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Rawls, I: What Rawls rejects

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  1. Rawls, I:What Rawls rejects PHIL 2345

  2. Utilitarianism: Bentham, Mill • ‘Greatest good of greatest number’. • ‘Good’ defined as ‘pleasure’; vs pain • What is ‘pleasure’? • personal versus collective varieties • My own pleasure = pleasure of all? • How is this to be calculated? • Criticised for its emphasis on quantification, calculation

  3. Bentham’s happiness principle • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832 ) did not distinguish among pleasures • A simple child’s game might give more pleasure than an opera or play • So should society devote more resources to children’s games than to theatre or opera. • But how to quantify pleasure? • opinion surveys? • other ways?

  4. Greatest Happiness Principle • Happiness should be “the directive rule of human conduct”: • “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, • wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. • Happiness = pleasure, absence of pain • Unhappiness = pain, absence of pleasure

  5. Utilitarianism, cont. • Consequentialist: • morality of an action is judged by its consequences, not by intentions of the doer; • Pleasures can include: • The agreeable • The beautiful • Doing good deeds • ‘Higher’ pleasures (Mill) • Utilitarianism does not = hedonism: • concern with sensual pleasures of the body.


  6. Lower vs higher pleasures • Mill has a hierarchy of pleasures: • Does this sound familiar? (It should!) • Lower pleasures are the familiar “appetites” of the ancient Greeks • “a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conception of happiness” (258); • Anyone can experience these; • Higher pleasures are those resulting from use of the “higher faculties” (259).

  7. What are higher pleasures? • Not those of beasts—we need more • We don’t have to be philosophers—”any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened” (265): • Art • Nature • Poetry • History • Seeks a life rich in enjoyments, “private affections” and promoting the public good (265).

  8. Utilitarian morality • Rejects duty (Kant) as motive for human action; • Uses empirical evidence: 99/100 of actions done from other motives • Morality of action unrelated to motive • a bad man may perform a good action (e.g. Schindler). • Most good actions done for individual benefit, not from altruism (Mandeville, Smith).

  9. Utilitarian morality, cont. • “morality of self-devotion” • Seek own happiness • Sacrifice may bring good to others • But is not a good in itself (Mill, 268; • cf. Aristotle: ‘Happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’ (NE). • Relation of individual to society: • Harmonize happiness (interest) of each with that of the whole. • Use education and opinion.

  10. Summation • “…the utilitarian standard…is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier... Utilitarianism…could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character…” (emph. Added; Mill, 262).

  11. Again, there is the problem of ranking pleasures: who does this? And how? These are crucial questions if utility is to be implemented.

  12. The Pleasure-Pain Vote • Who decides what is pleasurable or painful and in what degree? • “the general suffrage [vote] of those who are familiar with both [pleasure and pain]”; • “What is there to decide whether a particular pleasure is worth purchasing as the cost of a particular pain, except the feelings and judgment of the experienced?” (Mill, 262).

  13. How is this vote to be taken? Important because he wants to govern society on this basis too! There are public policy implications.

  14. Rawls Justice as Fairness Intuition

  15. Rawls: Justice as Fairness • ‘Justice is the first virtue of social institutions…’ (TJ, 3); • ‘laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust’. • Rejects: • ‘efficiency’ • Order for its own sake

  16. Attack on Utilitarianism • ‘Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override’ (emph. added); • Sacrifices or loss of freedom of few should not be outweighed by advantages enjoyed by many • How many are few? How many are many? • This expresses ‘our intuitive conviction of the primacy of justice’ (TJ, 4).

  17. Rawls’ approach • Follows in social contract tradition (11, n.4): • Locke, Second Treatise • Rousseau, On the Social Contract • Kant, Foundations of Metaphysics of Morals • Excludes Hobbes, ‘[f]or all of its greatness’, because ‘it raises special problems’.

  18. Assumptions re: society • Self-sufficient ass’n of persons • Recognise binding rules of conduct • System of cooperation • To advance the good of the participants • Conflict of interests vs Identity of interest: • ‘There is identity of interest since social cooperation makes possible a better life…than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts’ (TJ, 4). • In other words, humans are not bears!

  19. Concept of justice (TJ, 4-5) • Conflict re distribution of results of cooperation • Social justice = arrangement for division of shares • Public sense of justice makes ass’n possible (5) • Yet ‘what is just and unjust is usually in dispute’ • Disagreement re: ‘which principles should define the basic terms of their association’ • ‘Yet…they each have a conception of justice’; • The conception of justice vs various ones!

  20. Student comments I think there are some incomplete arguments in Rawls’s theory. • First  of all, actually justice denies that harming benefits of some people and taking away their freedom for the maximum good for the society is  proper. The justice in Rawls’s theory may just be a concept which works for capitalist society. • Secondly, Rawls’s  theory takes the aim (fulfilling the maximum good) as a measurement  for justice, but justice should be a theory which has been set before  taking actions; we cannot judge whether something is justice or not  according looking into its results. • Thirdly, Rawls thinks each kind of satisfaction of desire bears values while he never distinguishes the quality of these desires. • The fourth, during the process of confirming the theory of justice, Rawls often relies on intuitivism.

  21. Questions • Living in a society undergoing a lot of change [1971: Vietnam War, Environmentalism, Feminism], Rawls placed the hopes of getting out of these difficulties on clarifying the theory of justice based on some intuitivism, while he did not try to solve the essential problems of the capitalist society. • Then what should be the aim of his theory? Is it just to control ideology and contribute to calming down the lower class and minority people in capitalist society?