Presentation on theme: "The pleasure principle: later developments. Utilitarianism: key scholars Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900)"— Presentation transcript:
Utilitarianism: key scholars Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900) G. E. Moore (1873–1958) Karl Popper (1902–1994) Richard Brandt (1910–1997) R. M. Hare (1919–2002) Peter Singer (1946–)
The pleasure principle: later developments Henry Sidgwick (1) Sidgwick argues that the balance of pleasure over pain is the ultimate goal of ethical decisions. His argument is closer to Bentham than to Mill, as he questions how it is possible to distinguish between higher and lower order pleasures, and how we can distinguish one higher order pleasure from another. However, Sidgwick does argue that the process of deciding is intuitive — we make self-evident judgements about what we ought to do.
The pleasure principle: later developments Henry Sidgwick (2) He argued that justice is the similar and injustice the dissimilar treatment of similar cases: ‘whatever action any of us judges to be right for himself, he implicitly judges to be right for all similar persons in similar circumstances.’ So it is wrong for person A to treat person B in a way in which it would be wrong for B to treat A, simply on the grounds that they are two different individuals and without there being any difference in their circumstances or their natures. Saying that people must act according to just laws raises the issue of which laws are just and sits uncomfortably with the principle of utility and the act utilitarian position.
The pleasure principle: later developments Ideal utilitarianism A utilitarian theory that denies that the sole object of moral concern is the maximising of pleasure or happiness. In G. E. Moore’s version of ideal utilitarianism in Principia Ethica (1903), it is aesthetic experiences and relations of friendship that have intrinsic value, and therefore ought to be sought and promoted. Consciousness of pain, hatred or contempt of what is good or beautiful, and the love, admiration or enjoyment of what is evil or ugly are the three things that have intrinsic disvalue and should therefore be shunned and prevented. It was Hastings Rashdall (1858–1924) in The Theory of Good and Evil (1907) who first used ‘ideal utilitarianism’ for non-hedonistic utilitarianism of this kind.
The pleasure principle: later developments Negative utilitarianism (1) The term negative utilitarianism was coined by Sir Karl Popper. The concept of negative utilitarianism was foreshadowed earlier, e.g. in the work of Edmund Gurney (1847–88). It has obvious affinity with Buddhism. However, it has been argued that negative utilitarianism could lead to mass euthanasia, although this implication has been disputed. Popper’s ‘negative utilitarian’ principle is that we should act to minimise suffering rather than maximise pleasure. Classical utilitarian philosophers such as Sidgwick had explicitly argued for the moral symmetry of happiness and suffering. Complications aside, they supposed that increases in happiness, and reductions in suffering, are essentially of equal value when of equal magnitude.
The pleasure principle: later developments Negative utilitarianism (2) Popper disagreed. He believed that the practical consequences of the supposed moral symmetry were also dangerous: ‘Philosophers should consider the fact that the greatest happiness principle can easily be made an excuse for a benevolent dictatorship. We should replace it by a more modest and more realistic principle: the principle that the fight against avoidable misery should be a recognized aim of public policy, while the increase of happiness should be left, in the main, to private initiative.’
The pleasure principle: later developments Negative utilitarianism (3) ‘I believe that there is, from the ethical point of view, no symmetry between suffering and happiness, or between pain and pleasure. Both the greatest happiness principle of the Utilitarians and Kant’s principle, promote other people’s happiness…[and] seem to me (at least in their formulations) fundamentally wrong in this point, which is, however, not one for rational argument… In my opinion…human suffering makes a direct moral appeal for help, while there is no similar call to increase the happiness of a man who is doing well anyway.’ Popper, K. (1952) The Open Society and Its Enemies
The pleasure principle: later developments Negative utilitarianism (4) Popper believed that by acting to minimise suffering, we avoid the terrible risks of ‘utopianism’, by which he had in mind the communist and fascist dictatorships of the twentieth century. ‘Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.’ A staunch advocate of the ‘open society’, Popper defended ‘piecemeal social engineering’ rather than grandiose state planning.
The pleasure principle: later developments Negative utilitarianism (5) Ironically, the full realisation of a negative utilitarian ethic depends inescapably on the ‘utopian’ planning that Popper abhorred. Only a global bio-engineering project of unparalleled ambition could bring about the eradication of suffering throughout the living world — not piecemeal social engineering. In seeking to liberate the world from the tyranny of pain, negative utilitarianism is no less ‘totalitarian’ in its policy implications than communism or fascism, albeit vastly more compassionate.
The pleasure principle: later developments Preference utilitarianism An act utilitarian judges right or wrong according to the maximising of pleasure and minimising of pain. A rule utilitarian judges right or wrong according to the keeping of rules derived from utility. A preference (or interest) utilitarian judges moral actions according to whether they fit in with the preferences of the individuals involved. This approach to utilitarianism asks: ‘What is in my own interest? What would I prefer in this situation? Which outcome would I prefer?’ However, because utilitarianism aims to create the greatest good for the greatest number, it is necessary to consider the preferences of others in order to achieve this.
The pleasure principle: later developments R. M. Hare Hare argues that in moral decision making we need to consider our own preferences and those of others: ‘equal preferences count equally, whatever their content.’ People are happy when they get what they prefer but this may clash with the preferences of others. Hare says we need to ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ and try to imagine what someone else might prefer. We should treat everyone, including ourselves, with impartiality — he also argues for universalisability.
The pleasure principle: later developments Peter Singer Singer suggests that people should take the viewpoint of an impartial spectator combined with a broadly utilitarian approach. ‘Our own preferences cannot count any more than the preferences of others’ and so, in acting morally, we should take account of all the people affected by our actions. For Singer, the ‘best possible consequences’ means what is in the best interests of the individuals concerned. He is not considering what increases pleasure and diminishes pain. This principle of equal consideration of preferences or interests acts like a pair of scales — everyone’s preferences or interests are weighed equally.
The pleasure principle: later developments Richard Brandt Richard Brandt talks about the preferences someone would have if they had gone through a process of cognitive psychotherapy and explored all the reasons for their preferences and rejected any they felt were not true to their real values. He argued that the morality someone would then accept would be a form of utilitarianism — with their preferences free from any psychological blocks and them in full possession of all the facts. Such a person would not, therefore, be influenced by advertising.
The pleasure principle: later developments Strengths of utilitarianism It is straightforward and based on the single principle of minimising pain and maximising pleasure and happiness. It relates to actions that can be observed in the real world. Its consequentialism is also a strength, as when we act it is only natural to weigh up the consequences. Utilitarianism’s acceptance of the universal principle is essential for any ethical system. The idea of promoting the ‘well-being’ of the greatest number is also important. Preference utilitarianism also gives the valuable principle of being an impartial observer. It is important to think about others’ interests or preferences as long as one also includes behaving justly.
The pleasure principle: later developments Weaknesses of utilitarianism (1) It is good to consider the consequences of our actions, but these are difficult to predict with any accuracy. Utilitarianism can also be criticised because it seems to ignore the importance of duty. An act may be right or wrong for reasons other than the amount of good or evil it produces. Utilitarianism can also advocate injustice. Another weakness is the emphasis on pleasure or happiness. If I seek my own happiness it is impossible for me to seek general happiness and to do what I ought to do.
The pleasure principle: later developments Weaknesses of utilitarianism (2) The qualitative and quantitative approaches pose problems, as all we can really do is guess the units of pleasure — how do we measure one pleasure against another? Utilitarianism does not consider motives and intentions and so rejects the principle of treating people with intrinsic value. Utilitarianism can be seen as too impersonal and does not consider the rights of individuals in its attempt to look for the ‘greater good’.