated capacities and sensitivities.

  • Poetry, art, music
  • Sociability
  • Positional goods
  • Crosswords, limericks
  • Dice, pushpin, tiddly winks
  • Food
  • drink and other intoxicants
  • sex
  • exercise
  • warmth

Examples

quality vs quantity
Quality vs. Quantity
  • Bentham: Pleasures differ only in: (i) intensity, (ii) duration, (iii) “propinquity” (proximity in time), and (iv) likelihood.
  • Mill: They also differ in quality:

[U]tilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanence, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former […] It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and 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. (p. 488, col. 1)

mill quality trumps quantity
Mill: Quality Trumps Quantity

[W]e are justified in ascribing to [some] enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account. (p. 488, col. 2)

  • Problem: quality of pleasure is extremely important; but how is it to be determined?

>

agenda10
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
mill s epistemology of value
Mill’s Epistemology of Value
  • How do you determine whether one pleasure outweighs another?
  • Mill’s epistemology of value: Ask the experts:
  • [Mill notes that the same can be said of whether one “lower” pleasure is more intense than another (p. 489, col. 2)]

Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. (p. 488, col. 1-2)

what the experts say
What the Experts Say

10 out of 10 experts agree!

[T]hose who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures … (p. 488, col. 2)

Mill’s Empirical Claim: People who have experienced both higher and lower pleasures much prefer the higher.

Is this true?

i couldn t resist quoting this
I Couldn’t Resist Quoting This

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. (p. 489, col. 1)

agenda11
Agenda
  • Mill’s Thesis
  • Mill’s Conception of Happiness
  • Objection: The Pig’s Life
  • Bentham’s Defense
  • Mill’s Defense
  • What’s Good?
  • Objections and Replies
objections and replies agenda
Objections and Replies: Agenda
  • “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Angels”
  • “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Supercomputers”
charge utilitarianism is ethics for angels
Charge: “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Angels”
  • The idea: no one could possibly be motivated to act as Utilitarianism enjoins.
  • You love yourself, your parents, your friends, etc.
  • You do not love me, my parents, my friends, etc.
  • Utilitarianism requires that you act in a way that equally serves the interests of all:
  • Bentham: “Everyone is to count for one, and no one for more than one.”
charge utilitarianism is ethics for angels1
Charge: “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Angels”

The Objection:

  • Utilitarianism requires impartiality: According to Utilitarianism, we ought to act in a way that promotes everyone’s happiness, regardless of how we feel about them.
  • We can’t be impartial: We cannot act in a way that promotes everyone’s happiness, regardless of how we feel about them.
  • Ought implies can: If we ought to act in a certain way, then we can act in that way

(C) So, Utilitarianism is false.

mill s response actions and motives
Mill’s Response:Actions and Motives
  • Utilitarianism prescribes actions of a certain sort: utility-maximizing for all humanity.
  • Utilitarianism does not prescribe a motive for those actions.

[The objection] mistake[s] a rule of action with the motive of it. It is the business of ethics to tell us what are our duties […] He who saves a fellow creature from drowning does what is morally right, whether his motive be duty, or the hope of being paid for his trouble. (p. 491, col. 1)

mill s response actions and motives1
Mill’s Response:Actions and Motives

dist:

Rule of Action

Motive of Action

The psychological factor which induces us to act in a certain way.

What is it?

A rule which tells us to act in a certain way.

Examples

  • Don’t kill
  • Drive on the right
  • The psychological trauma associated with killing
  • Fear of death

Used for

Assessment of the action:

“Was it wrong?”

Assessment of the agent:

“Is s/he a bad person?”

mill s response actions and motives2
Mill’s Response:Actions and Motives
  • Premise (2) is false:
      • We can perform the right actions;
      • Our motive needn’t be angelic, impartial love of all human beings.

The Objection:

  • Utilitarianism requires impartiality: According to Utilitarianism, we ought to act in a way that promotes everyone’s happiness, regardless of how we feel about them.
  • We can’t be impartial: We cannot act in a way that promotes everyone’s happiness, regardless of how we feel about them.
  • Ought implies can: If we ought to act in a certain way, then we can act in that way

(C) So, Utilitarianism is false.

False!

objections and replies agenda1
Objections and Replies: Agenda
  • “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Angels”
  • “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Supercomputers”
charge utilitarianism is ethics for supercomputers
Charge: “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Supercomputers”
  • The idea: Utilitarian calculations are extremely difficult.
  • People don’t have the opportunity to do such calculations when deciding what to do.
  • So people can’t act as Utilitarianism requires.
charge utilitarianism is ethics for supercomputers1
Charge: “Utilitarianism is Ethics for Supercomputers”

The Objection:

  • Utilitarianism requires complex calculations: Determining which action maximizes utility requires calculations of a certain complexity.
  • We can’t do complex calculations: We cannot do calculations of that complexity when deciding what to do.

(C) Utilitarianism is impractical: So, we cannot determine which action maximizes utility when deciding what to do.

mill s response utility and derivative principles
Mill’s Response:Utility and Derivative Principles
  • Utilitarianism is the fundamental principle of morality: maximize utility.
  • In daily life, we can apply derivative principles:
    • “Don’t murder”
    • “Don’t steal”

There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard whatever to work ill, if we suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it; but on any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this time have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of some actions on their happiness; and the beliefs which have thus come down are the rules of morality for the multitude. (p. 493, col. 2)

mill s response utility and derivative principles1
Mill’s Response:Utility and Derivative Principles
  • The conclusion is true,

(but harmless):

      • We can calculate ahead of time to formulate derivative rules;
      • the rules get applied “in the heat of the moment”.
  • The Objection:
  • Utilitarianism requires complex calculations: Determining which action maximizes utility requires calculations of a certain complexity.
  • We can’t do complex calculations: We cannot do very calculations of that complexity when deciding what to do.
  • (C) Utilitarianism is impractical: So, we cannot determine which action maximizes utility when deciding what to do.

Harmless

the place of common sense morality
The Place ofCommon Sense Morality

User friendly!

Don’t

murder!

Don’t

steal!

Be honest!

Care for your kids!

Common Sense Morality

*

No Exceptions!

Maximize utility!

**

Foundation

* has exceptions

** hard to use

mill s proof
Mill’s Proof

On the present occasion, I shall … attempt to contribute something towards the understanding and appreciation of the Utilitarian … theory. It is evident that this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are not amenable to direct proof. Whatever can be proved to be good must be so by being shown to be a means to something admitted to be good without proof. The medical art is proved to be good by its conducing to health; but how is it possible to prove that health is good. […] Considerations may [nevertheless] be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof. (p. 487, col. 1)

  • Mill: One can give an argument for the principle of utility, but not a proof.
mill s proof two tasks
Mill’s Proof: Two Tasks

Mill aims to show that maximizing everyone’s happiness is the only good.

To show:

  • Maximizing everyone’s happiness is good; and
  • Nothing else is good.
mill s proof agenda
Mill’s Proof: Agenda
  • Clarifications
  • “Everyone desires happiness.”
  • “No one desires anything else.”
first clarification good desirable
First Clarification: “Good” ≈ “Desirable”
  • To show that something is good, it suffices to show that it is desirable.
  • To show that something is not good, it suffices to show that it is not desirable.

Questions about ends are, in other words, questions about what things are desirable. (p. 499, col. 1)

second clarification desirable means vs desirable ends
Second Clarification:Desirable Means vs. Desirable Ends
  • Desirable means: things desirable because they are means for acquiring something desirable.
  • Mill’s example is …

… money:

  • Desirable ends: Things desirable for themselves.

There is nothing originally more desirable about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth is solely that of the things which it bill buy; the desires for other things than itself, which it is a means of gratifying. (p. 500, col. 2)

mill s proof two tasks again
Mill’s Proof: Two Tasks (Again)
  • Maximizing everyone’s happiness is a desirable end.
  • Everything else that is desirable is either desirable as a means to that end, or desirable as a part of that end.
mill s proof agenda1
Mill’s Proof: Agenda
  • Clarifications
  • “Everyone desires happiness.”
  • “No one desires anything else.”
mill s argument for i everyone desires happiness
Mill’s Argument for I:Everyone desires Happiness
  • I. Maximizing everyone’s happiness is a desirable end.

Argument:

  • Empirical Claim: Each person desires her own happiness.
  • ‘Desired’ implies ‘Desirable’: If something is desired, it is desirable.

(C1) Each person’s happiness is desirable.

(C) The happiness of the aggregate of people is desirable.

[T]he sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it. […] No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable, except that each person … desires his own happiness. […] We have … all the proof … it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. (p. 499, col. 2)

objection does desired imply desirable
Objection:Does ‘Desired’ Imply ‘Desirable’?
  • There seem to be desires without desirability.
  • Examples (?):
    • Jocko desires to be the 17th person to reach the South Pole.
    • In a fit of pique, Van Gogh desires to destroy his paintings.
  • ‘Desired’ implies ‘Desirable’: If something is desired, it is desirable.
objection does desired imply desirable1
Objection:Does ‘Desired’ Imply ‘Desirable’?
  • Premise (2) is false:
      • People sometimes desire things that are not desirable.

Argument:

  • Empirical Claim: Each person desires her own happiness.
  • ‘Desired’ implies ‘Desirable’: If something is desired, it is desirable.

(C1) Each person’s happiness is desirable.

(C) The happiness of the aggregate of people is desirable.

False!

objection the fallacy of composition
Objection:The Fallacy of Composition
  • Mill infers a feature of the aggregate whole from that feature’s being universally exemplified by its parts.
  • This is not generally a valid inference:
  • This mistake is called the fallacy of composition.

(C1) Each person’s happiness is desirable.

(C) The happiness of the aggregate of people is desirable.

(TRUE) Each person’s weight < 1000 lbs.

(FALSE) The weight of of the aggregate of people is < 1000 lbs.

objection the fallacy of composition1
Objection:The Fallacy of Composition
  • The reasoning from (C1) to (C) is bad.
      • It commits the fallacy of composition
  • Jargon: the inference is “invalid.”

Argument:

  • Empirical Claim: Each person desires her own happiness.
  • ‘Desired’ implies ‘Desirable’: If something is desired, it is desirable.

(C1) Each person’s happiness is desirable.

  • (C) The happiness of the aggregate of
  • people is desirable.

Invalid!

mill s proof agenda2
Mill’s Proof: Agenda
  • Clarifications
  • “Everyone desires happiness.”
  • “No one desires anything else.”
mill s assertion no one desires anything else
Mill’s assertion:No One Desires Anything Else
  • II. Everything else that is desirable is either desirable as a means to happiness, or desirable as a part of happiness.
  • Ask yourself: “Are desirability and pleasantness are the same thing?”
  • Mill: “Yes!”

And now to decide whether this is really so; whether mankind do desire nothing for itself, but that which is a pleasure to them or of which the absence is pain; we have evidently arrived at a question of fact and experience …. It can only be determined by practised self-consciousness and self-observation, assisted by the observations of others. I believe that these sources of evidence, impartially consulted, will declare that desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as painful, are phenomena entirely inseparable; or rather two parts of the same phenomenon. [T]o desire anything, except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a physical and metaphysical impossibility. (p. 501, col. 2)

apparent counter examples to mill s assertion
Apparent Counter-Examples toMill’s Assertion
  • Apparent Counter-examples:
    • money
    • virtue
    • art
    • etc.

Mill’s Defense: Each of these is desirable originally as a means to happiness

Later, it may become desirable as a part of happiness.

  • Mill’s Assertion: Everything else that is desirable is either desirable as a means to happiness, or desirable as a part of happiness.
desired as means to vs desired as part of happiness
Desired as means to vs. Desired as part of happiness
  • Something is desired as a means to happiness if and only if it is desired because its possession will cause happiness (i.e. pleasure).
  • Something is desired as a part of happiness if and only if its possession will itself be pleasurable.
mill s defense in action
Mill’s Defense in Action
  • Consider money.
  • Desired as a means: money is originally desired for what it can buy.
  • Desire as a part of happiness: we come to desire it for its own sake.
  • [Marx: We fetishize it.]

[T]he love of money is not only one of the strongest moving forces of human life, but money is, in many cases, desired in and for itself; the desire to possess it is often stronger than the desire to use it, and goes on increasing when all the desires which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by it, are falling off. It may, then, be said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as part of the end. (p. 500, col. 2)

mill s defense in action1
Mill’s Defense in Action

Basic Desires

Knowledge:

buys

Originally:

And so …

Desired as Means:

Basic Desires

Knowledge

buys

Later:

And so …

Desired as Means

“It may, then, be said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as part of the end.” (p. 500, col. 2)

mill s view of virtue i
Mill’s View of Virtue I
  • Virtues include:
    • courage, wisdom, generosity, honesty, etc.
  • Why do we originally desire virtue?
  • Mill: Because it leads to (general) happiness.

[Utilitarians] believe … that actions and dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than virtue. (p. 500, col. 1)

mill s view of virtue ii
Mill’s View of Virtue II
  • We (also) fetishize virtue:
  • In fact, we have a moral duty to fetishize virtue.
  • [This involves getting yourself to desire something which you do not now desire.]

There was no original desire of [virtue] … save its conduciveness to pleasure, and especially to protection from pain. But through the association thus formed, it may be felt a good in itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as any other good; and with this difference between it and love of money, of power, or of fame, that all of these may, and often do, render the individual noxious to the other members of society to which he belongs, whereas there is nothing which makes him so much a blessing to them as the cultivation of the disinterested love of virtue. (p. 501, col. 1)

objection a tension in mill s discussion
Objection: A Tension in Mill’s Discussion
  • Claim 1: Happiness is a mental state.
  • Claim 2: We can fetishize.
  • [In so doing we create value.]
  • Given the range of human desires, these two claims seem hard to maintain at the same time.
  • We desire things (for themselves) that are not mental states.
  • Examples:
    • Jocko desires to be the 17th person to reach the South Pole.
    • Julius desires posthumous fame.
objection a tension in mill s discussion1
Objection: A Tension in Mill’s Discussion

Joe wants his child to be happy and successful.

Two cases:

Joe gets what he wants

Junior

Joe mistakenly believes he gets what he wants

Joe

Joe

Junior

objection a tension in mill s discussion2
Objection: A Tension in Mill’s Discussion

Joe is in the same mental states in both cases.

If Joe can fetishize Junior’s success, then Junior’s success is part of Joe’s happiness.

If Junior’s success is part of Joe’s happiness, then Joe is less happy in the second case.

Joe gets what he wants

Junior

Joe mistakenly believes he gets what he wants

Junior

Joe

Joe

objection a tension in mill s discussion3
Objection:A Tension in Mill’s Discussion

Argument:

  • If Claim 2 is true, then whatever we desire for its own sake is a part of happiness.
  • We desire things other than pleasure and the absence of pain.

(C1) If Claim 2 is true, then happiness includes things other than pleasure and the absence of pain.

(C) If Claim 2 is true, then Claim 1 is false.

  • Claim 1: Happiness is a mental state: Happiness consists in pleasure and the avoidance of pain
  • Claim 2: We can fetishize: by desiring something for itself we can make it a part of our happiness.
summary
Summary

Mill’s argument for the principle of Utility faces serious challenges:

  • It appears to commit the fallacy of composition.
  • It relies on the idea that desiring something for itself makes it desirable, which leads two problems:
    • Counter-examples (i.e. desires without desirability); and
    • Apparent conflict with Mill’s conception of happiness as a mental state.
carritt s objections
Carritt’s Objections
  • E.F. Carritt (1876 - 1964)
  • Moral philosopher at Oxford.
  • Carritt is a minor figure at best, but …
  • .. this is the earliest version I can find of the objection that Utilitarianism (properly understood) requires wickedness.

The internet

has given me

no picture.

carritt s objections agenda
Carritt’s Objections: Agenda
  • Carritt’s Thesis
  • The Standard Utilitarian Response
  • The Arctic Explorer’s Promise
  • The Utilitarian Sherriff
carritt s thesis
Carritt’s Thesis

[U]tilitarianism has forgotten rights; it allows no right to a [hu]man [being] because he is innocent or because he has worked hard or has been promised or injured, or because he stands in any other special relation to us. It thinks only of duties or rather of a single duty, to dump happiness wherever we most conveniently can. (p. 505, col. 1)

Carritt’s Thesis: Utilitarianism requires wickedness, in the form of violations of rights.

carritt s objection the general idea
Carritt’s Objection:The General Idea
  • There are situations in which wickedness maximizes Utility.
  • Carritt’s example:
    • paying what you’ve promised to someone richer.
  • Utilitarianism says, “Your promise is irrelevant to the rightness/wrongness of the act.”
carritt s objection the general idea1
Carritt’s Objection:The General Idea

Gimme my money!

You’ve promised to pay Scrooge …

Kill the Wabbit!

But spending the money on a night at the opera has better consequences.

carritt s objections agenda1
Carritt’s Objections: Agenda
  • Carritt’s Thesis
  • The Standard Utilitarian Response
  • The Arctic Explorer’s Promise
  • The Utilitarian Sherriff
carritt s objection the standard utilitarian response
Carritt’s Objection:The Standard Utilitarian Response
  • Effects on the institution:
  • Counting only direct, immediate consequences, repaying the rich does not maximize utility.
  • But violating a promise undermines the institution of promising.
  • This counts in favor of keeping the promise.

The argument of the utilitarians to explain this has usually been as follows: It is true that a particular instance of justice may not directly increase the sum of human happiness but quite the contrary, and yet we often approve such an instance. This is because the general practice of such good faith, with the consequent possibility of credit and contract, is supremely conducive to happiness, and therefore so far as any violation of a bargain impairs this confidence, it is, indirectly and in the long run, pernicious. (p. 505, col. 1)

doubts about the standard utilitarian response
Doubts about the Standard Utilitarian Response
  • Does a a single instance of promise-breaking threaten the institution of promising?
  • Suppose you marry. Does the fact that someone you know cheats on his/her spouse make you more likely to cheat?
  • [In my own case: no.]
carritt rejects the standard utilitarian response
Carritt Rejects the Standard Utilitarian Response
  • Carritt’s response: add secrecy
  • Two cases:
    • Arctic explorer’s promise
    • Utilitarian Sherriff

[The standard Utilitarian response] breaks down because it only applies where the promise and its performance or neglect would be public and therefore serve as an example to others. (p. 504, col. 2)

carritt s objections agenda2
Carritt’s Objections: Agenda
  • Carritt’s Thesis
  • The Standard Utilitarian Response
  • The Arctic Explorer’s Promise
  • The Utilitarian Sherriff
the arctic explorer s promise
The Arctic Explorer’s Promise

Suppose the two explorers in the Arctic have only enough food to keep on alive till he can reach the base, and one offers to die if the other will promise to educate his children. No other person can know that such a promise was made, and the breaking or keeping of it cannot influence the future keeping of promises. On the utilitarian theory, then, it’s the duty of the returned traveller to act precisely as he ought to have acted if no bargain had been made: to consider how he can spend his money most expediently for the happiness of mankind, and , if he thinks his own child is a genius, to spend it on him. (p. 504, col. 2)

  • Carritt’s complaint:
    • according to Utilitarianism, the fact that I have promised does not bear on the rightness/wrongness of breaking that promise.
the arctic explorer s promise1
The Arctic Explorer’s Promise

B: Use my money to take care of my kids!

A: I promise!

<wink, wink>

Last year

B’s child: I think I might like to go to college.

A: Sorry, kid. The tuition money B left me is better spent on my little genius.

Now

the arctic explorer s promise2
The Arctic Explorer’s Promise

Argument:

  • If Utilitarianism is true, then A’s promise does not bear on the rightness or wrongness of acting as he’s promised.
  • A’s promise does bear on the rightness or wrongness of acting as he’s promised.

(C) Utilitarianism is false.

B’s child: I think I might like to go to college.

A: Sorry, kid.

carritt s objections agenda3
Carritt’s Objections: Agenda
  • Carritt’s Thesis
  • The Standard Utilitarian Response
  • The Arctic Explorer’s Promise
  • The Utilitarian Sherriff
carritt s utilitarian sherriff
Carritt’s Utilitarian Sherriff

[T]he utilitarian must hold that we are justified in inflicting pain always and only in order to prevent worse pain or bring about greater happiness. This, then, is all we need consider in so-called punishment, which must be purely preventive. But if some kind of very cruel crime becomes common, and none of the criminals can be caught, it might be highly expedient, as an example, to hang an innocent man, if a charge against him could be so framed that he were universally thought guilty; indeed this would only fail to be an ideal instance of utilitarian “punishment” because the victim himself would not have been so likely as a real felon to commit such a crime in the future, in all other respects it would be perfectly deterrent and therefore felicific. (pp. 504-5)

  • Carritt’s complaint:
    • according to Utilitarianism, the fact that someone is innocent does not bear on the rightness/wrongness of punishing him.
carritt s utilitarian sherriff1
Carritt’s Utilitarian Sherriff

B: I’m innocent!

A: Sure, but your suffering is generally useful to humanity.

Punishment Requires Guilt:

It is morally legitimate to punish B for a crime only if B = the person who committed that crime.

Sherrif

carritt s utilitarian sherriff2
Carritt’s Utilitarian Sherriff

Argument:

  • If Utilitarianism is true, then B’s innocence does not bear on the rightness or wrongness of punishing her.
  • B’s innocence does bear on the rightness or wrongness of punishing her.

(C) Utilitarianism is false.

Sherrif

utilitarianism vs common sense morality
Utilitarianism vs.Common Sense Morality
  • Common sense morality is (partly) backward-looking.
  • According to common sense morality:
    • The moral status of an act depends in part on what you have promised.
    • The moral status of punishment depends in part on what the punishee has done.
  • Utilitarianism is exclusively forward-looking.
  • According to Utilitarianism: the moral status of an act depends only on what will (or would) result from it.
  • Utilitarianism and common sense are at odds.