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Should/Does Utilitarianism Account for Potential Negative Utility? Watch

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    It just occured to me that one logical way of getting around utilitarianism would be if it accounted for potential utility (I don't know the theory might account for it anyway - I don't know much about utilitarianism).

    For instance, let's say a man deliberately drops a piano off a bridge with a blindfold on. The piano does not land on top of anyone and therefore does not cause negative utility so the action is moral but if we take into account potential negative utility, then we can consider the action immoral because it could have caused negative utility. On another level, a man digs up someone's corpse and causes them no negative utility (they are dead so they cannot feel pain) but there is potential negative utility as the man risks the corpse's close relatives discovering.

    Also, if we took into account intent, it could be useful as well. For instance: the man who is dropping the piano off the bridge has an extreme mental disorder and does not know what it is he is doing. There is no intent to cause negative utility, therefore the action is not immoral.

    Am I getting somewhere or just talking a load of rubbish?
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    I don't think the idea's rubbish but I don't see what advantages you'd be getting over your bog standard 'rule' utilitarianism. For example, the wrongness of the blindfolded man dropping the piano off the skyscraper is explained by the fact that a rule which said 'it is permissible to drop pianos off buildings when they might hurt other people' would not maximise utility in society.
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    (Original post by theoneandonlybenja)
    I don't think the idea's rubbish but I don't see what advantages you'd be getting over your bog standard 'rule' utilitarianism. For example, the wrongness of the blindfolded man dropping the piano off the skyscraper is explained by the fact that a rule which said 'it is permissible to drop pianos off buildings when they might hurt other people' would not maximise utility in society.
    Why not? Surely utility would be maximised for those not getting the piano dropped on their head?
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    (Original post by AnarchistNutter)
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    Forgive me if I'm talking gibberish.. it's way past my bed time..

    I like the idea of "potential utility", especially when it comes to decision making. What makes a person to take that step? It could be the 'potential positive utility' he thinks he might earn from that action alone. From utilitarian view, if he can acquire a positive utils from the action, the morale of that action can be justified.

    However, it seems to me that your definition of 'utility' on the piano concept is somewhat sounds like externalities to me. Imo (I may be wrong), the acquisition of the potential utility can only be originated from the actor himself, it does not involves any other people. I think it is wrong to say the fallen piano would generate potential negative utility to the other people because they did not 'act to acquire' it; they simply 'receive' the negative feelings from the fallen piano which is thrown by the actor.

    On the other hand, if we define externalities as the "spilt over effect from an event which is done by an actor who is trying to acquire a potential utility (be it negative or positive). Therefore when the actor threw the piano down (to acquire a potential utility) and it has hit someone's head (the spilt-over); don't you think it is an externalities rather than utilities?
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    How is morality relevant in utilitarianism?
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    (Original post by AnarchistNutter)
    Why not? Surely utility would be maximised for those not getting the piano dropped on their head?

    Dropping a piano on someone's head would not increase utility for the rest of society. It would simply harm the unlucky individual under the piano.
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    (Original post by Deadly Lightshade)
    Dropping a piano on someone's head would not increase utility for the rest of society. It would simply harm the unlucky individual under the piano.
    Yeah, that's what I meant though: it would decrease utility for the victim (and increase negative utility). Hence, it is necessary to consider potential negative utility when considering an action's moral worth because if the person dropping the piano did so with a blindfold but did not harm any one underneath the bridge he would have caused no negative utility but would have risked causing negative utility. You see?
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    (Original post by AnarchistNutter)
    Yeah, that's what I meant though: it would decrease utility for the victim (and increase negative utility). Hence, it is necessary to consider potential negative utility when considering an action's moral worth because if the person dropping the piano did so with a blindfold but did not harm any one underneath the bridge he would have caused no negative utility but would have risked causing negative utility. You see?
    Utilitarianism must take potential consequences into account if it is to make any kind of prescriptions (which it does).

    Unless we can say that we infallibly know the result of any given action, we are always working with probabilities in determining the utility of anything.
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    (Original post by Deadly Lightshade)
    Utilitarianism must take potential consequences into account if it is to make any kind of prescriptions (which it does).

    Unless we can say that we infallibly know the result of any given action, we are always working with probabilities in determining the utility of anything.
    Hence the original question...
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    Why did you title it "negative and postive" utility? that's confusing as it reminds me of Isaiah Berlin's concept of liberty. Also, are you referring to act or rule utilitarianism? as you couldn't disregard the latter if we are talking about consequences of moral acts.
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    Aren't the probable results of each act factored into utilitarianism anyway? I thought the potential consequences were always included in the equation...
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    (Original post by AnarchistNutter)
    Hence the original question...
    I'm explaining that utilitarianism HAS to factor in probabilities of outcomes to be a prescriptive philosophy: which it is.

    Probable/possible outcomes are factored in.
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      (Original post by AnarchistNutter)
      ...
      It could be argued that any induced anxiety about the potential of falling pianos and the digging up of loved ones is an actual harm. I suppose you'd still have to argue that it was a reasonable expectation for any given action to induce anxiety in others, falling pianos and digging up of bodies both fitting that caveat fairly easily IMO.
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      (Original post by F i s)
      Why did you title it "negative and postive" utility?
      I didn't.

      (Original post by sabka7)
      Aren't the probable results of each act factored into utilitarianism anyway? I thought the potential consequences were always included in the equation...
      Yeah. That's why I was asking - "Does utilitarianism account for potential negative utility?" (And the answer is, "Yes, it does".)
     
     
     
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