Utilitarianism And Other Essays Penguin Books New Zealand

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John stuart mill utilitarianism and other essays

Contemporary philosophers such as Matthew Ostrow have critiqued utilitarianism from a distinctly perspective. According to these philosophers, utilitarians have expanded the very meaning of pleasure to the point of linguistic incoherence. The utilitarian groundlessly places pleasure as his or her , and in doing so subordinates the value of , self-sacrifice or any other "secondary" desire. Of course, the utilitarian will deny this contention altogether, claiming that ascetics also seek pleasure, but have merely chosen an alternative path in which to achieve it.

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One problem for preference utilitarianism concerns how to makeinterpersonal comparisons (though this problem also arises for someother theories of value). If we want to know what one person prefers,we can ask what that person would choose in conflicts. We cannot,however, use the same method to determine whether one person'spreference is stronger or weaker than another person's preference,since these different people might choose differently in the decisiveconflicts. We need to settle which preference (or pleasure) isstronger because we may know that Jones prefers A's being done to A'snot being done (and Jones would receive more pleasure from A's beingdone than from A's not being done), whereas Smith prefers A's notbeing done (and Smith would receive more pleasure from A's not beingdone than from A's being done). To determine whether it is right to doA or not to do A, we must be able to compare the strengths of Jones'sand Smith's preferences (or the amounts of pleasure each would receivein her preferred outcome) in order to determine whether doing A or notdoing A would be better overall. Utilitarians and consequentialistshave proposed many ways to solve this problem of interpersonalcomparison, and each attempt has received criticisms. Debates aboutthis problem still rage. (For a recent discussion with references, seeCoakley 2015.)

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Act utilitarianism states that, when faced with a choice, we must first consider the likely consequences of potential actions and, from that, choose to do what we believe will generate most pleasure. The rule utilitarian, on the other hand, begins by looking at potential rules of action. To determine whether a rule should be followed, he looks at what would happen if it were constantly followed. If adherence to the rule produces more happiness than otherwise, it is a rule that morally must be followed at all times. The distinction between act and rule utilitarianism is therefore based on a difference about the proper object of consequentialist calculation — specific to a case or generalized to rules.

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Two-level utilitarianism - Wikipedia

Utilitarians, however, are not required to have perfect knowledge; indeed, certain knowledge of consequences is impossible because consequences are in the unexperienced future. Utilitarians simply try their best to maximise happiness (or other forms of utility) and, to do this, make their best estimates of the consequences. If the consequences of a decision are particularly unclear, it may make sense to follow an ethical rule which has promoted the most utility in the past. Utilitarians also note that people trying to further their own interests frequently run into situations in which the consequences of their decisions are very unclear. This does not mean, however, that they are unable to make a decision; much the same applies to utilitarianism.

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Or one could hold that an act is right if it maximizes respect for(or minimizes violations of) certain specified moral rights. Suchtheories are sometimes described as a utilitarianism ofrights. This approach could be built into total consequentialismwith rights weighed against happiness and other values or,alternatively, the disvalue of rights violations could be lexicallyranked prior to any other kind of loss or harm (cf. Rawls 1971, 42).Such a lexical ranking within a consequentialist moral theory wouldyield the result that nobody is ever justified in violating rights forthe sake of happiness or any value other than rights, although it wouldstill allow some rights violations in order to avoid or prevent otherrights violations.

Mill, John Stuart | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Another criticism of utilitarianism is that it is not proven, either by science or by logic, to be the correct ethical system. Supporters claim that this is common to all ethical schools, and indeed the itself, and will always remain so unless the problem of the , or at least the , is satisfactorily resolved. It might instead be argued that almost all political arguments about a future society use an unspoken utilitarian principle, all sides claiming that their proposed solution is the one that increases human happiness the most.