Sept. 13, 2001
Mill - Utilitarianism
Name some things that you want
-grades, money, job, etc.
Why do you want them?
Distinguish intrinsic/instrumental goods
Something that you want for itself is an intrinsic good
What you want to get something else is an instrumental good
For utilitarian, there is only one intrinsic good -- what is it?
Happiness = pleasure in the absence of pain (p. 10)
"Why do you want pleasure?" appears unanswerable, thus intrinsic good
Bentham says "pushpin is as good as poetry" -- Does Mill agree?
-no, different qualities of pleasure
Mill: how does he tell whether one pleasure is greater than another?
- ask someone who enjoys both
"Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" (p. 12-13)
Which pleasures does he say are greater?
- those that employ the "higher faculties"
Relationship between pleasure & happiness?
- happiness = pleasure, absence of pain
This is Mill's theory of the GOOD
Is he right? Briefly discuss whether pleasure is the only good; virtual
What is his view of what is right? How does he tell whether something is right or wrong?
_ Actions are right in proportion as they tend to produce happiness, wrong as they tend to produce unhappiness
How it works: child drowning in shallow pond - you're going to interview; what should you do, according to Mill?
-you should save the child
Spelunkean explorers example:
How would you tell what is right thing to do in case of 5 people in the cave?
- add up utilities: see which alternative produces the most happiness. So, apparently, blow up the guy in the mouth of the cave
5 patients/transplant example
heart, lungs, kidney, liver
(Others are too sick, their organs are not suitable for transplant)
What should you do? Perform the transplants.
At this juncture, we have 3 alternatives:
2) accept the result & accept utilitarianism as a moral theory
3) attempt to offer reasons why utilitarian will not reach this result.
Principle of diminishing marginal utility
Suppose there are 20 people in the room and I have 20 donuts. I am a utilitarian. How will I distribute the donuts
1. - diminishing marginal utility tends to favor equal distribution
2. - (may depend on who's hungrier)
- distinguish between distribution of goods (wealth) and distribution of pleasure
Distributing gasoline -- 2 towns 50 mi. apart
25 people are here
you have 500 gal. gas
25 other people are 50 miles away
Driving 100 mi. (round trip) uses 10 gal. of gas
How should you distribute?
Efficiency (i.e., the idea of maximizing the total) means that an equal distribution will not always satisfy utilitarian criteria
Efficiency and equality are in opposition
What kind of distribution of wealth would be favored by a utilitarian depends on what the alternatives are
Should you have children? How would you decide?
Moving goods from existing person to new person raises utility (until
existing person is down to point before curve levels off)
Expand population until everyone is on edge of curve reduction
"Average utility" principle
So kill people off?
Wouldn't you have to kill people off anyway?
Saturday I will take a day off -- OK? (or spend money on myself)
Shouldn't I do something useful instead?
Broad view of obligation
Should you steal? -- Util. seems to say yes, depending on if it makes
you better off (esp. if no one else knows)
How can the utilitarian respond?
Rule-utilitarianism: Follow those rules that if generally followed will promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number
But what if you're lost in the woods, starving? Or trapped in the cave with the box of food?
"Don't steal unless necessary to preserve your life"
Well you're not going to die, but if you don't eat you will become dehydrated and have to go to the hospital
"Don't steal unless necessary to preserve life or health"
More exceptions are always possible
Best rule: "Don't steal unless doing so will promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number"
Rule-U. collapses into Act-U.
Or the utilitarian can say on the basis of the act alone: this will give you a bad character & you won't act for the greatest good in the future