PHL Consequentialist Hedonism (Utilitarianism)
tion will reveal an important contrast between consequentialism and its. I would like to J. M. Robson, ed., Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto: University of. Toronto .. matter of splitting the difference or adopting the consensus view. The notable thinkers associated with utilitarianism are Jeremy Bentham and John One difference, however, is consequentialism does not specify a desired. acts (e.g. signing a contract) or special relations to others . Two types of consequentialism . to note that prominent utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and.
Imagine that Bob does not in fact foresee a bad consequence that would make his act wrong if he did foresee it, but that Bob could easily have foreseen this bad consequence if he had been paying attention. Maybe he does not notice the rot on the hamburger he feeds to his kids which makes them sick. If foreseen consequences are what matter, then Bob's act is not morally wrong. If foreseeable consequences are what matter, then Bob's act is morally wrong, because the bad consequences were foreseeable.
Now consider Bob's wife, Carol, who notices that the meat is rotten but does not want to have to buy more, so she feeds it to her children anyway, hoping that it will not make them sick; but it does.
Carol's act is morally wrong if foreseen or foreseeable consequences are what matter, but not if what matter are intended consequences, because she does not intend to make her children sick.Utilitarianism - John Stuart Mill
Finally, consider Bob and Carol's son Don, who does not know enough about food to be able to know that eating rotten meat can make people sick. If Don feeds the rotten meat to his little sister, and it makes her sick, then the bad consequences are not intended, foreseen, or even foreseeable by Don, but those bad results are still objectively likely or probable, unlike the case of Alice.
Some philosophers deny that probability can be fully objective, but at least the consequences here are foreseeable by others who are more informed than Don can be at the time. For Don to feed the rotten meat to his sister is, therefore, morally wrong if likely consequences are what matter, but not morally wrong if what matter are foreseen or foreseeable or intended consequences.
Consequentialist moral theories that focus on actual or objectively probable consequences are often described as objective consequentialism Railton In contrast, consequentialist moral theories that focus on intended or foreseen consequences are usually described as subjective consequentialism.
Consequentialist moral theories that focus on reasonably foreseeable consequences are then not subjective insofar as they do not depend on anything inside the actual subject's mind, but they are subjective insofar as they do depend on which consequences this particular subject would foresee if he or she were better informed or more rational.
One final solution to these epistemological problems deploys the legal notion of proximate cause. If consequentialists define consequences in terms of what is caused unlike Sosathen which future events count as consequences is affected by which notion of causation is used to define consequences.
Suppose I give a set of steak knives to a friend. Unforeseeably, when she opens my present, the decorative pattern on the knives somehow reminds her of something horrible that her husband did. This memory makes her so angry that she voluntarily stabs and kills him with one of the knives. She would not have killed her husband if I had given her spoons instead of knives.
Did my decision or my act of giving her knives cause her husband's death? Most people and the law would say that the cause was her act, not mine.
One explanation is that her voluntary act intervened in the causal chain between my act and her husband's death. Moreover, even if she did not voluntarily kill him, but instead she slipped and fell on the knives, thereby killing herself, my gift would still not be a cause of her death, because the coincidence of her falling intervened between my act and her death.
Now, if we assume that an act must be such a proximate cause of a harm in order for that harm to be a consequence of that act, then consequentialists can claim that the moral rightness of that act is determined only by such proximate consequences. This position, which might be called proximate consequentialism, makes it much easier for agents and observers to justify moral judgments of acts because it obviates the need to predict non-proximate consequences in distant times and places.
Hence, this move is worth considering, even though it has never been developed and deviates far from traditional consequentialism, which counts not only proximate consequences but all upshots — that is, everything for which the act is a causally necessary condition. Rights, Relativity, and Rules Another problem for utilitarianism is that it seems to overlook justice and rights.
One common illustration is called Transplant. Imagine that each of five patients in a hospital will die without an organ transplant. The patient in Room 1 needs a heart, the patient in Room 2 needs a liver, the patient in Room 3 needs a kidney, and so on.
The person in Room 6 is in the hospital for routine tests. Luckily for them, not for him! There is no other way to save any of the other five patients FootThomson ; compare related cases in Carritt and McCloskey If so, then classical utilitarianism implies that it would not be morally wrong for the doctor to perform the transplant and even that it would be morally wrong for the doctor not to perform the transplant.
Most people find this result abominable. They take this example to show how bad it can be when utilitarians overlook individual rights, such as the unwilling donor's right to life. Utilitarians can bite the bullet, again. Of course, doctors still should not cut up their patients in anything close to normal circumstances, but this example is so abnormal that we should not expect our normal moral rules to apply, and we should not trust our moral intuitions, which evolved to fit normal situations Sprigge Many utilitarians are happy to reject common moral intuitions in this case, like many others cf.
SingerUngerNorcross Most utilitarians lack such strong stomachs or teethso they modify utilitarianism to bring it in line with common moral intuitions, including the intuition that doctors should not cut up innocent patients.
Rationally Speaking: On Utilitarianism and Consequentialism
One attempt claims that a killing is worse than a death. If one killing is worse than five deaths that do not involve killing, then the world that results from the doctor performing the transplant is worse than the world that results from the doctor not performing the transplant.
A modified example still seems problematic. Just suppose that the five patients need a kidney, a lung, a heart, and so forth because they were all victims of murder attempts. Then the world will contain the five killings of them if they die, but not if they do not die. But most people still think it would be morally wrong for the doctor to kill the one to prevent the five killings. The reason is that it is not the doctor who kills the five, and the doctor's duty seems to be to reduce the amount of killing that she herself does.
In this view, the doctor is not required to promote life or decrease death or even decrease killing by other people.
Consequentialism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The doctor is, instead, required to honor the value of life by not causing loss of life cf. This kind of case leads some consequentialists to introduce agent-relativity into their theory of value SenBroomePortmore To apply a consequentialist moral theory, we need to compare the world with the transplant to the world without the transplant. If this comparative evaluation must be agent-neutral, then, if an observer judges that the world with the transplant is better, the agent must make the same judgment, or else one of them is mistaken.
However, if such evaluations can be agent-relative, then it could be legitimate for an observer to judge that the world with the transplant is better since it contains fewer killings by anyonewhile it is also legitimate for the doctor as agent to judge that the world with the transplant is worse because it includes a killing by him. In other cases, such as competitions, it might maximize the good from an agent's perspective to do an act, while maximizing the good from an observer's perspective to stop the agent from doing that very act.
If such agent-relative value makes sense, then it can be built into consequentialism to produce the claim that an act is morally wrong if and only if the act's consequences include less overall value from the perspective of the agent.
This agent-relative consequentialism, plus the claim that the world with the transplant is worse from the perspective of the doctor, could justify the doctor's judgment that it would be morally wrong for him to perform the transplant.
A key move here is to adopt the agent's perspective in judging the agent's act. Agent-neutral consequentialists judge all acts from the observer's perspective, so they would judge the doctor's act to be wrong, since the world with the transplant is better from an observer's perspective.
In contrast, an agent-relative approach requires observers to adopt the doctor's perspective in judging whether it would be morally wrong for the doctor to perform the transplant.
This kind of agent-relative consequentialism is then supposed to capture commonsense moral intuitions in such cases. Agent-relativity is also supposed to solve other problems. Ross34—35 argued that, if breaking a promise created only slightly more happiness overall than keeping the promise, then the agent morally ought to break the promise according to classic utilitarianism.
This supposed counterexample cannot be avoided simply by claiming that keeping promises has agent-neutral value, since keeping one promise might prevent someone else from keeping another promise. Still, agent-relative consequentialists can respond that keeping a promise has great value from the perspective of the agent who made the promise and chooses whether or not to keep it, so the world where a promise is kept is better from the agent's perspective than another world where the promise is not kept, unless enough other values override the value of keeping the promise.
In this way, agent-relative consequentialists can explain why agents morally ought not to break their promises in just the kind of case that Ross raised. Similarly, critics of utilitarianism often argue that utilitarians cannot be good friends, because a good friend places more weight on the welfare of his or her friends than on the welfare of strangers, but utilitarianism requires impartiality among all people. However, agent-relative consequentialists can assign more weight to the welfare of a friend of an agent when assessing the value of the consequences of that agent's acts.
In this way, consequentialists try to capture common moral intuitions about the duties of friendship see also Jackson One final variation still causes trouble. Imagine that the doctor herself wounded the five people who need organs. If the doctor does not save their lives, then she will have killed them herself.
In this case, even if the doctor can disvalue killings by herself more than killings by other people, the world still seems better from her own perspective if she performs the transplant. Critics will object that it is, nonetheless, morally wrong for the doctor to perform the transplant. Many people will not find this intuition as clear as in the other cases, but those who do find it immoral for the doctor to perform the transplant even in this case will want to modify consequentialism in some other way in order to yield the desired judgment.
This problem cannot be solved by building rights or fairness or desert into the theory of value. The five do not deserve to die, and they do deserve their lives, just as much as the one does. Each option violates someone's right not to be killed and is unfair to someone. So consequentialists need more than just new values if they want to avoid endorsing this transplant.
One option is to go indirect. A direct consequentialist holds that the moral qualities of something depend only on the consequences of that very thing. Thus, a direct consequentialist about motives holds that the moral qualities of a motive depend on the consequences of that motive. A direct consequentialist about virtues holds that the moral qualities of a character trait such as whether or not it is a moral virtue depend on the consequences of that trait Driver a, HurkaJamiesonBradley A direct consequentialist about acts holds that the moral qualities of an act depend on the consequences of that act.
Someone who adopts direct consequentialism about everything is a global direct consequentialist Pettit and Smith In contrast, an indirect consequentialist holds that the moral qualities of something depend on the consequences of something else. One indirect version of consequentialism is motive consequentialism, which claims that the moral qualities of an act depend on the consequences of the motive of that act compare Adams and Sverdlik Another indirect version is virtue consequentialism, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends on whether it stems from or expresses a state of character that maximizes good consequences and, hence, is a virtue.
The most common indirect consequentialism is rule consequentialism, which makes the moral rightness of an act depend on the consequences of a rule. Since a rule is an abstract entity, a rule by itself strictly has no consequences. Still, obedience rule consequentialists can ask what would happen if everybody obeyed a rule or what would happen if everybody violated a rule. They might argue, for example, that theft is morally wrong because it would be disastrous if everybody broke a rule against theft.
Often, however, it does not seem morally wrong to break a rule even though it would cause disaster if everybody broke it. Luckily, our species will not die out if everyone is permitted not to have children, since enough people want to have children.
Such acceptance rule consequentialists then claim that an act is morally wrong if and only if it violates a rule whose acceptance has better consequences than the acceptance of any incompatible rule.
In some accounts, a rule is accepted when it is built into individual consciences Brandt Other rule utilitarians, however, require that moral rules be publicly known Gert ; cf. Sinnott-Armstrong b or built into public institutions Rawls Then they hold what can be called public acceptance rule consequentialism: The indirectness of such rule utilitarianism provides a way to remain consequentialist and yet capture the common moral intuition that it is immoral to perform the transplant in the above situation.
Suppose people generally accepted a rule that allows a doctor to transplant organs from a healthy person without consent when the doctor believes that this transplant will maximize utility. Widely accepting this rule would lead to many transplants that do not maximize utility, since doctors like most people are prone to errors in predicting consequences and weighing utilities.
Moreover, if the rule is publicly known, then patients will fear that they might be used as organ sources, so they would be less likely to go to a doctor when they need one. The medical profession depends on trust that this public rule would undermine.
For such reasons, some rule utilitarians conclude that it would not maximize utility for people generally to accept a rule that allows doctors to transplant organs from unwilling donors. If this claim is correct, then rule utilitarianism implies that it is morally wrong for a particular doctor to use an unwilling donor, even for a particular transplant that would have better consequences than any alternative even from the doctor's own perspective.
Common moral intuition is thereby preserved. Rule utilitarianism faces several potential counterexamples such as whether public rules allowing slavery could sometimes maximize utility and needs to be formulated more precisely particularly in order to avoid collapsing into act-utilitarianism; cf. Such details are discussed in another entry in this encyclopedia see Hooker on rule-consequentialism. Here I just want to point out that direct consequentialists find it weird to judge a particular act by the consequences of something else Smart Why should mistakes by other doctors in other cases make this doctor's act morally wrong, when this doctor knows for sure that he is not mistaken in this case?
Rule consequentialists can respond that we should not claim special rights or permissions that we are not willing to grant to every other person, and that it is arrogant to think we are less prone to mistakes than other people are. However, this doctor can reply that he is willing to give everyone the right to violate the usual rules in the rare cases when they do know for sure that violating those rules really maximizes utility. Anyway, even if rule utilitarianism accords with some common substantive moral intuitions, it still seems counterintuitive in other ways.
This makes it worthwhile to consider how direct consequentialists can bring their views in line with common moral intuitions, and whether they need to do so.
Limiting the Demands of Morality Another popular charge is that classic utilitarianism demands too much, because it requires us to do acts that are or should be moral options neither obligatory nor forbidden. If it is morally wrong to do anything other than what maximizes utility, then it is morally wrong for me to buy the shoes. But buying the shoes does not seem morally wrong. It might be morally better to give the money to charity, but such contributions seem supererogatory, that is, above and beyond the call of duty.
Of course, there are many more cases like this. When I watch television, I always or almost always could do more good by helping others, but it does not seem morally wrong to watch television. When I choose to teach philosophy rather than working for CARE or the Peace Corps, my choice probably fails to maximize utility overall.
If we were required to maximize utility, then we would have to make very different choices in many areas of our lives. The requirement to maximize utility, thus, strikes many people as too demanding because it interferes with the personal decisions that most of us feel should be left up to the individual. Some utilitarians respond by arguing that we really are morally required to change our lives so as to do a lot more to increase overall utility see KaganP.
Singerand Unger Such hard-liners claim that most of what most people do is morally wrong, because most people rarely maximize utility. Some such wrongdoing might be blameless when agents act from innocent or even desirable motives, but it is still supposed to be moral wrongdoing. Opponents of utilitarianism find this claim implausible, but it is not obvious that their counter-utilitarian intuitions are reliable or well-grounded Murphychs.
Other utilitarians blunt the force of the demandingness objection by limiting direct utilitarianism to what people morally ought to do. Even if we morally ought to maximize utility, it need not be morally wrong to fail to maximize utility.
John Stuart Mill, for example, argued that an act is morally wrong only when both it fails to maximize utility and its agent is liable to punishment for the failure Mill It does not always maximize utility to punish people for failing to maximize utility cf. Thus, on this view, it is not always morally wrong to fail to do what one morally ought to do.
If Mill is correct about this, then utilitarians can say that we ought to give much more to charity, but we are not required or obliged to do so, and failing to do so is not morally wrong. Many utilitarians still want to avoid the claim that we morally ought to give so much to charity.
One way around this claim uses a rule-utilitarian theory of what we morally ought to do. If it costs too much to internalize rules implying that we ought to give so much to charity, then, according to such rule-utilitarianism, it is not true that we ought to give so much to charity Hookerch. Another route follows an agent-relative theory of value.
If there is more value in benefiting oneself or one's family and friends than there is disvalue in letting strangers die without killing themthen spending resources on oneself or one's family and friends would maximize the good.
A problem is that such consequentialism would seem to imply that we morally ought not to contribute those resources to charity, although such contributions seem at least permissible. More personal leeway could also be allowed by deploying the legal notion of proximate causation. When a starving stranger would stay alive if and only if one contributed to a charity, contributing to the charity still need not be the proximate cause of the stranger's life, and failing to contribute need not be the proximate cause of his or her death.
Thus, if an act is morally right when it includes the most net good in its proximate consequences, then it might not be morally wrong either to contribute to the charity or to fail to do so. Yet another way to reach this conclusion is to give up maximization and to hold instead that we morally ought to do what creates enough utility. This position is often described as satisficing consequentialism Slote According to satisficing consequentialism, it is not morally wrong to fail to contribute to a charity if one contributes enough to other charities and if the money or time that one could contribute does create enough good, so it is not just wasted.
For criticisms, see Bradley A related position is progressive consequentialism, which holds that we morally ought to improve the world or make it better than it would be if we did nothing, but we don't have to improve it as much as we can Elliot and Jamieson, Both satisficing and progressive consequentialism allow us to devote some of our time and money to personal projects that do not maximize overall good. Opponents still object that all such consequentialist theories are misdirected.
When I decide to visit a friend instead of working for a charity, I can know that my act is not immoral even if I have not calculated that the visit will create enough overall good or that it will improve the world.
These critics hold that friendship requires us to do certain favors for friends without weighing our friends' welfare impartially against the welfare of strangers. I morally should save my wife straightaway without calculating utilities.
In response, utilitarians can remind critics that the principle of utility is intended as only a criterion of right and not as a decision procedure, so utilitarianism does not imply that people ought to calculate utilities before acting Railton Consequentialists can also allow the special perspective of a friend or spouse to be reflected in agent-relative value assessments SenBroomePortmoreor probability assessments Jackson It remains controversial, however, whether any form of consequentialism can adequately incorporate common moral intuitions about friendship.
Arguments for Consequentialism Even if consequentialists can accommodate or explain away common moral intuitions, that might seem only to answer objections without yet giving any positive reason to accept consequentialism. However, most people begin with the presumption that we morally ought to make the world better when we can.
The question then is only whether any moral constraints or moral options need to be added to the basic consequentialist factor in moral reasoning. KaganIf no objection reveals any need for anything beyond consequences, then consequences alone seem to determine what is morally right or wrong, just as consequentialists claim. This line of reasoning will not convince opponents who remain unsatisfied by consequentialist responses to objections.
Moreover, even if consequentialists do respond adequately to every proposed objection, that would not show that consequentialism is correct or even defensible. It might face new problems that nobody has yet recognized. Even if every possible objection is refuted, we might have no reason to reject consequentialism but still no reason to accept it. In case a positive reason is needed, consequentialists present a wide variety of arguments. One common move attacks opponents.
If the only plausible options in moral theory lie on a certain list say, Kantianism, contractarianism, virtue theory, pluralistic intuitionism, and consequentialismthen consequentialists can argue for their own theory by criticizing the others.
This disjunctive syllogism or process of elimination will be only as strong as the set of objections to the alternatives, and the argument fails if even one competitor survives.
Moreover, the argument assumes that the original list is complete. It is hard to see how that assumption could be justified. Consequentialism also might be supported by an inference to the best explanation of our moral intuitions.
This argument might surprise those who think of consequentialism as counterintuitive, but in fact consequentialists can explain many moral intuitions that trouble deontological theories. Moderate deontologists, for example, often judge that it is morally wrong to kill one person to save five but not morally wrong to kill one person to save a million. They never specify the line between what is morally wrong and what is not morally wrong, and it is hard to imagine any non-arbitrary way for deontologists to justify a cutoff point.
In contrast, consequentialists can simply say that the line belongs wherever the benefits outweigh the costs including any bad side effects. Similarly, when two promises conflict, it often seems clear which one we should keep, and that intuition can often be explained by the amount of harm that would be caused by breaking each promise. In contrast, deontologists are hard pressed to explain which promise is overriding if the reason to keep each promise is simply that it was made Sinnott-Armstrong If consequentialists can better explain more common moral intuitions, then consequentialism might have more explanatory coherence overall, despite being counterintuitive in some cases.
III; and Sverdlik And even if act consequentialists cannot argue in this way, it still might work for rule consequentialists such as Hooker Consequentialists also might be supported by deductive arguments from abstract moral intuitions. XIII seemed to think that the principle of utility follows from very general principles of rationality and universalizability. Other consequentialists are more skeptical about moral intuitions, so they seek foundations outside morality, either in non-normative facts or in non-moral norms.
In contrast, Haretries to derive his version of utilitarianism from substantively neutral accounts of morality, of moral language, and of rationality. Yet another argument for a kind of consequentialism is contractarian. Harsanyiargues that all informed, rational people whose impartiality is ensured because they do not know their place in society would favor a kind of consequentialism.
Broome elaborates and extends Harsanyi's argument. Other forms of arguments have also been invoked on behalf of consequentialism e. Singer ; Sinnott-Armstrong However, each of these arguments has also been subjected to criticisms. Even if none of these arguments proves consequentialism, there still might be no adequate reason to deny consequentialism.
We might have no reason either to deny consequentialism or to assert it. Consequentialism could then remain a live option even if it is not proven.
The Act Itself, New York: Originally published in Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights, Cambridge: Ethical and Political Thinking, Oxford: Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, Cambridge: Kantian Consequentialism, New York: Oxford University Press, 97— Uneasy Virtue, New York: Character and Consequentialism, Special Issue of Utilitas, 13 2. Doing the Best We Can, Boston: Utilitarianism, Hedonism, and Desert, New York: Pleasure and the Good Life: Revised in Mind, 94 Utility and Rights, Oxford: Its Nature and Justification, New York: Oxford University Press, revised edition.
Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy, New York: Freedom and Reason, London: Reprinted in Sen and Williams Causation in the Law, Second Edition.
Ideal Code, Real World, Oxford: Morality, Rules, and Consequences, Edinburgh: Virtue, Vice, and Value, New York: The Limits of Morality, Oxford: Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism, Oxford: Utilitarianism, edited with an introduction by Roger Crisp. Oxford University Press, The Demands of Consequentialism, Oxford: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York: Women and Human Development: I find myself very much sympathetic to the harm-based moral system proposed by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in Morality Without God?
But I, like many virtue ethicists, also believe certain characteristics and ideas — freedom, liberty, honesty, empathy, generosity, wisdom, and truth — are worth their own salt, and that we should follow and pursue them with little to no regard for what benefits might come.
This brings us to the second claim. Consequentialism posits that we can get there by weighing the consequences of beliefs and actions as they relate to human happiness and pain.
Sam Harris recently wrote: In my experience, when you scratch the surface on any deontologist, you find a consequentialist just waiting to get out. For instance, I think that Kant's Categorical Imperative only qualifies as a rational standard of morality given the assumption that it will be generally beneficial as J. Mill pointed out at the beginning of Utilitarianism. Ditto for religious morality. Do fundamentalist Christians and Muslims count as consequentialists?
Is consequentialism so empty of content that to be a consequentialist one need only think he or she is benefiting humanity in some way?
I once made a similar argument on this blog. This still seems somewhat obvious to me as a general statement about morality, but is it really the point of consequentialism? Consequentialism is much more focused than that. Consider the issue of corporal punishment in schools. If it did, well then yes, I would admit that it was moral.
In fact, it would appear moral to more or less everyone. An immediate pitfall of this approach is that it does not qualify corporal punishment as the best way to raise emotionally healthy children who behave well. But that is not the point. Massimo disagreed with Harris, and so do I, for a different reason. The virtue ethicists inside us would argue that we ought not to foster a society in which people beat and humiliate children, never mind the consequences.
There is also a reasonable and powerful argument based on personal freedom. If consequences were really at the heart of all our moral deliberations, we might live in a very different society. There are countless other examples to illustrate this.
Try two more examples: Would we admit slavery was moral?