By Michael De Dora
Is everyone a utilitarian and/or consequentialist, whether or not they know it? That is what some people – from Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill to Sam Harris – would have you believe. But there are good reasons to be skeptical of such claims.
Utilitarianism and consequentialism are different, yet closely related philosophical positions. Utilitarians are usually consequentialists, and the two views mesh in many areas, but each rests on a different claim, so I shall try to deal with them separately. Utilitarianism's starting point is that we all attempt to seek happiness and avoid pain, and therefore our moral focus ought to center on maximizing happiness (or, human flourishing generally) and minimizing pain for the greatest number of people. This is both about what our goals should be and how to achieve them. Consequentialism asserts that determining the greatest good for the greatest number of people (the utilitarian goal) is a matter of measuring outcome, and so decisions about what is moral should depend on the potential or realized costs and benefits of a moral belief or action. This is largely about determining how to attain our goals, which are taken to be self-evident.
The first question we can reasonably ask is whether all moral systems are indeed focused on benefiting human happiness and decreasing pain. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, wrote the following in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation: “When a man attempts to combat the principle of utility, it is with reasons drawn, without his being aware of it, from that very principle itself.” Michael Sandel discusses this line of thought in his excellent book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, and sums up Bentham’s argument as such: “All moral quarrels, properly understood, are [for Bentham] disagreements about how to apply the utilitarian principle of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, not about the principle itself.” That is, everyone agrees that the desirability of pleasure and undesirability of pain form the basis of morality. People just disagree about what to do from there.
But Bentham’s definition of utilitarianism is perhaps too broad: are fundamentalist Christians or Muslims really utilitarians, just with different ideas about how to facilitate human flourishing? Apparently the answer for Bentham is yes, but one wonders whether this makes the word so all-encompassing in meaning as to render it useless.
Yet, even if pain and happiness are the objects of moral concern, so what? As philosopher Simon Blackburn recently pointed out, “Every moral philosopher knows that moral philosophy is functionally about reducing suffering and increasing human flourishing.” But is that the central and sole focus of all moral philosophies? Don’t moral systems vary in their core focuses?
Consider the observation that religious belief makes humans happier, on average (for the record, I do not think this is the result of religious belief per se, but rather that welcoming social networks, often provided by churches, are at the root of such feelings of happiness). Secularists would rightly resist the idea that religious belief is moral if it makes people happier. They would reject the very idea because deep down, they value truth – a value that is non-negotiable.
Utilitarians would assert that truth is just another utility, for people can only value truth if they take it to be beneficial to human happiness and flourishing. Truth-seekers, the argument goes, believe truth will lead to a better society. However, I would seek out truth even if it did not necessarily guarantee a “better” society. 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. While I surely care about happiness and pain, I don’t see them as the be-all and end-all of moral concern.
This brings us to the second claim. We might all agree that morality is “functionally about reducing suffering and increasing human flourishing,” as Blackburn says, but how do we achieve that? 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:
“It is true that many people believe that ‘there are non-consequentialist ways of approaching morality,’ but I think that they are wrong. 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.S. Mill pointed out at the beginning of Utilitarianism). Ditto for religious morality.”
Again, we might wonder about the elasticity of words, in this case consequentialism. 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?
That aside, Harris’ argument is that one cannot adhere to a certain conception of morality without believing it is beneficial to society. 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? Not really. Consequentialism is much more focused than that. Consider the issue of corporal punishment in schools. Harris has stated that we would be forced to admit that corporal punishment is moral if studies showed that “subjecting children to ‘pain, violence, and public humiliation’ leads to ‘healthy emotional development and good behavior’ (i.e., it conduces to their general well-being and to the well-being of society). If it did, well then yes, I would admit that it was moral. In fact, it would appear moral to more or less everyone.” Harris is being rhetorical – he does not believe corporal punishment is moral – but the point stands.
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. Don’t children have the right to be free from violence in the public classroom? Don’t children have the right not to suffer intentional harm without consent? Isn’t that part of their “moral well-being”?
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. Again, we wouldn’t admit religious belief was moral just because it made people happier or lead to more flourishing. Try two more examples: what if economies based on slavery lead to an increase in general happiness and flourishing for their respective societies? Would we admit slavery was moral? I hope not, because we value certain ideas about human rights and freedom. Or, what if the death penalty truly deterred crime? And what if we knew everyone we killed was guilty as charged, meaning no need for The Innocence Project? I would still object, on the grounds that it is morally wrong for us to kill people, even if they have committed the crime of which they are accused. Certain things hold, no matter the consequences.
We all do care about increasing human happiness and flourishing, and decreasing pain and suffering, and we all do care about the consequences of our beliefs and actions. But we focus on those criteria to differing degrees, and we have differing conceptions of how to achieve the respective goals – making us perhaps utilitarians and consequentialists in part, but not in whole.
I think there is a problem in choosing one of the popular normative ethical theories in exclusion.ReplyDelete
A consequentialist will naturally interpret a deontologist's actions in light of consequentialism, and vice-versa. That gambit works the other way in the sentence: "At bottom, a consequentialist a priori realizes that maximizing human flourishing passes the categorical imperative, and treats men as ends unto themselves"
Honestly, I find myself switching systems dependent on the context. As you stated, certain things hold no matter the consequences (as I hold, at least). This is far from a golden mean between extremes and from the utilitarian/consequentialist mode of interpretation. But, then again, when voting on a bill I don't reflect upon it passing the Categorical Imperative. Mostly, I think about "is this going to help people out?"
what if economies based on slavery lead to an increase in general happiness and flourishing for their respective societies? Would we admit slavery was moral? I hope not, because we value certain ideas about human rights and freedom.ReplyDelete
Another way to put it is: We would not want to be a slave, who is forced to sacrifice his/her well-being for the sake of non-slaves, so what right do we have to ask others to do the same for us?
I realize that I'm still invoking abstract ideas about "human rights and freedom" here, but notice that the rationale contains utilitarian & consequentialist ingredients -- just at the individual (as opposed to the group or societal) level.
Perhaps it takes some amount of empathy to reach that level, such that it seems wrong somehow to treat others as a means to our ends (similar to Kant's categorical imperative), or vice versa. In which case, I suppose that qualifies as a deontological ingredient.
But then my recollection is that Kant didn't think we should base our ethics on human sentiments, which is a nonstarter if it's true that empathy (or other human sentiments) are an essential ingredient in moral/ethical rationality and motivation (an idea which draws support today from neuroscience & psychology).
There is nothing that we do that is not preceded by an assessment of its expected consequences. It's the accuracy of these assessments that these various doctrines and dogmas have been fashioned to assist us with, not with the disregard of consequences for the sake of principle, etc. All principles are at bottom consequential.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure you've escaped consequentialism. I think you nailed it earlier when you said, it's a term that in certain respects is "so empty of content that to be a consequentialist one need only think he or she is benefiting humanity in some way."ReplyDelete
It's like the so-called "materialist paradigm" in that as much as religious apologists try to claim they don't subscribe to it, they fail miserably in doing so because otherwise their actions would be incoherent. Without a materialist view, one would be expected to behave as if they lived in a surrealistic reality where jumping out a 30-story window, putting a gun to their head, choking a baby, or cutting open their eye with a razor were just as valid as any other action.
Same with consequentialism. To exist without it would be as Harris says, "incoherent." Truth is not viewed as a virtue onto itself for no consequentialist reason. We can see the benefits of promoting a society that in general views honesty and truth as good things while at the same time, we should be able to acknowledge that individual situations do exist where dishonesty is the most rational course of action such as the classic example of lying about Anne Frank hiding in your attic.
As for the capital punishment scenario, I think it can be escaped by simple appeals to more efficient solutions. Because there is no absolute certainty that all convicted murderers were guilty outside of a hypothetical thought experiment, we can only speculate. But I'm inclined to say that if we could know with absolute certainty and convicted convicts who would otherwise be on death row could not be put to better use as incarcerated workers, then perhaps capital punishment would indeed be morally acceptable. Unless a rational and coherent explanation for why it wouldn't be morally acceptable can be presented, it sounds like we're moving uncomfortably into an area where things are just accepted as sacred based on nothing but faith.
Ultimately, I think the term is unnecessary because it is without exception, at least among the sane.
"...Bentham’s definition of utilitarianism is perhaps too broad: are fundamentalist Christians or Muslims really utilitarians, just with different ideas...but one wonders whether this makes the word so all-encompassing in meaning as to render it useless...Is consequentialism so empty of content that to be a consequentialist one need only think he or she is benefiting humanity in some way?"ReplyDelete
I don't think the word is made useless if it is found to apply indirectly to everyone. In one sense it is, in that if we used "of African descent" to describe every human it would cease to be a way to distinguish among us. However, it still makes sense to say "All humans are of African descent," and "Although all humans are of African descent, when distinguishing among them we can still use 'of (direct) African descent' and 'not of (direct) African descent' as meaningful categories."
"Secularists would rightly resist the idea that religious belief is moral if it makes people happier."
How can a belief be moral or immoral? I typically only think of actions as capable of that.
"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."
I do not think that is a pitfall so long as the advocate believes in a moral landscape. We have good evidence that Harris does.
"Don’t children have the right not to suffer intentional harm without consent?"
Define "harm". It seems difficult to distinguish between many painful medical treatments and the counterfactual case of beneficent corporal punishment.
Vaccination presents (or could present, assuming I am about to get the facts wrong) an extra twist. There is a minuscule risk of contracting a disease from the dead viruses used in vaccines, so if one knows everyone else in the society (or a certain high percentage of them) is getting vaccinated, the most rational thing to do is be a free rider. We justify increasing our child's risk of death and inflicting pain upon him or her by defining "self interest" broadly. I think that broad definitions of self interest crowd out space for "harm" to dwell in.
(Now with the anti-vaxer movement it is probably no longer safer to be unvaccinated than vaccinated anywhere.)
"Don’t children have the right to be free from violence in the public classroom?"
I don't think so. I think every child in America would welcome a fungible system by which they could sometimes exchange mental taxation, boredom, humiliation, frustration, sleep deprivation, and/or long periods of mild physical discomfort for short episodes of physical pain. At least for physical pain that a child would prefer to what he or she is already forced to endure, I don't think it makes sense to talk about a "right". Insofar as such things are fungible that would be like telling someone he has a right that dogs don't poop on his lawn, and then trotting over with a dysenteric elephant. What is the moral justification for that?
"I would still object, on the grounds that it is morally wrong for us to kill people..."
Don't you need a better reason not to do X than the mere claim it is morally wrong? What if I took the same position regarding abortion, or eating shrimp?
"But we focus on those criteria to differing degrees..."
This is besides the point if for everyone such things are fungible. That's the key issue. (I have my doubts.)
"There is nothing that we do that is not preceded by an assessment of its expected consequences."
Perhaps, but the point of this essay was to argue that people take consequences into account in varying degrees. For some, consequences are the basis of moral contemplation. For others, consequences are interesting to ponder, but the consideration of other factors take precedence.
@FUG, good comment. I wrote about this in a brief note at the bottom of my essay I link to above. To expand a bit:ReplyDelete
There are exceptions, but most people do not take *only* consequences, virtues, or rules, into account when trying to make moral decisions. There are two reasons I believe this: one of those three by itself is not complete enough to weigh complex moral problems; and people are highly complex beings themselves. I think it's better to say that people lean more toward consequentialism, virtue ethics, or deontology, rather than say they endorse and practice one system to the exclusion of all others.
"Another way to put it is: We would not want to be a slave, who is forced to sacrifice his/her well-being for the sake of non-slaves, so what right do we have to ask others to do the same for us?
I realize that I'm still invoking abstract ideas about 'human rights and freedom' here, but notice that the rationale contains utilitarian & consequentialist ingredients -- just at the individual (as opposed to the group or societal) level."
But remember, the goal of utilitarianism and consequentialism is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If societal well-being were increased by slavery, why would individual well-being override that consequence? As the saying goes, you can't have your cake and eat it, too.
Michael, one fairly serious problem here, all of your article is based on the idea that All Utilitarianism == Maximising happiness (or some similar specific), that is quite plainly false, Utilitarianism can be concerned with any(and all) type(s) of value relationship.ReplyDelete
Unlike Bentham and the Utilitarian old guard (or Harris and "flourishing")I don't see the need to restrict value to those related to happiness and thus place myself in a position where I am required to support a proposition that Happiness is all that matters. It is more effective to talk about a maximisation of all values and in a conflict between values the most and/or strongest.
All values can be described as a relationship between a set of desires and a state of affairs or object, to say I value equality is to say "I value a state of affairs in which the statement 'everyone is equal' is true" I hold that all value statements (aside from the 'attribute' type values) are actually expressions of this formula.
Since morality is concerned with a subset of value related to 'us', and what should be maximised is value it's self (because "good" is always related to increase in value), a good act is one that has a net-positive impact on the realisation of the most and/or strongest values (good for us).
Thus we seem to have a form of Utilitarianism that seems to slip right past your objections (which I mostly agree with ).
> All principles are at bottom consequential. <
Not at all, though that is a common assumption of consequentialists, for instance Sam Harris. I suggest Sandel's book, Justice, for a good discussion and examples of why neither deontologists nor virtue ethicists are at bottom consequentialists.
I said consequential, not consequentialist. Duty and obligation (from your example) represent behavioral values in virtually every culture. They are consequential to the future prospects of any social group, and arose precisely to avoid the consequences of what biologists in particular like to call defection.
But if you want to argue that consequentialists are not all that good at assessing the effects of their beliefs, and especially those left begging for avoidance, I'll go along with that.ReplyDelete
Michael said: But remember, the goal of utilitarianism and consequentialism is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.ReplyDelete
Yes, and so long as you stick to criticizing that simplistic formula, you have a strong critique on your hands.
But then the more general claim that the "moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome" [*] does not in itself necessitate that we ignore the outcomes for minorities.
In other words, I think your main problem is with aggregation, such that morally pertinent information might be lost or ignored. The idea of individual human rights can indeed serve as a useful corrective or hedge against that risk, but then so it seems can the idea of optimization, in the sense of ensuring that outcomes are as happy and pleasurable for all as possible (e.g. by introducing some humane, lower limits of well-being), which has a more utilitarian/consequentialist ring to it.
hmm, I'm not clear what the difference is, philosophically, between consequential and consequentialist. Could you elaborate?
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.ReplyDelete
And I think you are mistaken. In part if not in whole.
There simply is no end to the use of undefined words meant to evoke emotional (rather than rational) responses. There are small adjustments that you can make in your constraints, but there is no 'freedom' or 'liberty'. If you think you are free try going to Mars let alone another star.
The honest truth if hideous enough (and I think it might be) could easily lead to mass suicide once people are forced to face the distressing thought that they live through each day only at the whim of chance, their life has no inherent meaning, there is no afterlife and their lives suck. Not much virtue there that I can see.
Wisdom - what does that word even mean? Old men with long beards in caves speaking in riddles? Professors in their armchairs with pipes pondering conundrums? Is it what you believe yourself to be?
And could someone give me a definition of flourishing? Because if you are just talking about the number of humans then I'd say that we are indeed flourishing, but if you are talking about everyone living with the lifestyle of the average American then there isn't enough planet for all of us to flourish and 'flourishing' would then need to include population control. And does human flourishing at the expense of all those species our lifestyle is making extinct still count as flourishing?
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes reference to at least 9 versions or varieties of consequentialism, not including the numberless varieties of religious systems which are essentially consequentialist.
Consequential on the other hand refers, or should refer, to the actuality of consequence, good, bad, intended, unintended, expected or otherwise. Not a philosophy but a definition with philosophical implications.
Any form of consequentialism that sees the good and bad as forces to be reckoned with, or feels that intentions gone awry are excusable on account of honesty, to mention some most prominent bad examples, is not and cannot be dealing with the factual nature of consequence.
Are there forms of consequentialism that do? Of course, but some do a lot more than others.
Another good/interesting discussion on morality and deontology/utilitarianism was held not so long ago on EDGE.ReplyDelete
And does human flourishing at the expense of all those species our lifestyle is making extinct still count as flourishing?ReplyDelete
Yes. So long as the human in question reports satisfaction with his/her life (subjective) and faces no obvious, imminent danger (objective), I would say that it's fair to describe that state of being as "flourishing." That his/her children or grandchildren (or even him/herself one day) might face a less hospitable environment as a direct result of species loss is a worrisome thought, but one that not many choose to dwell upon.
I did not see Sam Harris stating he was a consequentialist. Did I miss something or is this what you think? Please foot note it if you saw it.ReplyDelete
Can you be a utilitarian or consequentialist with qualifiers. Like I am a Utilitarian as long as I am promoting human happiness, well being, reduce suffering, and do not violate any human rights/freedoms?
Michael, there is a strong difference between saying that consequentialism is behind all our moral theories (i.e., it's motive for their premises) and saying it's behind all our particular moral claims. So, in the hypothetical where beating children improves their welfare, a Harris-type argument would say that your arguments ("There is also a reasonable and powerful argument based on personal freedom. … Don't children have the right not to suffer intentional harm without consent?") assume you would form the same freedom-based rule in that hypothetical world as you do in this one, but you actually wouldn't. I happen to agree with that descriptive claim – I don't think non-consequentialists would form the same virtue theories or deontological systems if the world were sufficiently different that the theories they do hold would then have particularly dire consequences (as you appear to think) – but I disagree with the claim that it makes them (or you) consequentialist.ReplyDelete
I know that there are a variety of types of consequentialism, but the distinction you were making still strikes me as a bit odd. Yes, all sorts of actions are "consequential," but that has no bearing on whether all morality is consequentualist, or even on which version of consequentialism makes more sense. But perhaps I misunderstood what you meant.
Harris says explicitly that he is a consequentialist. For instance several times in Chapter 2 of The Moral Landscape. Can't give you the precise page numbers because my version is in iBook.
If for example the consequentualist holds that there are evil forces wielded by satanic gods and the wages of sin are death, his 'consequential' assessment processes may be a bit off.
At least according to the consequentialist who replies the wages of sin are alleviated by the rituals of the confessional.
The objectivist consequentialist then pipes up and says, baloney, there are no thou shalts or shalt nots.
Each version makes sense to its adherents, but which makes more sense to you and on what basis would you decide that except by your own and hopefully more "objective" assessment of the consequential factors? (If you can of course distinct the difference between objectivist and objective.)
I think there is an internal problem with consequentialism.ReplyDelete
Most actions have both good and bad consequences. How do you judge and action that has a large positive consequence for a few people but a small negative consequence for a large number or visa versa?
For example in the case of corporal punishment what is one to make of the consequentialist argument that it may be bad for the punished student, but by deterring misbehavior in other students it is good for the students as a whole? Incidentally this exactly the argument made by advocates of capital punishment.
the question doesn't really have anything to do with consequentialism, as far as I can tell. Consequentialism is about what happens as a result of *our* actions, not those of imaginary demons.
Are you then saying here are no consequentialists who believe that our actions are subject to the moral judgment of the gods who are there to protect us from the consequences of succumbing to demonic forces? So that if we are, as you say, to be concerned about the results of our actions, shouldn't we be concerned about the shibboleths that may be motivating them?
Which gets back to what I said that you originally objected to: All principles (including shibboleths) are at bottom consequential.
consequentialism is a secular approach to ethics, just like Kant-type deontology (as opposed to Ten Commandments-type deontology) and virtue ethics. So gods don't enter into it. And as I mentioned before, no, virtue ethics and deontology are not consequential.
Consequentialists cannot have principles, is that it? Or if they do, they need to purge them of any hint of superstitious origin. They need to clean out their unconscious banks of inference, purge all instinctive bias, base all actions on the purest form of abstract thought that they can consciously muster. Banish all emotion from their ethical considerations, Go full circle back to Kant, the quintessential deontologist!!ReplyDelete
Your secular approach must nevertheless bar religionists of any stripe from approaching, all Jungians if not the Freudians to boot. Sort out a number of biologists and physicists as well.
Make consequentialism a sub culture that eschews all broader cultural bias that practitioners have grown up with. Invent a new language for them while you're at it.
And never let you catch them asking 'why' a thing is consequential. Such questions bring us dangerously close to seeking deeper purposes behind all actions than a fully conscious attention to our duties warrants.
One more hypothetical that hit me the other night: if studies suggested the military's general effectiveness *would* be harmed by repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would it be wrong to repeal it?ReplyDelete
General effectiveness or effectiveness of its Generals? And that's not just my attempt at a joke.ReplyDelete
(Which could be made about the general nature of the question.)
To what if any extent does the hypothetical study deal with supposedly unintended consequences to the body politic which determines the level of effectiveness the military should have in direct relation to its own?
And to the overall effectiveness of the principles that we have made it our duty to live by? The determination of the consequential is not just about assessing the immediately and/or overtly perceivable effects.
Michael, I'm not even sure that all utilitarians would agree to a single answer to your question re: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). For example, consider this dichotomy:ReplyDelete
"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 the 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 or she 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." [*].
Based on that, I can imagine an act utilitarian's argument that, if the evidence clearly demonstrates that maintenance of the DADT policy produces a better outcome (in hedonic or felicific terms), then repeal would indeed be wrong. By contrast, I imagine that a rule utilitarian could argue that, as a general rule, policies of that kind tend to be more harmful, and therefore the rule takes precedence over the specific case.
I myself tend to approach DADT as a matter of general principle (e.g. relating to concepts of individual human rights and equality before the law). In that sense, opposition to DADT seems perfectly compatible with rule utilitarianism, so long as one recognizes the relevant principle as a kind of rule, which produces desirable moral outcomes in general.
However, the relationship of act utilitarianism to such general (or abstract) principles seems more of a stretch, given its emphasis on specificity. In its defense, I think there is an intuitive appeal to the practice of weighing the relevant evidence on a case-by-case basis (e.g. we might discover an exception). But that in itself is a type of rule, and a particularly expensive one at that.
All that said, I think you're still focused on the aggregation problem. Again, I don't think this is such a serious a problem for utilitarians, but then perhaps I assume some rule-based version, which sets a lower limit on how much we should expect individuals or minority groups to sacrifice for the sake of social well-being. In practice, such a rule might even prove to be a prerequisite for increasing utility. At the very least, it is a prerequisite for its universal distribution.
PS: Here's an alternative (and more concise) response:ReplyDelete
It seems to me that the evidence in favor of repeal of DADT (e.g. see here) gains much (if not all) of its importance from the assumption that typically utilitarian/consequentialist considerations (in this case, measured by military effectiveness) are of moral significance here. It's only fair if the same rules work in reverse; i.e. if equally strong evidence to the contrary were available.
That is not to say that a utilitarian line of inquiry is necessarily sufficient to judge an act or policy right or wrong. (In fact, a pluralistic theory of ethics seems more plausible to me, given the non-rational/affective/sentimental basis of morality.) But, at least to my mind, it can get you most, if not all, of the way there.
Perhaps we wouldn't think a slave society was good, even if optimal, but if I thought it was optimal I would feel a lot less comfortable about saying it wasn't good.ReplyDelete
Actually I'm confident I would say we should create a slave society if I thought it would create the optimal situation for human flourishing. But that may simply be because autonomy is not one of my fundamental goals.
Really? "Autonomy" is not one of your fundamental goals? Then I could definitely use a slave, if you are willing. This is precisely the sort of incredible statements that ideas like Harris' naturally lead to. Wow.ReplyDelete
I think another word for it is "selfishness" and, depending on the context, pretty much every moral system considers it of limited value.ReplyDelete