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# An argument against utilitarianism watch

1. (Original post by fly005)
You are talking about their desire to live from what i gather. So you are saying for example this guy on his own might have 100 points worth of desire to live and the other 5 put together only have 95. Therefore the utilitarian would have to pick the single guy however, he cannot assume the different desires so would be stuck with what to do. Am I right in that was what you were trying to say?
that is what i stressed would be the utilitarians consideration. zizero made the assumption that all would have 100 or in this case infinity, so the disagreement is whether you apply the mathematical rules strictly, which i believe is rather pointless.

why does it have to be non-zero? why is living, which i assume is 0, a fixed number?
2. You're all ignoring
a) the hedonic calculus, and
b) Mill's hierarchy of pleasures (which includes, I think, a hierarchy of people)
Sorry, don't have time to say more now but I'll come back another time.
3. (Original post by fly005)
You are talking about their desire to live from what i gather. So you are saying for example this guy on his own might have 100 points worth of desire to live and the other 5 put together only have 95. Therefore the utilitarian would have to pick the single guy however, he cannot assume the different desires so would be stuck with what to do. Am I right in that was what you were trying to say?
My assumption is that they all have an infinite amount of "points", which makes comparison impossible.
4. So, the importance of death is infinate, and so 5 multiplied by infinity is the same as 1 multiplied by infinity, ok, very good, with you so far. But this infinate 'terror' is being experienced by individuals isn't it, so the side with one person on it will be experiencing 1/5th the terror of the side with 5 folk on it if the train is sent that way right? SIMPLE JIMPLE, if the train goes goes for the single person, then there is less suffering.
5. what i'm saying, is although there is the same amount of 'terror' on both sides, the side with only 1 person on it will only have one person expericing it.
6. Why are you all looking at this so mathematically?
Use the hedonic calculus!!
7. (Original post by suspicious_fish)
Why are you all looking at this so mathematically?
Use the hedonic calculus!!
What's that? Enlighten us!
8. (Original post by zizero)
What's that? Enlighten us!
It's one of the main bases of the utilitarian argument - I don't understand how you can discuss a utilitarian problem without knowing it!
(Don't mean to sound patronising....)
I really don't have time to explain it now, but I will come back after exams are over to tell you all.
9. The Hedonic Calculus is Bentham's attempt to quantify pleasure. It works according to 7 principles (within Act Utilitarianism):

Certainty
Remoteness
Fecundity
Intensity
Duration
Purity
Extent

Hence, something which is the "greatest good for the greatest number" will maximise the certainty of pleasure, minimise the remoteness of it, emphasise its richness, the most intense is the greatest good, the longer it lasts, the greater, the purer it is then the greater etc...

The key concept of Utilitarianism is to maximise pleasure and avoid pain and we calculate it using the terms of the above Hedonic Calculus. We should therefore calculate greatest good for the greatest number, not in terms of "infinity" or mathematical sums, but how long it would last etc etc - if the 1 person was a new born, healthy baby for example, and the 5 people on the right were old people who were about to die in 2 weeks anyway, Bentham may well propose choosing the baby according to the Hedonic Calculus because according to him that would bring the greatest pleasure for society (more potential for the baby to grow up and contribute etc etc).

J.S. Mill on the other hand introduced Higher and Lower Pleasures as someone else has pointed out already ; Higher Pleasures are those associated with the mind and Lower are those that are associated with bodily pleasures - Higher should be picked if there was a choice between Higher and Lower. So if the 1 person was a rocket scientist, a brilliant poet, etc, and contributes to the mental flourishing of the society, and the 5 other people were..I don't know, farmers (the lower bodily pleasure of eating) then perhaps Mill would say it was more important to save the one person. His justification for Higher Pleasures was partly (I believe) that mental activity encouraged autonomy - the crux of Utilitarianism in practice. Needless to say, we DO need farmers, so to some extent the theory is flawed.

Utilitarianism, like any ethical theory is flawed I guess. I hope the above helped, I need to go to dinner now, any questions anyone?
10. (Original post by NeuroticSurgeon)
The Hedonic Calculus is Bentham's attempt to quantify pleasure. It works according to 7 principles (within Act Utilitarianism):

Certainty
Remoteness
Fecundity
Intensity
Duration
Purity
Extent

Hence, something which is the "greatest good for the greatest number" will maximise the certainty of pleasure, minimise the remoteness of it, emphasise its richness, the most intense is the greatest good, the longer it lasts, the greater, the purer it is then the greater etc...

The key concept of Utilitarianism is to maximise pleasure and avoid pain and we calculate it using the terms of the above Hedonic Calculus. We should therefore calculate greatest good for the greatest number, not in terms of "infinity" or mathematical sums, but how long it would last etc etc - if the 1 person was a new born, healthy baby for example, and the 5 people on the right were old people who were about to die in 2 weeks anyway, Bentham may well propose choosing the baby according to the Hedonic Calculus because according to him that would bring the greatest pleasure for society (more potential for the baby to grow up and contribute etc etc).

J.S. Mill on the other hand introduced Higher and Lower Pleasures as someone else has pointed out already ; Higher Pleasures are those associated with the mind and Lower are those that are associated with bodily pleasures - Higher should be picked if there was a choice between Higher and Lower. So if the 1 person was a rocket scientist, a brilliant poet, etc, and contributes to the mental flourishing of the society, and the 5 other people were..I don't know, farmers (the lower bodily pleasure of eating) then perhaps Mill would say it was more important to save the one person. His justification for Higher Pleasures was partly (I believe) that mental activity encouraged autonomy - the crux of Utilitarianism in practice. Needless to say, we DO need farmers, so to some extent the theory is flawed.

Utilitarianism, like any ethical theory is flawed I guess. I hope the above helped, I need to go to dinner now, any questions anyone?
Thank you very much! Couldn't have pt it better myself.
Are you doing AS RE, by any chance...?
11. Yes I am . I'm so proud of myself - that came off the top of my head and all! My revision, at least, has gone well.
12. (Original post by suspicious_fish)
It's one of the main bases of the utilitarian argument - I don't understand how you can discuss a utilitarian problem without knowing it!
(Don't mean to sound patronising....)
I really don't have time to explain it now, but I will come back after exams are over to tell you all.
Hedonic calculus...in which a utilitarian tries to quantify happiness . Its hardly one of the main bases...it just means the same as the 'greatest good'...merely it attempts to be able to quantify it..which is obviously laughable. Utilitarinism can easily be dicussed without any reference to Hedonic Calculus...thank god I don't do R.E.
13. (Original post by corey)
Hedonic calculus...in which a utilitarian tries to quantify happiness . Its hardly one of the main bases...it just means the same as the 'greatest good'...merely it attempts to be able to quantify it..which is obviously laughable. Utilitarinism can easily be dicussed without any reference to Hedonic Calculus...thank god I don't do R.E.
I agree that it's largely useless as it's often inapplicable, but is a basis of act utilitarianism - without it you cannot calculate what the great good is, rendering your objectoves meaningless. Speaking the words of Bentham here, not myself - it's a crappy part of a decent theory.
14. (Original post by suspicious_fish)
It's one of the main bases of the utilitarian argument - I don't understand how you can discuss a utilitarian problem without knowing it!
(Don't mean to sound patronising....)
I really don't have time to explain it now, but I will come back after exams are over to tell you all.
Okay, now I've read the explanation I know what you're talking about. I knew about the concept of the hedonistic calculus, I just didn't know it was called that.
15. (Original post by suspicious_fish)
I agree that it's largely useless as it's often inapplicable, but is a basis of act utilitarianism - without it you cannot calculate what the great good is, rendering your objectoves meaningless. Speaking the words of Bentham here, not myself - it's a crappy part of a decent theory.
As suspicious_fish said, it is if we're talking Act Utilitarianism. Also I agree it's rubbish...it has no real substance to it, and I'll be damned if anyone can quantify "pleasure" or "pain".Personally, I always saw something like that as subjective.

I understand that Utilitarianism as a whole is not dependent upon the Hedonic Calculus - merely the Utility Principle, eg Rule Utilitarianism, Preference Utilitarianism etc. But the topic/first post refers to Act Utilitarianism, not rule so you do have to consider Hedonic Calculus.

As for your views on RS - I wouldn't knock the subject/course if I haven't done it.
16. The problem we faced when discussing Ut, was its relevance across species. Singer maintained that animals should be included in the assessment of the greatest good. He also factored in future generations, surely an action that could benefit us now, such as using all the fossil fuel in the world up, is going to affect the future generations in a negative way. So is it immoral?
17. I have serious problems with Peter Singer's "animal" ideas. Firstly, Utilitarianism is based on the greatest good for the greatest number within a *society*. The idea if Util. is to work is that everyone cooperates to achieve the GG4GN (hence it is a moral theory for everyone). If we factor in animals does that mean animals too have to act morally? I always considered the Utilitarian principles to apply socially ; everyone whose pleasure "counts" equates as one and no more. Would it be "unfair" to factor in animals that cannot reason and hold to the moral actions brought about by Utilitarianism? It's something to think about at least...
18. (Original post by piginapoke)
Maybe I've got this all wrong but given "the utilitarist has to consider the impact on the interests of all the beings affected by his actions" and the example of the train line scenario, why are we only considering, or putting a value on, the lives of the individuals according to themselves? A life of an individual has more value than just to the individual, everyone's life impacts on others, so mustn't we consider the impact to others, as they will be affected by the situation?

If we ignore the effect on the individual as being -infinity or whatever, then assign an arbitrary positive finite value y to each individual representing the average value of a life according to other people (i.e. -1 * y is the loss felt by other people if the individual were to die) then we have 5y > 1y.
You make a very good point, one I'm surprised hasn't been raised before.
Here again to take a fully utilitarianist appraoch one must employ the hedonic calculus. How many people did the dead individaul know? How deeply did they care for him/her? What will the far-reaching effects of the person's death be? For example, if Mr. A was a doctor on the verge of curing AIDS, his death would be have a deeper negative impact than that of Mr. B who was a window cleaner.
If, however, Mr. A was a friendless bachelor and Mr. B had an enormous family and netweork of friends then we must reconsider.
19. (Original post by NeuroticSurgeon)
I have serious problems with Peter Singer's "animal" ideas. Firstly, Utilitarianism is based on the greatest good for the greatest number within a *society*. The idea if Util. is to work is that everyone cooperates to achieve the GG4GN (hence it is a moral theory for everyone). If we factor in animals does that mean animals too have to act morally? I always considered the Utilitarian principles to apply socially ; everyone whose pleasure "counts" equates as one and no more. Would it be "unfair" to factor in animals that cannot reason and hold to the moral actions brought about by Utilitarianism? It's something to think about at least...
Singer holds, that we should consider other being's interest and weight them according to the moral value of those beings. I have more moral value than a dog who in turn has more moral value than an ant. The moral value of an individual is determined by a number of factors, such as self-awareness, capabality to feel pain, consciousness etc. etc.

So, if you factor animals in, though they count, they don't count as much as humans. Their interests are worth something, but less than human interests.

And no, it does not mean animals have to act morally. They can't. That's one of the reasons why they have less moral value than most human beings. But it does not mean their interests don't count at all.
20. (Original post by zizero)
Singer holds, that we should consider other being's interest and weight them according to the moral value of those beings. I have more moral value than a dog who in turn has more moral value than an ant. The moral value of an individual is determined by a number of factors, such as self-awareness, capabality to feel pain, consciousness etc. etc.

So, if you factor animals in, though they count, they don't count as much as humans. Their interests are worth something, but less than human interests.

And no, it does not mean animals have to act morally. They can't. That's one of the reasons why they have less moral value than most human beings. But it does not mean their interests don't count at all.
Ah right, I understand fully now . I need to do some serious extra reading on Singer...

Even so, there's a difficulty calculating to what extent animals have a moral value in comparison to humans.

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