Utilitarianism and Reflective Equilibrium




Philosophy News image

In ‘Why I Am Not a Utilitarian’, Michael Huemer objects that “there are so many counter-examples, and the intuitions about these examples are strong and widespread, it’s hard to see how utilitarianism could be justified overall.” But I think it’s actually much easier to bring utilitarianism (or something close to it) into reflective equilibrium with common sense intuitions than it would be for any competing deontological view. That’s because I think the clash between utilitarianism and intuition is shallow, whereas the intuitive problems with non-consequentialism are deep and irresolvable.To fully make this case would probably require a book or three. But let’s see how far I can get sketching the rough case in a mere blog post.Firstly, and most importantly, the standard counterexamples to utilitarianism only work if you think our intuitive responses exclusively concern ‘wrongness’ and not closely related moral properties like viciousness or moral recklessness:They generally start by describing a harmful act, done for purpose of some greater immediate benefit, but that we would normally expect to have further bad effects in the long term (esp. the erosion of trust in vital social institutions). The case then stipulates that the immediate goal is indeed obtained, with none of the long-run consequences that we would expect. In other words, this typically disastrous act type happened, in this particular instance, to work out for the best. So, the argument goes, Consequentialism must endorse it, but doesn’t that typically-disastrous act type just seem clearly wrong? (The organ harvesting case is perhaps the paradigm in this style.)To that objection, the appropriate response seems to me to be something like this: (1) You’ve described a morally reckless agent, who was almost certainly not warranted in thinking that their particular performance of a typically-disastrous act would avoid being disastrous. Consequentialists can certainly. . .

Continue reading . . .

News source: Philosophy, et cetera



Dance of the Sky

As I look up at the stars That sing to me from afar, I dwell in that spirit divine Giving...

Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of Religion

[Revised entry by Charles Taliaferro on March 28, 2023. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Philosophy of religion is the philosophical...