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The Utilitarian Point of View. Copyright 2005 Makoto Suzuki Caution: Some materials are adapted from Prof. Donald Hubin’s handouts and presentations. Their copyright belongs to him. . Aims. Understand the Total View and the Average View, and their implications

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the utilitarian point of view

The Utilitarian Point of View

Copyright 2005 Makoto Suzuki

Caution: Some materials are adapted from Prof. Donald Hubin’s handouts and presentations. Their copyright belongs to him.

slide2
Aims
  • Understand the Total View and the Average View, and their implications
  • Understand the alleged problems in calculating the level of well-being.
  • Consider whether each unit of animals’ well-being counts equally to each unit of our well-being.
whose well being counts in determining which outcome is the best kagan 41 2
Whose Well-Being Counts in Determining Which Outcome is the Best? (Kagan, 41-2)
  • Possible Answers
    • Each one of us should take into account only his or her own well-being.
      • One’s well-being is valuable only for him- or her- self.
      • This point of view is sometimes called “the egoistic point of view.”
    • Each one of us should take into account everyone’s well-being.
      • One’s well-being is valuable for anyone.
      • This point of view is sometimes called “the utilitarian point of view.”
the moral point of view kagan 42
The Moral Point of View (Kagan, 42)
  • Remember that we are considering which outcome is the best from the moral point of view.
    • We are considering which act is the act with the best outcome in order to determine what action is morally right.
  • It appears that from the moral point of view, the second view (the utilitarian point of view) is correct. That is, everyone’s well-being counts.
    • From the moral point of view, my saving a drowning child is the act with the best outcome even if it does not improve the level of my well-being.
the total view
The Total View
  • How should we take everyone’s well-being into account?
  • One natural suggestion is “the total view”:
    • the greater the sum of everyone’s well-being in an outcome, the better the outcome.

(Kagan, 44: The Answer to Q1a)

  • Don’t confuse this view with ‘the majority rule’ view: the goodness of an outcome depends on how many individuals are better off in that outcome.
  • ‘The majority rule’ view is insensitive to how much each individual gains or loses. “The total view” is sensitive to this point.
the total view vs the majority view
The Total View vs. the Majority View
  • Kagan’s example of Anatole, Belinda and Beatrice (p.44):
    • “Suppose that Belinda and Beatrice would actually only be very slightly better off in [an outcome] B than [an outcome] A, while Anatole will be much better off in A than B. In this case, we can imagine, the total benefit to Belinda and Beatrice of having B rather than A is still less than the benefit to Anatole of having A rather than B; that is, even though only one person would benefit from A, while two would benefit from B, it is A that has a greater total amount of well-being.”
outcome a and b compared
Outcome A and B Compared
  • The total view says A is the best outcome. (The majority view says B is.)
two presuppositions
Two Presuppositions
  • The Supposition about Numerical Measurement and Addition:
    • It makes sense to talk about measuring well-being in numerical terms and adding up (or subtracting) these numbers.
  • The Supposition about Interpersonal Comparison:
    • It makes sense to say that one individual is more or less well off than another.
doubts the answers to q3
Doubts (The Answers to Q3)
  • It does not even make sense to talk about measuring, adding, and comparing people’s well-being.
  • It makes sense, but it is impossible.
    • There are many variations of this view, from the strongest to the weakest.
      • It is (2-1) theoretically impossible.
      • It is (2-2) practically impossible
      • It is (2-3) practically impossible to make the comparison with any kind of precision.
are these suppositions defensible
Are these Suppositions Defensible?
  • It seems that we estimate and reckon the level of well-being.
    • E.g., “The audience’s cheers makes the winner happier.”
  • It seems that we often compare the levels of the well-being of different people.
    • E.g., “The winner is better off than the loser.”
  • It seems that we can often correctly judge, considering different people’s levels of well-being, that one outcome is better than another.
    • Ex.: You have two kids, Meg and Ryan. Meg likes Rock and Ryan likes Hip-hop. You have a ticket for the concert of Green Day (No Doubt, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi, Linkin Park, Evanescence or whatever you like as a rock musician). You give the ticket to Meg because the ticket can bring more happiness to her than to Ryan.
continued
Continued
  • Thus, it seems that it does make sense to talk about measuring, reckoning, and comparing people’s well-being. We can often do them in a way sufficient to enable us to say that one outcome is better than another.
  • But in most cases, the assignment of precise numbers to people’s levels of well-being will be beyond us. And of course there is always the risk of miscalculation.
two ways of increasing the total amount of well being kagan 46
Two Ways of Increasing the Total Amount of Well-Being (Kagan, 46)

(The Answer to Q2)

  • Increasing the total amount of the well-being of the individuals who have already existed.
  • Adding happy people to this population.
    • Here “happy people” are people whose lives are well-off on the whole, even very marginally.
  • Some people object to the total view because they do not think that the second way actually makes for a better outcome.
the total view advises us to procreate when
The Total View Advises Us to Procreate When…

According to the total view, the outcome of having the baby is the better in the above situation.

the average view kagan 46
The Average View (Kagan, 46)
  • One alternative to the total view is the average view (A to Q1b):
    • the greater the average level of well-being in an outcome, the better the outcome.
  • The average level of well-being means the total amount of well-being divided by the number of the individuals in the outcome.
  • When the number of individuals is the same in both outcomes, the average view agrees with the answers given by the total view.
  • However, when the number of individuals changes, two views can give different answers.
the average view population
The Average View & Population
  • According to the average view, in the example of the last page, not having the baby has the better outcome.

AVERAGE 12.5 8.66…

Average 12.5 8.66…

  • This initially sounds good. But if the added individual is below average---even if only by a small amount---creating the individual has the outcome worse than not doing so. This is not obvious.
on the average view extermination has a better upshot when
On The Average View, Extermination Has a Better Upshot When…
  • The average view has a further devastating implication.
  • Thus, almost all people dismiss the average view.
populations puzzles summary
Populations Puzzles (Summary)
  • The Total View 
  • The duty to promote the good tells us to procreation whenever it will add a happy individual to the population.
  • The Average View 
  • 1. The duty to promote the good tells us not to procreation whenever it will add a person below the average level of well-being.
  • 2. The duty to promote the good tells us to exterminate individuals until only individuals with the highest level of well-being remain.
aliens
Aliens
  • We are asking which act is the act with the best outcome from the moral point of view.
  • Now, if these aliens exist, should their well-being count?
  • And if it should count, should each unit of their well-being have the same weight as each unit of ours?
  • If you answer “no” to either of these questions, what is the reason?
animals
Animals
  • Now, should the well-being of animals count?
  • And if it should count, should each unit of their well-being have the same weight as each unit of ours?
  • If you answer “no” to either of these questions, what is the reason?
clarifying the question
Clarifying the Question
  • I have asked: doeseach unit of the well-being of a non-human being have the same weight as each unit of ours?
  • Don’t confuse this question with:
    • “Does a human being have the greater capacity for well-being?” or;
    • “Should we treat a non-human being in the same way we treat a human being?”
  • The question is rather this: if a human being and a non-human being have the same kind and amount of well-being, is the human’s well-being weightier from the moral point of view?
  • The things that make humans well off (or badly off) do not affect other beings in the same way.
    • The prohibition of reading books affect human beings’ well-being, but not non-human animals’. Slapping Makoto’s face probably gives him pain greater than the pain a horse feels when slapped in the face.
  • Thus, even if each unit of a non-human being’s well-being counts equally to each unit of a human being’s well-being, this does not imply that we should treat both in the same way. For the same treatment might give quite different effects on their well-being.
aliens and animals
Aliens and Animals
  • A caution to those who think that each unit of the well-being of the aliens counts equally to each unit of our well-being:
  • Don’t say animals’ well-beings do not count or do not count equally, because they are not humans.
  • Aliens are not humans, either!!!
aliens animals and human beings
Aliens, Animals, and Human Beings
  • A question to those who say that each unit of aliens or animals’ well-being does not count equally to each unit of our well-being:
    • Doesn’t your position arbitrarily discriminate against aliens or animals? Isn’t the moral point of view supposed to be impartial?
  • A problem for those who say that each unit of animals’ well-being does not count equally to each unit of our well-being because of their inferior abilities:
    • It seems that your position implies that each unit of the well-being of young children, fetuses and the severely handicapped does not count equally to each unit of our well-being.
what is the implication of counting animals well being equally
What is the Implication of Counting Animals’ Well-Being Equally?
  • The uncontroversial implication is that it is morally forbidden that you gratuitously treat animals cruelly.
  • We are probably required to abandon many practices of factory farming and the cruel ways of hunting, experimenting on or killing animals for trivial purposes.
  • Further, there is a dispute over whether people in the developed countries are required to stop meat eating practices and hunting practices completely.
  • I do not try to settle whether animals’ well-being counts equally, or whether if so, what the implication is. If you are interested in this topic, check here.