Turn on thread page Beta
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Calvin)
    You're doing William James at A-level? Yeek.
    yh

    you can say that :rolleyes:

    theres so much to learn :confused:
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that you haven't actually read much about utilitarianism beyond the most superficial coverage. Have you read Bentham's "Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation" for example? I mean the whole book by the way, not just the extracts in A-level textbooks.
    There's no need to make pointed comments about how little you think your opponent knows in every debate you have. Whether he's read Bentham is irrelevant - this is about his version of utilitarianism, which is what he's making an argument for, not any of the historical versions. We're here to discuss philosophical ideas, not to show off what we've read or to insult each other.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    “Now here's the problem. You accept that the preferences can only be valued by the preferrer and that everybody has their own preference system. Yet you seem to have an abstract valuation of suffering, which from your other comments is simply a negative preference. So how will you evaluate the amount of suffering? You can't compute the net benefit unless you have a quantitative measure of the positive and negative quantities.

    Bentham understood this, as did other utilitarians. That's why he came up with his calculus - so that decisions could be made upon objective criteria. What you're proposing is a subjective measure between incommensurable systems. It's doomed from the outset.”
    The fact that persons prefer different things does not bring into doubt the question of suffering. Suffering is, as you’ve observed and as I’ve noted a negative preference because it is fundamentally so that persons prefer not to suffer overall, and if a persons preferences are being frustrated they are by nature suffering.
    The suffering and preferences of persons is necessarily an abstraction because, by definition speculation about suffering is speculation about the internal states of another persons experience. Its certainly difficult to “compute” and “evaluate” because we have no access to a person’s experience, nor in practise access to absolute knowledge of the consequences of our actions. This has already been covered and it and irrelevant pseudo-objection, either you believe persons are suffering or not, and that it is possible (to some extent) to reasonably postulate about what they prefer and how such ends could be brought about. If you disagree with either of these assertions then it is impossible for you to take into consideration, to any extent the possibility of consequences upon other’s suffering or preference when acting, if you concur that the preferences of a person and the avoidance of suffering have significance and that our actions can impact them then it is irrelevant how difficult judging our actions is, all that matters is endeavouring to act as is best.

    Further, as I demonstrated at the beginning with one’s personal preferences, to establish that a thing is preferable does not require numerical or formal quantification, merely a basis upon which to postulate as to preferentiality. You clearly believe that some things bring greater or lesser harm to yourself and others and that is all the quantification that is required, any other objection is simply stressing how “difficult” such a judgement is, which is true but irrelevant as I demonstrated above.

    “Non sequitur. You're assuming that no-one actually enjoys torturing others, or that there's some other measurement of benefit outside the preferences. In other words, you're trying to have your cake and eat it. You can argue that torture harms the other person (since it violates their preferences) but you can't simultaneously argue that it harms the torturer except by appealing to a different definition of harm.”
    For one thing it doesn’t matter whether the person actually brings surplus harm to themselves, all we need observe is that persons suffer more from being tortured that would-be-torturers suffer from not being able to fulfil their hobby. Even given that, it wouldn’t matter even if “one actually enjoys torturing others,” my point was that in addition to the harm done to the victim, engaging in sadistic behaviour is typically harmful to the perpetuator, it needn’t even be a net. harm, simply a lesser good than would be derived from neutral or co-operative social behaviour. Similarly I’m not defining a good outside of preferences, I am making a distinction between preferences, and the ‘naïve form’ of preferences which you’ve drawn upon here- namely the consciously held ‘preference’ of a person in an instant- as demonstrated by the ‘small children getting drunk and skipping school’ scenario, what a person believes they prefer in an instant is not identical to what would actually meet their preferences, just as if you mistakenly believe you want to eat my allergy-inducing peanut cake, your preferences would not be served by doing so, even if you believe presently that they would.

    “Frankly, that's nonsense. Theism is perfectly coherent but is not reducible in that fashion.”
    The fact that situation ethics is theistic doesn’t mean that theism per se need be reduced to utilitarianism. My argument is that situation ethics leads to utilitarianism as both require acting in a situation according to Love, where acting according to Love logically results in acting towards the best fulfilment of the persons interests. Clearly one could formulate situation ethics with added qualifiers such that ‘Love is best served by acting according with X precept, which would not otherwise be considered in the interests of the person, because it has been divinely willed thus’ but though situationist, such an ethic cannot be considered situation ethics logically formulated, because it required precepts, the existence of a Heaven for example, which require faith.

    “I don't and I wouldn't. There's no point trying to bludgeon me into agreement, or claiming that your system is not only perfect, but that everyone agrees with it really. I ignore preferences on a regular basis, as do you. I'd prefer you to radically criticise your own position ad to understand the glaring weaknesses in it. You'd prefer me to believe that your system actually replaces my own. I suspect that neither of us considers those preferences to override our own.”
    I’m not trying to bludgeon you into agreement or falsely claiming that my system is perfect and universally agreed upon. I simply stated that if you accept “that the preferences of all ought to be considered without bias” that you would be forced to concur with the utilitarian system, which is undeniably true because you would be accepting the utilitarian system, by definition. Likewise if I accepted the conclusion of your argument, I would be forced to accept your argument.

    Firstly, while persons do act immorally by ignoring preferences of others, this does not demonstrate that ethics doesn’t work, otherwise the fact that persons ignore the ethical good (which is clearly evident) would immediately lead to the acceptance of moral nihilism.

    Secondly, the fact that persons act against other persons’ preferences does not necessitate that the person doing so does not accept that the person’s interests are actually of equal weight to their own.

    Further your example doesn’t conflict with utilitarianism at all. We’d prefer that each other concede defeat because, presumably, we each believe that we are right and the other wrong. This disagreement represents a disagreement regarding fact, not a disagreement regarding ethics itself.

    “Bentham and Mill both made a stab at it; why won't you? Is it that you're too keen to keep vague and woolly statements in lieu of real thought? The system of utilitarianism is hard work and anyone who starts on the endeavour pretty soon discovers that vague platitudes are useless in the face of real-world decisions.

    It's blindingly obvious that we want to get the situation where everybody wins. Yet what if they can't? Again, it's simplistic to say "take the course of least harm". That's not news as every system faces the same constraints. So we face that decision in medical triage, or allocating bonuses within a company. Just saying "do the best you can" is a waste of breath. We need a concrete system in place that allows us to make such decisions on an impartial, objective basis. That's because we westerners believe that objectivity achieves an ethical goal of fairness, but that's not a given in many cultures. You want such a system since you want to be "taking account of all agents who prefer, without bias" although you don't say why bias is ethically wrong.”
    What did they formulate that constitutes a “system to back up” the assertion that the greatest good is the greatest good? Taking Bentham’s hedonic calculus as an example, it is clear that the ‘calculus’ is immediately reducible to the original assertion, it simply describes that ‘longer pleasure’ is more preferable to ‘shorter pleasure’, and that ‘stronger pleasure’ is preferable to ‘weaker pleasure.’ Mill’s qualifications simply describes benefits further by offering examples of a hierarchy- that persons derive more from mentally stimulating socialising at the opera than from getting drunk on cheap gin.

    Notably as Mill and Bentham both state outright, though it ought to be obvious anyway, these descriptions are generalisations or tautologies that do not have any force as rules in themselves. Just as Mill describes that rights to freedom are generally for the greater good, he states overtly that none of the statements he makes are of any relevance whatsoever, except insofar as they meet the preferences of persons to the greatest possible extent.

    Notably bias isn’t ethically wrong in itself, all that is ethically significant is harm or benefit to individuals, aiming to fulfil preferences without bias is necessary because without bias the most preferences are fulfilled and the least harm, bias towards preferences would be sub-optimal as it would cause more harm.

    The formulation offered is in no sense a vague platitude, if you think it is, what’s the weakness? Either you think that the preferences and suffering of persons are significant and that they carry equal weight or you do not. What further elaboration can you conceivably demand, or more precisely, exactly what weakness in the assertion do you want me to defend? In offering a system to supplement the utilitarian assertion, what do you want- if you accept the formulation then what else could be formulated: a list of things that people generally don’t like?

    What point is made by asserting that utilitarianism is “hard work?” If you disagree with the basic formulation then obviously you have to present some sort of reason why the suffering of persons should not be avoided as best as is possible. If you agree, then how “hard” working this out in the real world of practical ethics is irrelevant, as I said all that could be added to the system to make it easier would be endless lists of examples, and an ever-increasing categorisation of the causes and effects of the world, clearly a never-ending, but worthwhile project.

    You dismiss the statements ‘act so as to cause the least overall harm’ and ‘act so as to best fulfil preferences’ and ‘bring about the best consequences you can,’ but whether simplistic or a waste of breath doesn’t change whether they’re correct, an actual counter-argument is necessary. If they’re accepted then demanding a ‘concrete system’ is irrelevant, I’ve already outlined the basis upon which we can postulate as to preferences held, either trying to fulfil the preferences of others is utterly impossible (and thus we cannot ever take into account others when acting) or it is possible- regardless of how difficult it is.

    “You haven't even started to say how you'll get or weigh those preferences. Until you do, you're just banging an empty soup can.”
    Are you maintaining that we have no basis to take account of the preferences of others? If you’re not then your argument clearly unravels immediately. Given that other people are other, we have no direct way to experience their experience, but we’re still left with the inevitable choice: either we have no basis to take any account of other people at all, or else we do. The consideration of other persons’ preferences is based on all the factors which you’re clearly aware of, we postulate based on our knowledge of ourselves, on our theories about the physical world, on the basis of what the persons say themselves and such behaviourist observations.

    Regardless of the success of this endeavour the choice is still clear cut, either you take no account of other people when acting or you do, so long as doing so is possible to any extent, utilitarianism clearly still holds, in conjunction the acceptance that other people hold equal ethical significance to ourselves.

    “This isn't an exam, so please don't try to blind me with essay waffle. I can look up and critique any of the flavours of utilitarianism, thanks. If there were really no difference, people wouldn't bother to reformulate them. Don't assume that thinkers like Mill etc were fools. They at least understood that the theory had to have a practical application and that, as proposed by Bentham, it had major flaws.

    I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that you haven't actually read much about utilitarianism beyond the most superficial coverage. Have you read Bentham's "Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation" for example? I mean the whole book by the way, not just the extracts in A-level textbooks.”
    What I’ve written isn’t exam waffle- I assert that there’s no distinction between act and rule utilitarianism when both are properly formulated. If you disagree with my assertion then offer a criticism, such as a demonstration of a logical difference between the two.

    As I’ve stated quite a lot, utilitarianism obviously has practical applications. I’ve also offered a number of examples of said practical application. If you disagree, then on what basis? Is the avoidance of suffering not good? Is it good, but is there an ethical necessity for bias towards certain ethical agents? Is it good but there a higher good? Or do you believe that in practical terms utilitarianism may be correct as a formulation (if not where’s the error?), but that we have no basis upon which we can tell whether an action might harm another?

    No I haven’t read Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation cover to cover, but if this is relevant then advance an argument related to the content.

    Notably I’m not assuming that Bentham and Mill are fools, clearly they disagreed and therefore at least one of them was mistaken, nevertheless the similarities are much greater than the differences. As I asserted in the message preceding this one, correctly formulated there is no distinction between the formulation of the ‘rule’ of utilitarianism as act, rule, hedonic or preference. Mill and Bentham didn’t disagree about the fundamental structure of utilitarianism, both believed that the greatest good for the greatest number was the paramount aim, their difference lies purely in a difference of formulation, Mill arguing that the greatest good was accurately described with a hierarchy of goods. Their difference therefore is one of disagreement about the fact of preferences, not about the ethical importance thereof.

    “Oh dear, I think we're about to part company most dramatically. That's probably the most naive thing I've seen for a while. So convicted paedophiles, rapists and mass murderers are all excused as long as they meant it for the best? That surely can't be what you mean.”
    Notably we’re not actually discussing the ethical status of individuals, I’m solely advancing a view of the ethics of actions. In any case in the sense that is being discussed, the person is ‘ethically excused’ if they sincerely believe that their action is the most ethical, as in the examples I gave previously, the moral status of the individual cannot be ascribed to them on the basis of how knowledgeable or lucky they are. Convicted criminals, ethical status aside certainly need to be treated based on the fact that they are convicted criminals- for example a murderer, even if he killed because he thought he was saving the world from doom, needs to be locked up for obvious reasons. Also as I noted, the actual, sincere view of the person is what is significant, there is basis for distinction between some-one who kills every-one despite believing that it will harm them, because he thinks it’ll be a laugh, and some-one who kills because they are simply insane. Whether this holds ultimate ethical value is another debate entirely, the manner in which these persons ought to be treated, however is significantly clearer.

    “What makes him mad? He simply has preferences which are different from yours.”
    Some-one thinking that killing every-one is good is in no sense simply having preferences different to my own. If he simply had a preference for murder, it would in no sense make the pursuit of that preference any more valid, the point, as ever is that murdering every-one would have negative preferences overall. As my quote stated, thinking that killing every-one is good would be the thought of a complete madman, as it is clear that most people prefer not to be killed.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by wanderer)
    Whether he's read Bentham is irrelevant
    That may be your opinion but I wouldn't try advancing it in an exam, nor at university (at least until you're on your doctorate). It's critically important in academic discussions, which I was assuming this was, to identify which lines of thought you're using. If we're discussing utilitarianism, then it has a specific meaning in philosophy/ethics. It's critical, in my view, to have read Bentham and Mill before trying to support utilitarianism.

    It seems to me that it's like saying that you disagree with Pascal's Wager, but feel it's unimportant to have actually read Pascal.

    If we're talking about TCovenantism or Wandererism then that's entirely a different matter. You don't need to have read anything other than the specific postings. In which case I'd suggest that we stop talking about utilitarianism and call it something else entirely.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by TCovenant)
    The suffering and preferences of persons is necessarily an abstraction because, by definition speculation about suffering is speculation about the internal states of another persons experience.
    I'm glad you used the word 'speculation'. You objected earlier when I talked about guesswork, so we seem to be making some progress.
    Its certainly difficult to “compute” and “evaluate” because we have no access to a person’s experience,
    I agree, we can't formulate a quantitative scale for it either. Which makes the whole edifice hopelessly undermined. If you're going to have a net benefit, then you must be able to compute quantities on a commensurable scale. If you're going to trade off my suffering for your joy, then you have to be able to calculate which is greater. Until you can do that, you don't have any sort of decision method whatever. So let's say that you simply estimate the joy/suffering and speculate which one's bigger. That's the second level of guesswork I mentioned a while back.

    So I'm not sure where you can go with this on an ethical basis. It seems to me that TCovenantism isn't utilitarianism as such. Neither Bentham or Mill would have agreed with you, as far as I can see. It's just a "be nice" set of platitudes without any practical application. I'm not sure where it adds anything to Golden Rule ethics.
    to establish that a thing is preferable does not require numerical or formal quantification, merely a basis upon which to postulate as to preferentiality.
    So what is this basis? If you have more than one choice, how on earth will you make a decision as to which is the best option? I know a bit about game theory and I just can't see how you'll ever make this work without some level of quantification. All of economics, medical triage and game theory involve an evaluation function.

    If we have three potential goods, but different numbers of each, e.g: 1xA, 2xB and 3xC, which is the greater good overall? How can you possibly answer without estimating the relative value of A, B and C?
    You clearly believe that some things bring greater or lesser harm to yourself and others and that is all the quantification that is required, any other objection is simply stressing how “difficult” such a judgement is, which is true but irrelevant as I demonstrated above.
    You really haven't demonstrated anything at all. You simply repeat your premises. I'm looking for a worked example of a non-binary decision. Try my example above.
    all we need observe is that persons suffer more from being tortured that would-be-torturers suffer from not being able to fulfil their hobby.
    What if they don't? What if there are far more torturers than victims (one means of increasing the total good)? Is the torture then moral?
    it needn’t even be a net. harm,
    You can't use the word 'net' while denying arithmetic. Sorry, it just isn't coherent to do so.
    The fact that situation ethics is theistic
    Uh? Situation ethics is atheistic. I can't think of any theistic systems offhand which allow situational ethics. Christianity and Islam certainly don't. Theistic systems generally root all morality in God, not in situations.
    My argument is that situation ethics leads to utilitarianism as both require acting in a situation according to Love, where acting according to Love logically results in acting towards the best fulfilment of the persons interests.
    Errm. Where did Love (I note the capitalisation) enter this equation? Are you now equating Love with the greatest good? That's a long way from traditional utilitarianism; appealing to Love as a precept seems to lean more towards theism.
    I simply stated that if you accept “that the preferences of all ought to be considered without bias” that you would be forced to concur with the utilitarian system,
    I disagree. I can ethically decide that I should consider all opinions without bias, but then subsequently make a decision which goes against all those preferences. Judges do that all the time in our law courts. that's because individual preferences are not the sole basis of ethics. They can be a part of decision making, without being the whole.
    Firstly, while persons do act immorally by ignoring preferences of others
    So, am I immoral when I send my children to bed, even though they'd prefer to stay up and watch TV?
    it is clear that the ‘calculus’ is immediately reducible to the original assertion,
    It's based upon the premise certainly, but it attempt to quantify what 'greater' really means. It doesn't rely on a tautology that 'greater' is greater because that's no earthly use to anyone. It's like saying that A > B, without saying what A and B actually are.
    Notably bias isn’t ethically wrong in itself, all that is ethically significant is harm or benefit to individuals, aiming to fulfil preferences without bias is necessary because without bias the most preferences are fulfilled and the least harm, bias towards preferences would be sub-optimal as it would cause more harm.
    I don't think that's true. You've already introduced exceptions like "unless he's mad" etc. That's a form of bias, albeit an entirely sensible one. I could construct examples where ethical behaviour would actually require bias.
    Either you think that the preferences and suffering of persons are significant and that they carry equal weight or you do not
    That's a false opposition (and a cheap debating trick). I can accept that people's preferences form part of the decision making process, but I'm opposed to victims' families being involved in the sentencing of criminals, for example. I believe that a legal system must be fair and I can't see that it's fair that one murderer gets 10 years because the victim's mother forgives him, while another gets executed because the family demand vengeance.
    What point is made by asserting that utilitarianism is “hard work?”
    I'm saying that I don't think you've yet faced that hard work. You've just been toying with ideas in a game. It lets you indulge in some creative writing without having to grind through the implications. I went to Jeremy Bentham's university, so I know that he's someone who really wanted to make a difference, not just bandy words around.
    If you disagree with the basic formulation then obviously you have to present some sort of reason why the suffering of persons should not be avoided as best as is possible.
    Let's be clear:

    A. I believe that happiness should be maximised.
    B. I believe that suffering should be minimised.
    C. I think that utilitarianism is complete tosh.

    So please don't try and claim that I must be against Mom and Apple Pie, just because I think your system, as so far presented, is woolly and platitudinous.
    Are you maintaining that we have no basis to take account of the preferences of others?
    No, we have some basis, but it's imperfect and it's not the only factor. If everybody else prefers abortion of girl babies, I'll still be against it. I don't care about their preferences in that situation - I care about the child.
    either you take no account of other people when acting or you do,
    Please stop these false binary oppositions, they're getting very annoying.
    What I’ve written isn’t exam waffle- I assert that there’s no distinction between act and rule utilitarianism when both are properly formulated.
    I've marked exams, I know what waffle looks like. Don't think inserting the word 'properly' will get you out of it. Either you're the most brilliant philosopher ever and all the writers on utilitarianism (whom you admit you haven't read) have missed the point, or there really is a difference. They might be aiming at a common goal (atheistic ethics) but they're using a different approach. That's why they're distinguished.
    As I’ve stated quite a lot, utilitarianism obviously has practical applications.
    Then it's probably incumbent upon you to provide some concrete guidelines on how to apply it. Let's give a real example and see what you can decide:

    A young woman of 14 finds that she is pregnant by a married 40 year old man. He works in the Home Office and is currently preparing a bill which will lower the age of consent to 12. He is paid a lot of money by tobacco and alcohol companies and he assuages his guilt by donating a lot of money to projects which build wells in the Third World. If he's exposed as a paedophile, he'll lose his job and go to prison. He'll also be unable to help bring up the child. The baby in the womb is destined to discover a cure for ovarian cancer. The girl's mother is mentally unstable and is likely to commit suicide if she discovers the pregnancy. If she does, the girl will be taken into care and has a high chance of being sexually abused there.

    Impossible? I don't think so, although some of it's clearly contrived. However I don't think you can start to tackle it from a utilitarian perspective without some calculus of the greatest good. Feel free to have a go though.
    No I haven’t read Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation cover to cover, but if this is relevant then advance an argument related to the content.
    I just did. Bentham's calculus would make a stab at the above.
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    That may be your opinion but I wouldn't try advancing it in an exam, nor at university (at least until you're on your doctorate). It's critically important in academic discussions, which I was assuming this was, to identify which lines of thought you're using. If we're discussing utilitarianism, then it has a specific meaning in philosophy/ethics. It's critical, in my view, to have read Bentham and Mill before trying to support utilitarianism.
    This is not an exam, its an informal discussion. Utilitarianism has a specific meaning, sure. But that doesn't correspond to how either Bentham or Mill formulated it (for one thing, as Mill pointed out himself, it existed before Bentham). Trying to support their formulations of it without reading them would indeed be ridiculous, but TCovenant is detailing his own version, so there is no need for him to know the details of what Bentham thought. Sure, there are weaknesses, I disagree with him myself, but answer the arguments he gives rather than making snide comments about how little you think he knows - the arguments he's making are clearly utilitarian (and I have read Bentham and Mill, before you start) so there's no need to be fussy about the name. Singer's utilitarianism is different from Mill's, and Mill's was different from Bentham's, but they're all utilitarianism.

    Because of the relative stages we're all at, in life and our academic careers, its very probable that for most philosophical topics that you will have read more than any of us here. That's great - it means you can bring in ideas and arguments we haven't encountered, refer us to writers who've said relevant things, etc. However, the great thing about discussing philosophy in an informal context like this is that you're free to field your own ideas. They will usually be inspired by and based around the work of actual philosophers, but we're arguing for ourselves, not as proxies. The fact that you've read more doesn't make your arguments stronger or your position solider, and accusing others of ignorance doesn't do anything for the discussion.
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    Oh, and I'm pretty sure Joseph Fletcher would disagree on Situation Ethics being atheistic.
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    Wow, this is a very intelligent discussion going on here, probably beyond a philosophy newbie such as myself but I'll give it a go. I did some basic Utilitarianism and Situation Ethics last year but most of it's gone out of my head probably...

    I don't agree with utilitarianism, because making sure there is the maximum level of hapiness does not necessarily mean that it's right, and despite the Hedonic Calculus it's still very hard to measure as what can be hapiness for one person may not be for another.
    Offline

    12
    ReputationRep:
    So it's wrong because it's not the same thing as morality, and its just more difficult to work it out? You've summed up my view completely as well.
    *casts his vote*
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    “I'm glad you used the word 'speculation'. You objected earlier when I talked about guesswork, so we seem to be making some progress. ”
    I hope you’re joking. You actually questioned how one “could know that it's the most likely course”, or “define what 'good' is” and thus said that we have “two levels of pure guesswork with no rational underpinning”. There’s a world of difference between that and speculation, which is what I pointed out in reply to the original post. Whether you define it as speculation or two levels of pure guesswork is irrelevant, so long as you concede that the process is as much speculation/guesswork, as is any prediction about the likely consequences of action.

    “I agree, we can't formulate a quantitative scale for it either. Which makes the whole edifice hopelessly undermined. If you're going to have a net benefit, then you must be able to compute quantities on a commensurable scale. If you're going to trade off my suffering for your joy, then you have to be able to calculate which is greater. Until you can do that, you don't have any sort of decision method whatever. So let's say that you simply estimate the joy/suffering and speculate which one's bigger. That's the second level of guesswork I mentioned a while back.

    So I'm not sure where you can go with this on an ethical basis. It seems to me that TCovenantism isn't utilitarianism as such. Neither Bentham or Mill would have agreed with you, as far as I can see. It's just a "be nice" set of platitudes without any practical application. I'm not sure where it adds anything to Golden Rule ethics.”
    The project of ‘taking into account the effects of our actions upon others’ is not hopelessly undermined. Nor do I seriously think you believe for one second that it is, surely you consider the consequences of actions upon other people- indeed in this very debate you’ve spoken about the difficulties of doing what is best for teenagers or babies.
    As I said in the post to which you’re replying to make a reasonable prediction of relative benefit you do not need “to be able to compute qualities on a commensurable scale” in the sense of the calculus that you keep demanding. It is clearly possible to speculate about what actions/consequences will bring greater happiness to oneself, and based on the behavioural indicators etc mentioned previously, possible to posit what others will prefer. You clearly believe that this is possible, or else you would believe that it is impossible to make any statements about the consequences of your actions upon others.
    Given that you must, undeniably, accept that we have a basis for taking account of others when acting, what objection is it that you could conceivably be making?

    As I’ve stated previously one cannot ‘calculate’ comparative goods, because it is impossible for some-one without total knowledge of the experience of others, to acquire an objective measure of some-one’s experience. All one can do in judging how a person will view a consequence is approximate relative to the alternatives. Since you believe that we have to take into account the effect of our actions on others, since you believe that we can conceivably do this and since you accept that we do not have access to a paradoxically objective quantification of an person’s personal preferences, I fail to see in what manner you can possibly object to my proposition. You say that we can speculate as to the relative preferentiality of ends and actions but that this is a “second level of guesswork,” surely then we concur that the process of speculation as to relative preferentiality is possible, but imperfect?

    In what way does my argument differ from the formulations of Bentham or Mill. You’ve stated several times now that there is a distinction, so what is it?

    Likewise you’ve suggested that Bentham and Mill have offered a ‘system’ and a ‘calculus’ which back up their assertions. As I’ve stated the systems offered do not change in the slightest the original formulation, as both authors overtly stated, the very point of their respective works was that the utilitarian formulation was sufficient in itself, by definition, as the expression of ethics.

    You’ve asserted again that my argument represents a platitude, but you haven’t stated how or where it is wrong. My utilitarian formulation doesn’t differ from the utilitarian formulations of Bentham or Mill, the distinctions lie, as I said before, in disagreements about the factual basis of preference, which I outlined above.

    Similarly I’ve already stated that I believe the Golden Rule, logically followed to its conclusion, leads to utilitarianism. Before you seemed to disagree, now you claim that my argument doesn’t add anything distinct to the Golden Rule- which is it?

    Also, you’ve claimed again that my formulation lacks practical applications, but on what basis do you object? Is it that you disagree with the formulation per se, such that you do not think that the ethically best action is that which is most preferred and brings least suffering? If not then in what manner is the formulation not practically applicable.
    We concur that there is no basis to acquire absolute, or objective knowledge of another person’s preferences. We also concur that it is morally necessary to take account of the likely preferences of other persons (which can be speculated upon based upon our self-knowledge, scientific theorisations, and behavioural observation. Therefore how do you object- do you maintain now that it is always impossible to consider other people, or do you believe that there exists a superior methodology whereby preferences can be served?
    If you think there is some other basis for objection then what is it?

    “So what is this basis? If you have more than one choice, how on earth will you make a decision as to which is the best option? I know a bit about game theory and I just can't see how you'll ever make this work without some level of quantification. All of economics, medical triage and game theory involve an evaluation function.

    If we have three potential goods, but different numbers of each, e.g: 1xA, 2xB and 3xC, which is the greater good overall? How can you possibly answer without estimating the relative value of A, B and C?”
    Given that we know that there cannot be access to an objective measure of person’s suffering, it follows that we do not have access to a numerical basis for comparing preferences. It follows therefore both that the only way we could possibly compare likely preferences is through speculation- it is very likely that people suffer from death, suffer from torture, suffer less from lesser pains, suffer from deprivation of other goods to varying degree etc. That such assertions are possible, you surely accept, otherwise there could be no basis for us to postulate that aiding some-one who is injured is preferable to injuring them more. That such assertions are possible immediately proves the point, providing you accept the ethical preferentiality of minimising suffering.

    The fact that this would be very complex in very complex comparisons of preferences is true, but even if our conclusion was that ‘in X, a very complex scenario, we have no basis upon which we can reasonably posit which action will bring the greater fulfilment of preferences and least suffering,’ this would merely draw a limit to our capacity to speculate to a significant degree as to which actions will bring the best consequences. This in no sense offers a criticism of utilitarianism.

    You cite medical triage et al as including a set system for evaluation. This doesn’t matter, if one is making a utilitarian decision within a medical triage situation, then it may be for the best that a number of guidelines are laid down for ease of approximation. Necessarily however, if you agree that less suffering, more preferences is the aim, then (in the absence of absolute knowledge or access to an impossible objective measure of personal experience of others) all our knowledge of such a situation is based on ongoing speculation. Such is the nature of our knowledge of the situation, and thus it doesn’t offer a criticism of utilitarianism specifically, nor is there any basis upon which utilitarian theory could improve the situation. That one could posit a system for making a decision within the context of medical triage is irrelevant to the question of whether such a calculating system is necessary for utilitarianism in itself. The calculating system that could be potentially applied to triage, is necessary an approximation, whereby one speculates about preferences (a child with good life expectancy will probably have stronger preferences to live than a very elderly, person with equal life expectancy), and then consequently turns them into an artificial guide which approximates one’s previous speculation. This doesn’t provide a new, concrete system for utilitarianism, all it does is posit an approximate system that may or may not maximise the greatest good when followed. Such a system can be disagreed upon, and can become very complex- what if the old person is a sole bread-winner, what if they have a crucial job, what if the young person has a chronic illness- nevertheless the system in itself is open to disagreement because there is basis for disagreement about what will fulfil the greatest preferences, because every-one has only finite information. What is important is that it is agreed upon that the preferences of persons are best maximised and their suffering minimised, and then latterly disagreements about how this could be brought about based on limited information, can be posited.

    Certainly we have the estimate the relative value of 3A vs 2B vs 1A+B+9C, but the relative value expressed numerically is necessarily purely an approximation.

    “You really haven't demonstrated anything at all. You simply repeat your premises. I'm looking for a worked example of a non-binary decision. Try my example above.”
    I’ve demonstrated that it is irrelevant, because the difficulty of minimising suffering is entirely irrelevant. If we agree that suffering is best minimised and persons' preferences best maximised then how difficult this is in practise is irrelevant. If we agree that it is very difficult but even slightly possible, then we simply endeavour to apply our knowledge to the situation as best we can. If it is actually impossible, when we can do anything we want, because we have utterly no reason to assume that murdering every-one will be any better than not doing so.

    What possible benefit can working through an example bring? Either you agree with the premise that preferences should be maximised or not. If you disagree, then me giving you an example of suffering is clearly of no help. If you agree, then any disagreement we have about what real world scenarios would bring relative preferences and to what extent, would not be about ethics, it would simply be a disagreement about facts about the physical world- I might say that a woman suffers terribly from having an abortion, you might say that the net harm from an unwanted child will in most cases outweigh this harm. Then we can do some surveys, ask some experts, gather some information, draw up some more categories etc etc, how much we disagree about what persons prefer is irrelevant, all that is important to the validity of utilitarianism is whether or not acting so as to best fulfil the preferences of all concerned is the correct moral course.

    “What if they don't? What if there are far more torturers than victims (one means of increasing the total good)? Is the torture then moral?”
    No. First of all of course we must consider the validity of the premises- is suffering less preferable than benefit, is less suffering less bad than more. Then we must debate which action brings most suffering, to my mind the suffering of being tortured is far more significant, being tortured brings a great amount of mental and physical suffering clearly people prefer not being tortured very strongly. Conversely the preference to fulfil one’s wish to torture is significantly less strong, if some-one wants to torture some-one else for some reason, their wish being frustrated does not constitute torture of the would-be-torturer to the same degree at all, persons being tortured often consider death preferable, yet there is little evidence of people being so frustrated by their being unable to torture others that they have chosen death as preferable. If you disagree then this is a different issue to the validity of utilitarianism, which is the premise.

    “You can't use the word 'net' while denying arithmetic. Sorry, it just isn't coherent to do so.”
    It depends what you mean by arithmetic. Net means in this sense, after deductions, thus in order to make a deduction all we need to is posit the relative significance of one preference to another. Do I benefit more from stealing your lemonade than you lose from being mugged? No? Then a net judgement has been made, as it is speculated that the suffering outweighs my preference for theft.

    The notion of applying arithmetic to this is unimportant. I could apply arithmetical value to the two factors involved, but all they would offer would be an approximation of my speculations regarding how you and I would prefer the scenario to work. I speculate that the lemonade brings me a small benefit, lets call it 1, and I speculate that bring mugged is probably a lot worse. I can no more apply a direct mathematical representation to it than I can to my own preferences which I know more clearly- I would prefer some water over not water, (1) I’d prefer some orange even more (lets call it 2), I’d prefer some lemonade and orange quite a lot more, than I’d prefer just orange, lets call it (4). Clearly our preferences have significance, but they cannot be directly quantified, but it is never necessary to have an objective score of preference-suffering. Postulating that preferences and suffering have relative strengths is all that is significant- access to an objective numeric measure is impossible, but nevertheless the only alternative to the process of speculation I’ve posited is to never take account of others when acting.
    “Uh? Situation ethics is atheistic. I can't think of any theistic systems offhand which allow situational ethics. Christianity and Islam certainly don't. Theistic systems generally root all morality in God, not in situations.”
    Clearly we are using different definitions, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situation_ethics situation ethics as in Fletcher’s formulation is clearly Christian, and is a perfectly valid interpretation of Christ’s ethical teaching. What do you mean “theistic systems root morality in God, not situations?” The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and in any case all ethics has to refer to situations to some extent, insofar as all action constitutes a situation.
    The atheistic, theistic distinction is pointless anyway, utilitarianism is not an ‘atheistic’ or theistic ethic.

    “Errm. Where did Love (I note the capitalisation) enter this equation? Are you now equating Love with the greatest good? That's a long way from traditional utilitarianism; appealing to Love as a precept seems to lean more towards theism.”
    I was referring specifically to situation ethics, the reference to Love should now be clear. Also, as I stated before, yes acting with Love is inexorably identical to acting towards the greatest good, as Love necessitates acting towards others with equal significance as you give yourself. This isn’t a ‘long way from traditional utilitarianism’ on what basis would Mill disagree?

    “I disagree. I can ethically decide that I should consider all opinions without bias, but then subsequently make a decision which goes against all those preferences. Judges do that all the time in our law courts. that's because individual preferences are not the sole basis of ethics. They can be a part of decision making, without being the whole.”
    There is a distinction between “accepting that the preferences of all ought to be considered without bias” and “deciding to consider all opinions (and then immediately subsequently applying a different bias and making a different decision). If you accept “that the preferences of all ought to be considered without bias” when making an ethical decision, then it precludes adding a bias, such as stating that “preferences are not the sole basis,” because anything other than a consideration of preferences would constitute a bias to the consideration of preferences.

    ...
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    “So, am I immoral when I send my children to bed, even though they'd prefer to stay up and watch TV?”
    As I said in my previous example, there is a distinction between “preferences” defined as what that person elects to do, and causing what that person would actually prefer. In my example, allowing young children to get drunk, and not go to school but rather just watch TV, because they state a preference to do so, is not a valid judgement of preferences, as their preferences would actually be better served by denying them this choice. Similarly, with my example of offering you a poisoned cake, I would not be serving your preferences if I allowed you to eat it, even if you preferred eating cake over not eating cake- you clearly incorrectly surmised your preferences based on the fact that I didn’t tell you the cake was poisoned.

    “It's based upon the premise certainly, but it attempt to quantify what 'greater' really means. It doesn't rely on a tautology that 'greater' is greater because that's no earthly use to anyone. It's like saying that A > B, without saying what A and B actually are.”
    It does rely on a tautology, the hedonic calculus offers mere descriptions of greater good by describing it as stronger, longer, purer etc. If a quantity of a thing is good in itself because that thing is good intrinsically, then it is immediately correct that more of that thing is more good. All aspects of Bentham’s and Mill’s elaborations of the utilitarian theory are purposefully and consciously reducible to the original assertion; preferences are preferable because they’re preferred, the very point is that these statements are tautological- all further details are merely examples and categorisations, not changes. If there’s a problem with the tautology then by all means demonstrate it.
    “I don't think that's true. You've already introduced exceptions like "unless he's mad" etc. That's a form of bias, albeit an entirely sensible one. I could construct examples where ethical behaviour would actually require bias.”
    That isn’t a bias. My reference to madness didn’t question whether it was preferable that the preferences of the madman were fulfilled, ceteris paribus, the fact that he was a madman was relevant only to fact that his madness led him to incorrectly assume that people would benefit from mass-death. As I demonstrated, such incorrect conclusions don’t change the validity of the system, they merely comment on the knowledge of the person making the conclusion.

    You couldn’t construct an example where bias would be more beneficial because the very point of consideration without bias, is that one considers that which will bring the greatest overall fulfilment of preference and the least suffering. Adding bias could only ever serve to increase suffering or decrease overall satisfaction of preferences.

    “That's a false opposition (and a cheap debating trick). I can accept that people's preferences form part of the decision making process, but I'm opposed to victims' families being involved in the sentencing of criminals, for example. I believe that a legal system must be fair and I can't see that it's fair that one murderer gets 10 years because the victim's mother forgives him, while another gets executed because the family demand vengeance.”
    It isn’t a false opposition or a cheap trick. If you think that ethics has as an end something other than resulting in the greatest fulfilment of preference, then undeniably you do not agree with the above utilitarian statement, because you believe that good is actually defined by something other than preferences, if this is so then the fulfilment of preferences has no ethical value in itself, rather they are significant only indirectly, insofar as they lead to the fulfilment of whatever you actually consider to be good.

    The example of victim’s families is completely unrelated. You’ve made no reference to preferences as an ethical consideration, rather they only appear in the sense which I outlined before, that of ‘crude preferences’ i.e. that which a person consciously elects at a given time. You’ve said that the goal of your scenario is that of the ‘legal system being fair,’ but not why this is ethically good. You’ve also said that the Holocaust is bad because such acts being bad are part of the ‘rules of the game,’ clearly therefore you do not believe in the consideration of all preferences without bias, as an ethical assertion, because the ‘rules of the game’ which you hold to constitute a bias.

    “I'm saying that I don't think you've yet faced that hard work. You've just been toying with ideas in a game. It lets you indulge in some creative writing without having to grind through the implications. I went to Jeremy Bentham's university, so I know that he's someone who really wanted to make a difference, not just bandy words around.”
    None of that makes any point either, all you’re asserting is that your personal opinion of myself. You’ve asserted that the practical application of utilitarianism constitutes “hard work,” as part of your claim that utilitarianism is “tosh,” all I’m asking is that you demonstrate how this assertion could possibly lead to your conclusion.

    “Let's be clear:

    A. I believe that happiness should be maximised.
    B. I believe that suffering should be minimised.
    C. I think that utilitarianism is complete tosh.

    So please don't try and claim that I must be against Mom and Apple Pie, just because I think your system, as so far presented, is woolly and platitudinous.”
    If you concur with A and B, then how do you explain C? More specifically how do you define utilitarianism so that C is compatible with A and B. Clearly if you do not believe that the preferences of all persons ought to be fulfilled to the greatest extent possible, then you do not in actuality believe in A and B, except with heavy qualification. Clearly you might consider more happiness to be nice, but clearly if you do not hold utilitarianism to be an ethical prescription then you do not hold A and B to be ethical propositions either, rather you obviously mean them as generalisations that are distinct from your actual ethical system, whatever that is.

    “No, we have some basis, but it's imperfect and it's not the only factor. If everybody else prefers abortion of girl babies, I'll still be against it. I don't care about their preferences in that situation - I care about the child.”
    I also care ‘about the child’ but only insofar as mass abortion would impact upon preferences, the ‘child’ has no ethical value in and of themselves. Surely you do not consider a child being in endless suffering such that they would prefer their own death, to be morally superior to no child, therefore for your ethical alternative to be coherent there has to be a specified qualification.

    “Please stop these false binary oppositions, they're getting very annoying.”
    It isn’t a false opposition, it’s another tautology. You repeatedly questioned how it was possible to take account of the preferences of other persons, now if you’re maintaining that you do take account of other persons preferences then you are demonstrably conceding that it is possible. The fact that you believe that ethically one has to take account of some other factors in addition to the preferences of persons is irrelevant to the point that we were debating, namely whether it was possible to take account of the preferences of others. If you concede this, then the terms of our debate shifts, rather than arguing over whether utilitarian thought is possible, coherent, applicable or difficult, instead the question is whether it is sufficient in the absence of the ‘other factors’ which you consider significant.

    “I've marked exams, I know what waffle looks like. Don't think inserting the word 'properly' will get you out of it. Either you're the most brilliant philosopher ever and all the writers on utilitarianism (whom you admit you haven't read) have missed the point, or there really is a difference. They might be aiming at a common goal (atheistic ethics) but they're using a different approach. That's why they're distinguished.”
    Saying that you’ve marked exams is demonstrably irrelevant, except as simply another attempt to suggest that you know more than me. What I stated was a very clear assertion, twice, and thus far you haven’t offered a counter-argument.

    The word ‘properly’ is quite important. Bentham and Mill both believed that the right as that which brought about the most good, and both defined the ‘good’ as that which was desirable. The distinctions between them depend on disagreement not about ‘good’ or about the nature of ethics, but upon the nature of facts in the world. For example, Bentham positing that happiness could be ranked non-hierarchically, and Mill’s position that the greatest benefit could significantly be distinguished by virtue of the distinction between higher and lower pleasures. It is entirely conceivable, as with Singer, to posit that there doesn’t exists a proper distinction between the two positions, but rather than Mill’s hierarchy merely demonstrates a categorisation which draws attention to (by representation of) a fact of trends in happiness, such that a higher pleasure ceteris paribus, is by definition a greater good than a lower. Similarly the distinction between act and rule only bears practical distinction based upon disagreement upon the facts of contingent factors, since there is a disagreement it is necessary that at least one position (if they are considered opposed) is wrong. Consequently it is possible to say that, properly, namely, without the mistake about some fact about the world, there is no distinction between the two. Specifically, there exists a distinction between the two if a mistake is made in their formulations, that is, they are not formulated properly. For example, the ‘rule’ utilitarian ought properly, to act according only to the constant ethical rule, that one ought to act so as to best fulfil preferences (the very definition of act utilitarianism). Similarly the act utilitarian view that one ought to remove free speech, or kill patients in hospital to steal their organs, contra rule utilitarianism, is only wrong insofar as it incorrectly, or improperly, assumes that these actions would bring about the greater good. Since I do not concur with these statements, there is no basis for distinction if the system is formulated properly- by definition, in accordance with my view. If you think that the system thus formulated is improper, then simply make an argument demonstrating the need for demarcation.

    “Then it's probably incumbent upon you to provide some concrete guidelines on how to apply it. Let's give a real example and see what you can decide:

    A young woman of 14 finds that she is pregnant by a married 40 year old man. He works in the Home Office and is currently preparing a bill which will lower the age of consent to 12. He is paid a lot of money by tobacco and alcohol companies and he assuages his guilt by donating a lot of money to projects which build wells in the Third World. If he's exposed as a paedophile, he'll lose his job and go to prison. He'll also be unable to help bring up the child. The baby in the womb is destined to discover a cure for ovarian cancer. The girl's mother is mentally unstable and is likely to commit suicide if she discovers the pregnancy. If she does, the girl will be taken into care and has a high chance of being sexually abused there.

    Impossible? I don't think so, although some of it's clearly contrived. However I don't think you can start to tackle it from a utilitarian perspective without some calculus of the greatest good. Feel free to have a go though.”
    It isn’t incumbent upon me to provide guidelines for how one would calculate preferences in a hypothetical scenario, all that is necessary, by definition, is an acceptance or dismissal of the ethical assertion per se, that one ought to ‘act in order that preferences will be best fulfilled.’

    There is clearly no point at all in working through a hugely complex imaginary scenario as all that is pertinent is the question of what would constitute the actual ethical good. It is easy to accept that the solution which brings about the least suffering and meets the preferences of all to the best extent would be the best ethical scenario. Providing a hypothetical solution clearly adds nothing to a discussion of what end ought to be pursued ethically, because it would be entirely possible to concur on utilitarianism but hold differing views on which means which result in various consequences.

    The notion of a calculus is still completely unimportant. Stating a ‘calculus,’ by definition, unless it is a statement that it counter-utilitarian, adds nothing to the utilitarian formulation. If one accepts that ethically one ought to act so as to best fulfil preferences, then offering a calculation does not develop or add anything to the ethical system. Rather a calculus simply repeats the original assertion or else offers an approximation of what typically serves to maximise preferences. Offering an approximation or generalisation derived from one’s suppositions clearly does not strengthen, or indeed impact upon the ethical theory in the slightest.

    Similarly you misconceive the scheme of Bentham’s calculus, Bentham’s calculus would not “have a stab” at the scenario in any sense. The very point is that the hedonic calculus does not add anything to the utilitarian formulation, that which can be concluded from the two is identical. As I’ve stated several times before there is no distinction between acting so as to maximise good and acting so as to maximise good subject to the description of the hedonic calculus, unless Bentham mistakenly wrote two different theories without noticing. Bentham’s calculus might sound concrete but it is identical in all meaningful senses to the fundamental utilitarian formulation, which we’ve been debating throughout, which is of course the whole point of Bentham formulating a hedonic calculus, the sole advantage of writing the calculus in the form of several categories, and giving instructions for the order in which one might consider it, was to make it more difficult for persons to make errors in thinking of what constituted happiness.

    Since the calculus is utterly irrelevant the sole question remains, do you think one ought to act so as to best fulfil preferences without bias? This is a simple binary opposition, if you think that you need to consider persons’ preferences but not solely this, rather one ought to consider other factors, then clearly you don’t agree that ‘you ought to best fulfil preferences without bias’ because unless the factors which you consider automatically lead to the best fulfilment of preferences without bias, then you actually believe that ethically one ought to be biased towards other factors and that it is possible for the best moral solution to not minimise suffering/maximise preferences. Thus, either you believe that ought to best maximise preferences, or you believe that you ought to do ‘something else’ which may or may not make some reference to preferences as you wish.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by wanderer)
    Oh, and I'm pretty sure Joseph Fletcher would disagree on Situation Ethics being atheistic.
    I think I need to apologise. I was confusing situation ethics with moral relativism (which is apparently a frequent error).
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by TCovenant)
    It is clearly possible to speculate about what actions/consequences will bring greater happiness to oneself, and based on the behavioural indicators etc mentioned previously, possible to posit what others will prefer. [...]
    As I’ve stated previously one cannot ‘calculate’ comparative goods, because it is impossible for some-one without total knowledge of the experience of others, to acquire an objective measure of some-one’s experience.
    I agree that you can posit what others value, but you cannot establish an independent scale. Since the latter is essential to properly calculate the net result, it becomes one of the fundamental flaws in classical utilitarianism.
    In what way does my argument differ from the formulations of Bentham or Mill.
    Let's take Bentham's words:
    "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do." (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation I.1)
    So only pain and pleasure matter to Bentham. Is that what you're saying? Nothing else matters but pleasure and pain?

    He also dimisses the community as being anything more that a collection of individuals.
    "The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then, what is it? - they sum of the interests of the several members who compose it". (ibid I.IV)
    Is that something with which you'd agree?

    Bentham then sets out in detail what he considers to be rights and what offences can be committed against those rights. His calculus can be found in chapter IV. The whole thesis of that book is an attempt to systematically quantify pleasure and pain so that 'right' decisions can be made. It's all driven by his "principle of utility". You, meanwhile have denied that such a calculus is necessary.
    You’ve asserted again that my argument represents a platitude, but you haven’t stated how or where it is wrong.
    It's a platitude because it doesn't actually say anything concrete. It doesn't say how it will work in practice.
    My utilitarian formulation doesn’t differ from the utilitarian formulations of Bentham or Mill, the distinctions lie, as I said before, in disagreements about the factual basis of preference, which I outlined above.
    I've looked but Bentham never uses Love as a guiding principle at any point of the essay. To be fair though, Mill does try to draw upon the Golden Rule:
    In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. (Utilitarianism, II)
    But he also says:
    The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of mankind. (ibid)
    Which means he's borrowing the Christian's clothes, but denying what they're made of. The Christian idea of love does value sacrifice. It's not that pleasure should be incresured, purely for pleasure's sake, but that people should lay down their own interests for others. So Mill doesn't really understand what the Golden Rule is about. You've invoked Situation Ethics (about which I've apologised for my confusion) which attempts to use Love as a guiding principle. Personally I think it's nonsense in those terms - a situation merely provides mitigating circumstances ("they didn't know any better") for bad actions, rather than justifying them as if they were all good. Moral relativism is just nonsense, in my view.
    Before you seemed to disagree, now you claim that my argument doesn’t add anything distinct to the Golden Rule- which is it?
    It's both. I don't think you understand the Golden Rule or what actually underpins the Rule.
    Also, you’ve claimed again that my formulation lacks practical applications, but on what basis do you object? Is it that you disagree with the formulation per se, such that you do not think that the ethically best action is that which is most preferred and brings least suffering?
    Yes, of course I disagree. I don't believe that 'suffering' is the sole ethical guiding factor. I reject hedonism. I think that suffering is part of this world and that some actions, which involve embracing suffering are actually the highest ethical goal.

    The problem is that people are trapped in a materialistic world-view which can only recognise Bentham's pleasure and pain. Love becomes just a vehicle to enhance pleasaure. I simply don't agree.
    believe that there exists a superior methodology whereby preferences can be served?
    Preferences are not the sole basis of ethics. how many times do I need to say that?
    Given that we know that there cannot be access to an objective measure of person’s suffering, it follows that we do not have access to a numerical basis for comparing preferences. It follows therefore both that the only way we could possibly compare likely preferences is through speculation
    This would imply that your ethics can never rise above guesswork. I agree that we can't formulate a calculus, but that's exactly what's required for an ethics based upon maximising pleasure. Otherwise it's just hand-waving.
    You cite medical triage et al as including a set system for evaluation. This doesn’t matter, if one is making a utilitarian decision within a medical triage situation, then it may be for the best that a number of guidelines are laid down for ease of approximation.
    The funny thing about medical triage is that it's counter-intuitive, particularly in battlefield scenarios. You generally treat the most heavily-wounded last.
    Certainly we have the estimate the relative value of 3A vs 2B vs 1A+B+9C, but the relative value expressed numerically is necessarily purely an approximation. I’ve demonstrated that it is irrelevant,
    No, you've merely asserted that it's irrelevant. I disagree. If utilitarianism is to work, then it needs a means of measuring pleasure and pain. Bentham understood that and so did Mill.

    It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former- that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

    If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. (ibid)


    What possible benefit can working through an example bring?
    It's a common test of any ethical theory. If you can't work through an example, then it's pretty clear that the theory has no value to human beings. You keep trying to reduce everything to "either you agree with me, or not" and I clearly don't agree with you, so I'm not sure why you write so much, to so little effect.

    In my example, I wanted you to think through how you'd apply your proposed system. If you admit then it can't help with a contrived and closed example, then it's even less use in the real world where we often aren't aware of all the possible consequences. Bentham would try to apply his calculus and weight up the pluses and minuses, so would Mill, who wrote:
    defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this- that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. (ibid)
    So Mill clearly believes that there is time to make those calculations and that it's appropriate to do so. You apparently don't. That's another distinction between your philosophy and theirs.
    It depends what you mean by arithmetic. Net means in this sense, after deductions, thus in order to make a deduction all we need to is posit the relative significance of one preference to another. Do I benefit more from stealing your lemonade than you lose from being mugged? No? Then a net judgement has been made, as it is speculated that the suffering outweighs my preference for theft.
    I agree, but how did you make that assessment? Do you just make it up as a you go? Is there any obligation for consistency and coherency in your decision making on this basis?
    Clearly we are using different definitions, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situation_ethics situation ethics as in Fletcher’s formulation is clearly Christian,
    I apologise for my misunderstanding. However, let's just say that Fletcher's work is not Christian orthodoxy, whether he was a priest or not.
    What do you mean “theistic systems root morality in God, not situations?”
    I mean that whether something is moral or not is entirely up to God. It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice. So murder is wrong because God says so. However God can order the murder of a particular King and it becomes a moral act. You can argue that the situation changes, but that's confusing cause and effect.
    utilitarianism is not an ‘atheistic’ or theistic ethic.
    I disagree - it's entirely materialistic and inimical to Christianity, for example. (Bentham certainly was).
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    Moral relativism is just nonsense, in my view.
    From an atheistic perspective, its pretty much unavoidable, Kant notwithstanding.

    I apologise for my misunderstanding. However, let's just say that Fletcher's work is not Christian orthodoxy, whether he was a priest or not.
    No problem - easy to mix it up with moral consequentialism or moral relativism, as you said. Quite easy to mix those too up as well, I'm trying to get that sorted in my head at the moment - I think we may have been taught inaccurate terminology at A level.

    I mean that whether something is moral or not is entirely up to God. It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice. So murder is wrong because God says so. However God can order the murder of a particular King and it becomes a moral act. You can argue that the situation changes, but that's confusing cause and effect.
    The thing is, how are individual Christians supposed to determine what Gods decision is in a particular situation? God says lying is wrong in the OT. So say you're a Christian in Europe during the holocaust, and you hide some Jews - is lying to the S.S wrong unless God pops up and tells you its OK in this case?
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by TCovenant)
    It is clearly possible to speculate about what actions/consequences will bring greater happiness to oneself, and based on the behavioural indicators etc mentioned previously, possible to posit what others will prefer. [...]
    As I’ve stated previously one cannot ‘calculate’ comparative goods, because it is impossible for some-one without total knowledge of the experience of others, to acquire an objective measure of some-one’s experience.
    I agree that you can posit what others value, but you cannot establish an independent scale. Since the latter is essential to properly calculate the net result, it becomes one of the fundamental flaws in classical utilitarianism.
    In what way does my argument differ from the formulations of Bentham or Mill.
    Let's take Bentham's words:
    "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do." (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation I.1)
    So only pain and pleasure matter to Bentham. Is that what you're saying? Nothing else matters but pleasure and pain?

    He also dimisses the community as being anything more that a collection of individuals.
    "The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then, what is it? - they sum of the interests of the several members who compose it". (ibid I.IV)
    Is that something with which you'd agree?

    Bentham then sets out in detail what he considers to be rights and what offences can be committed against those rights. His calculus can be found in chapter IV. The whole thesis of that book is an attempt to systematically quantify pleasure and pain so that 'right' decisions can be made. It's all driven by his "principle of utility". You, meanwhile have denied that such a calculus is necessary.
    You’ve asserted again that my argument represents a platitude, but you haven’t stated how or where it is wrong.
    It's a platitude because it doesn't actually say anything concrete. It doesn't say how it will work in practice.
    My utilitarian formulation doesn’t differ from the utilitarian formulations of Bentham or Mill, the distinctions lie, as I said before, in disagreements about the factual basis of preference, which I outlined above.
    I've looked but Bentham never uses Love as a guiding principle at any point of the essay. To be fair though, Mill does try to draw upon the Golden Rule:
    In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. (Utilitarianism, II)
    But he also says:
    The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of mankind. (ibid)
    Which means he's borrowing the Christian's clothes, but denying what they're made of. The Christian idea of love does value sacrifice. It's not that pleasure should be incresured, purely for pleasure's sake, but that people should lay down their own interests for others. So Mill doesn't really understand what the Golden Rule is about. You've invoked Situation Ethics (about which I've apologised for my confusion) which attempts to use Love as a guiding principle. Personally I think it's nonsense in those terms - a situation merely provides mitigating circumstances ("they didn't know any better") for bad actions, rather than justifying them as if they were all good. Moral relativism is just nonsense, in my view.
    Before you seemed to disagree, now you claim that my argument doesn’t add anything distinct to the Golden Rule- which is it?
    It's both. I don't think you understand the Golden Rule or what actually underpins the Rule.
    Also, you’ve claimed again that my formulation lacks practical applications, but on what basis do you object? Is it that you disagree with the formulation per se, such that you do not think that the ethically best action is that which is most preferred and brings least suffering?
    Yes, of course I disagree. I don't believe that 'suffering' is the sole ethical guiding factor. I reject hedonism. I think that suffering is part of this world and that some actions, which involve embracing suffering are actually the highest ethical goal.

    The problem is that people are trapped in a materialistic world-view which can only recognise Bentham's pleasure and pain. Love becomes just a vehicle to enhance pleasaure. I simply don't agree.
    believe that there exists a superior methodology whereby preferences can be served?
    Preferences are not the sole basis of ethics. how many times do I need to say that?
    Given that we know that there cannot be access to an objective measure of person’s suffering, it follows that we do not have access to a numerical basis for comparing preferences. It follows therefore both that the only way we could possibly compare likely preferences is through speculation
    This would imply that your ethics can never rise above guesswork. I agree that we can't formulate a calculus, but that's exactly what's required for an ethics based upon maximising pleasure. Otherwise it's just hand-waving.
    You cite medical triage et al as including a set system for evaluation. This doesn’t matter, if one is making a utilitarian decision within a medical triage situation, then it may be for the best that a number of guidelines are laid down for ease of approximation.
    The funny thing about medical triage is that it's counter-intuitive, particularly in battlefield scenarios. You generally treat the most heavily-wounded last.
    Certainly we have the estimate the relative value of 3A vs 2B vs 1A+B+9C, but the relative value expressed numerically is necessarily purely an approximation. I’ve demonstrated that it is irrelevant,
    No, you've merely asserted that it's irrelevant. I disagree. If utilitarianism is to work, then it needs a means of measuring pleasure and pain. Bentham understood that and so did Mill.

    It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former- that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

    If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. (ibid)


    What possible benefit can working through an example bring?
    It's a common test of any ethical theory. If you can't work through an example, then it's pretty clear that the theory has no value to human beings. You keep trying to reduce everything to "either you agree with me, or not" and I clearly don't agree with you, so I'm not sure why you write so much, to so little effect.

    In my example, I wanted you to think through how you'd apply your proposed system. If you admit then it can't help with a contrived and closed example, then it's even less use in the real world where we often aren't aware of all the possible consequences. Bentham would try to apply his calculus and weight up the pluses and minuses, so would Mill, who wrote:
    defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this- that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. (ibid)
    So Mill clearly believes that there is time to make those calculations and that it's appropriate to do so. You apparently don't. That's another distinction between your philosophy and theirs.
    It depends what you mean by arithmetic. Net means in this sense, after deductions, thus in order to make a deduction all we need to is posit the relative significance of one preference to another. Do I benefit more from stealing your lemonade than you lose from being mugged? No? Then a net judgement has been made, as it is speculated that the suffering outweighs my preference for theft.
    I agree, but how did you make that assessment? Do you just make it up as a you go? Is there any obligation for consistency and coherency in your decision making on this basis?
    Clearly we are using different definitions, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situation_ethics situation ethics as in Fletcher’s formulation is clearly Christian,
    I apologise for my misunderstanding. However, let's just say that Fletcher's work is not Christian orthodoxy, whether he was a priest or not.
    What do you mean “theistic systems root morality in God, not situations?”
    I mean that whether something is moral or not is entirely up to God. It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice. So murder is wrong because God says so. However God can order the murder of a particular King and it becomes a moral act. You can argue that the situation changes, but that's confusing cause and effect.
    utilitarianism is not an ‘atheistic’ or theistic ethic.
    I disagree - it's entirely materialistic and inimical to Christianity, for example. (Bentham certainly was).
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by wanderer)
    The thing is, how are individual Christians supposed to determine what God's decision is in a particular situation? God says lying is wrong in the OT. So say you're a Christian in Europe during the holocaust, and you hide some Jews - is lying to the S.S wrong unless God pops up and tells you its OK in this case?
    The point about Christianity is that it involves a relationship with God, not a rule book. The Holy Spirit is sent to guide Christians and to help them make decisions as they go along. Now, it's hard to make decisions which run totally counter to the prevaling culture, so our understanding of what God wants will always be coloured by the current world-view. I think that's part of Fletcher's logic (although I haven't read him). That means that our perception of what God wants is usually viewed through the dodgy lens of the zeitgeist.

    So I don't think that God's guidance comes to us in a vacuum, but I think there's enough for us to make moral decisions. We can find examples in the New Testament. For example Paul's letter to Philemon makes it clear that he thinks that Christians whouls free their s;laves and Paul believes that all men are equal under God. However, it took a long while before Wilberforce et al took that as a mandate to overthrow slavery. From where we stand, it's hard to tell what parts of popular culture have become embedded in our views of what's Christian. Future generations may condemn our position on debt, for example.

    It's encumbent on Christians to spend time listening to God and to find out how we should live our lives both as individuals and as part of society.

    Taking your example, most people would hold to allowing a lesser sin (lying) in order to prevent a greater one (murder). There's good Biblical evidence to support that approach. Jesus taught his disciples that they should be as gentle as doves, but as wise as serpents. You have to remember that Christians believe that the world is fallen and that all temporal systems will inevitably be corrupt in some way.

    I understand that you could claim this as a utilitarian principle and lying was right because it caused the least harm. However, I think it goes further than that. We don't believe that the end justifies the means as a general principle.
    Offline

    2
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    The point about Christianity is that it involves a relationship with God, not a rule book. The Holy Spirit is sent to guide Christians and to help them make decisions as they go along. Now, it's hard to make decisions which run totally counter to the prevaling culture, so our understanding of what God wants will always be coloured by the current world-view. I think that's part of Fletcher's logic (although I haven't read him). That means that our perception of what God wants is usually viewed through the dodgy lens of the zeitgeist.

    So I don't think that God's guidance comes to us in a vacuum, but I think there's enough for us to make moral decisions. We can find examples in the New Testament. For example Paul's letter to Philemon makes it clear that he thinks that Christians whouls free their s;laves and Paul believes that all men are equal under God. However, it took a long while before Wilberforce et al took that as a mandate to overthrow slavery. From where we stand, it's hard to tell what parts of popular culture have become embedded in our views of what's Christian. Future generations may condemn our position on debt, for example.

    It's encumbent on Christians to spend time listening to God and to find out how we should live our lives both as individuals and as part of society.

    Taking your example, most people would hold to allowing a lesser sin (lying) in order to prevent a greater one (murder). There's good Biblical evidence to support that approach. Jesus taught his disciples that they should be as gentle as doves, but as wise as serpents. You have to remember that Christians believe that the world is fallen and that all temporal systems will inevitably be corrupt in some way.

    I understand that you could claim this as a utilitarian principle and lying was right because it caused the least harm. However, I think it goes further than that. We don't believe that the end justifies the means as a general principle.
    I wasn't claiming it as utilitarian, but situational - you said that "It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice." But the two aren't mutually exclusive, as we can see here - Christians have to make decisions about the morality of actions based on the situation, as most moral dillemmas arise from 'which is the lesser of two evils' typr situations.
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    “I agree that you can posit what others value, but you cannot establish an independent scale. Since the latter is essential to properly calculate the net result, it becomes one of the fundamental flaws in classical utilitarianism.”
    That is undeniably incorrect. We have already concurred that one cannot access an objective measure of other persons’ personal experience, or that one has the absolute knowledge to absolutely calculate total consequences of effect.

    It is not correct however, to argue that the fact that one cannot establish an objective, ‘independent scale’ of what persons value, renders utilitarianism possible. We can speculate, or as you say ‘posit what others value’ and thus we posit as to the relative preferentiality of these various preferences. All one need be able to do for utilitarianism is to be able to posit what others value and the relative strength of these preferences. We know intuitively that we would prefer to lose a glove relative to losing a hand, the absence of an objective scale of experience does not render it any less significant. Consequently the only question pertinent is whether it is possible to posit the relative value of preferences, and whether ethically we ought to do so. The former is undeniable, which only leaves the second to debate, at which point you can object that ethically one ought to consider other things beside preferences, but that is a distinct question from the possibility of utilitarianism.

    “Let's take Bentham's words:
    "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do." (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation I.1)
    So only pain and pleasure matter to Bentham. Is that what you're saying? Nothing else matters but pleasure and pain?”
    Since I exist post-Bentham, it is difficult to state whether he would agree with me. My own formulation holds that it is net preferences which are intrinsically significant, because agents are intrinsically benefited or harmed by the providence/frustration of their preferences. ‘Pleasure’ and ‘pain’ as a formulation works absolutely, if the two are conceived correctly, rather than in the crude sense typically levelled against Bentham, (i.e. pleasure conceived of as purely animalistic and thus offers a philosophy for ‘swine’) obviously Mill covered this in his delineation of a hierarchy of pleasures- whether he was right to criticise Bentham for this or whether Bentham would actually have concurred with Mill (and whether Mill would latterly concur with Singer) is just a historical curiosity. The point philosophically, is that understood correctly, in Mill’s hierarchy pleasure/pain and preferences accord exactly, hence why it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. Mill still holds that that which is desirable is defined exclusively by that which is desired, but this doesn’t denote that a pig/rapist/alcoholic enjoys a preferable amount of pleasure than Socrates.

    ”He also dimisses the community as being anything more that a collection of individuals.
    "The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then, what is it? - they sum of the interests of the several members who compose it". (ibid I.IV)
    Is that something with which you'd agree?”
    Yes, obviously, the ‘community’ exists purely as a socially constructed concept, that is not to deny that one must take account of the fact that the community-members possess a conception of ‘community,’ and thus have preferences related to their possession of the concept.

    ”Bentham then sets out in detail what he considers to be rights and what offences can be committed against those rights. His calculus can be found in chapter IV. The whole thesis of that book is an attempt to systematically quantify pleasure and pain so that 'right' decisions can be made. It's all driven by his "principle of utility". You, meanwhile have denied that such a calculus is necessary.”
    He also stresses that the whole point of his thesis is that these rights possess no moral force except insofar as they reflect his utilitarian formulation: act so as to best maximise good. The system of rights is designed specifically that is could be reduced immediately to all persons possessing the capacity for pleasure/pain (all persons who possess interests/preferences) have a right to equal consideration of interests, which can itself immediately be reduced to ‘one ought to act so as to provide the greatest good.’

    The thesis of the book is to set out his thesis for what the good is, which can be summarised entirely (by his own definition) as ‘the greatest good, providing the greatest pleasure and the least suffering,’ and latterly an attempt to describe this process that people cannot misunderstand what this assertion means. Obviously, his elaborations are intended precisely to add and subtract nothing from his original formulation, otherwise he wouldn’t make the original formulation.

    Chapter IV delineates simply a description of the ways in which good can be lesser or greater. As I stated previously these descriptions are the immediate logical conclusion of his original thesis. He states that pleasure is good and suffering bad, because it is by nature true that it is good for a person to experience pleasure and bad that they should suffer, by nature all persons prefer pleasure over suffering.

    Thus, if pleasure is good, it adds nothing at all to state that:
    More intense pleasure is more intensely good than less intense pleasure.
    Longer lasting pleasure is a longer lasting good than less longer lasting good, etc etc.
    Bentham’s intention, which is clear from his design is that his calculus is not distinct from the utilitarian formulation.

    The sole reason for elaborating is to stop persons who don’t understand from further misunderstanding: i.e. thinking that is would be good to kill a hundred people, providing it brings happiness. Mill’s later elaboration is not to change the premise that the greatest good is that which is most desired, rather he simply demonstrates that an enjoyment of opera is more desirable than an enjoyment of one’s alcoholism.

    “It's a platitude because it doesn't actually say anything concrete. It doesn't say how it will work in practice.”
    I’ve already demonstrated how it will work in practise.
    If we accept the premise of the utilitarian goal; which isn’t what you’ve criticised rather you’ve asked how it ‘will work in practise,’ then it is incumbent upon ethical agents to act ‘so as to best fulfil preferences.’
    We’ve agreed that one, by nature cannot access an objective measure of preferences, therefore one has to speculate, based on our understanding of cause and consequence and that which we ‘posit others value.’ Such speculation is demonstrably possible, if we can reasonably assume that persons prefer not to die, generally, and can reasonably assume that shooting some-one will contradict this, then the utilitarian process is immediately vindicated. Suggesting that this is superficial is beside the point, because it makes no difference to utilitarianism is ethically correct, even if you are of the opinion that in practise it is almost impossible to act ethically.

    The only valid counter-assertion would be to demonstrate that either ‘one ought to act so as to best fulfil preferences’ is false (including if you believe that one ought to take into account other ethical rules thus offering a non-utilitarian definition of good), or one must preferences than acting so as to best maximise preferences. If the assertion is not demonstrated to be false per se, then it doesn’t matter whether or not ‘it can’t work in practise’ because it would be entirely coherent to accept that the fulfilment of preferences is intrinsically good, but that one can never have a basis to determine one’s action in practise.

    “I've looked but Bentham never uses Love as a guiding principle at any point of the essay.”
    I didn’t say that either he or I did. I said that situation ethics logically leads to utilitarianism, Hare asserted the same thing of Kantianism, but didn’t claim that Bentham used Kant as a guide.

    “ To be fair though, Mill does try to draw upon the Golden Rule:
    In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. (Utilitarianism, II)
    But he also says:
    The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others. It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others; either of mankind collectively, or of individuals within the limits imposed by the collective interests of mankind. (ibid)
    Which means he's borrowing the Christian's clothes, but denying what they're made of. The Christian idea of love does value sacrifice. It's not that pleasure should be incresured, purely for pleasure's sake, but that people should lay down their own interests for others. So Mill doesn't really understand what the Golden Rule is about.”
    Mill is entirely correct, and in any case doesn’t draw on the Golden Rule, he states that logically followed it is identical to utilitarianism.
    He’s in no sense “borrowing Christian clothes but denying what they’re made of.” As you say sacrifice has value “not that pleasure should be incresured, purely for pleasure's sake, but that people should lay down their own interests for others.” This is precisely Mill’s point, that one should sacrifice one’s own interests for the interests of others, your objection seems to hinge on a distinction between pleasure and interests which Mill would deny. If you’re asserting that sacrifice has intrinsic value, then you’re clearly asserting a different thesis altogether- if sacrifice is not in order to bring some benefit, then it is simply arbitrarily choosing a situation that is less preferable for the self, without benefiting any-one, if a sacrifice brings any benefit whatsoever beyond being a personal sacrifice then it improves preferences.

    “You've invoked Situation Ethics (about which I've apologised for my confusion) which attempts to use Love as a guiding principle. Personally I think it's nonsense in those terms - a situation merely provides mitigating circumstances ("they didn't know any better") for bad actions, rather than justifying them as if they were all good. Moral relativism is just nonsense, in my view.”
    If you argue that a situation provides mitigating circumstances then you’re arguing for the ethical status of the individual, not the ethical status of the act. Similarly there is no reason to suggest that situation justifies situations as if they were “all good,” the sole demand is that the action be the most good that it could be. Further situation ethics isn’t an example of moral relativism, it offers the agape principle as an absolute ethical standard, as with the utilitarian rule.

    “It's both. I don't think you understand the Golden Rule or what actually underpins the Rule.”
    If it doesn’t offer anything distinct to the Golden Rule, then it would seem that you’re suggesting parity between the two, rather than suggesting that my comparison of the two is based on a misunderstanding.

    What ‘underpins’ the Golden Rule is irrelevant, except insofar as it forms a part of the Golden Rule itself; if one loves one’s neighbours as oneself, then surely one must treat one’s neighbours’ interests as one’s own? If one accepts the Golden Rule, and happens to believe that there exists an intrinsic ethical value to something else, distinct from its impact upon persons, then there would be a difference, but this wouldn’t be a difference between utilitarianism and GR, it would be a difference between utilitarianism and Golden Rule + the ethical prescription to consider something distinct from persons’ interests as holding potentially greater ethical significance than the preferences of persons.

    “Yes, of course I disagree. I don't believe that 'suffering' is the sole ethical guiding factor. I reject hedonism. I think that suffering is part of this world and that some actions, which involve embracing suffering are actually the highest ethical goal.

    The problem is that people are trapped in a materialistic world-view which can only recognise Bentham's pleasure and pain. Love becomes just a vehicle to enhance pleasaure. I simply don't agree.”
    Claiming that utilitarianism is “materialistic” is potentially misleading. Utilitarianism is based on the totality of human experience, and the resulting preferences thereof, within its scope lies any preference of a person for any conceivable object (material or non), the point is that it is preferable. If you believe that there exists an intrinsic ethical good to something ‘non-material’ and something beyond the scope of humans to find it preferable, then this is the reason why you dismiss utilitarianism, a fact that should be outlined clearly. It’s reasonable that you disagree, but doesn’t touch on the validity of utilitarianism outside of the presupposition that it is wrong.

    Stating that Love has become a vehicle to enhance pleasure is similarly problematic, the ethical point is not to do with the judgement of the place of Love, the point is ‘what is ethical’ and ‘if one holds to the principle of self-sacrificial Love, in what manner ought one to act towards them?’ ought one to moderate your treatment of persons by a consideration of what brings them suffering or pleasure and what they would themselves prefer, or ought you to disregard this and treat them according to a different normative principle (which potentially could include such a consideration), if so, what?

    “Preferences are not the sole basis of ethics. how many times do I need to say that?”
    I know that you don’t agree with the utilitarian principle, but you criticised utilitarianism on the basis that you thought it was a ‘platitude with no practical applications’. My point therefore was that it was a significant assertion and was practically applicable. If you are now asserting that it is a significant assertion, but that you disagree with it, then it is a different point altogether, and requires a defence of your non-preference based ethics, rather than a defence from me that utilitarianism represents a proposition which can be discussed and hypothetically, practically applied.

    “This would imply that your ethics can never rise above guesswork. I agree that we can't formulate a calculus, but that's exactly what's required for an ethics based upon maximising pleasure. Otherwise it's just hand-waving.”
    It does more than imply, it states precisely that the only possible way we can judge the effects of our action on others is through speculation. Repeating the word guesswork whenever I say speculation doesn’t add anything- either we agree that one can reasonably speculate as to whether punching some-one will meet their preferences, or else you hold that we don’t have a basis to judge the probability of preferences.

    For ethics to be based on maximising pleasure only one thing is required- the acceptance that pleasure is ethically superior to suffering. For it to be practically possible to base ethical behaviour on maximising pleasure all one need is the possibility, however slight, of being able to speculate as to whether an action is more or less likely to bring more or less pleasure. This is a binary opposition, if it is possible in some circumstances to do so, then one can act ethically according to the principle of maximising pleasure/minimising harm, whether or not one finds the world so complex that one only feels capable of making such a decision very rarely to a very small extent, if one believe that it is impossible to ever speculate as to whether action will bring harm or suffering, then it is clearly impossible to ever take account of the suffering of others. If you believe that suffering/pleasure is significant, but not the sole consideration then one falls into the former camp, and accept the possibility of a utilitarian ethic in practise. Even if it is unutterably complex to judge one’s actions, and as such trying to act ethically is ‘hand-waving,’ it makes no difference to whether causing suffering is an ethical wrong. If you believe that it is at all possible, but that there are other considerations then this is a distinct point from the viability of utilitarianism.

    “The funny thing about medical triage is that it's counter-intuitive, particularly in battlefield scenarios. You generally treat the most heavily-wounded last.”
    However counter-intuitive there is still a basis for disagreement, based on discussion of the means by which the ends will be best served; the significant point is that such a ‘calculus’ while being concrete, is an artificial construction based upon a generalisation of things which are simply likely to lead to good vicariously, more often than not.
    ...
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by grumballcake)
    “No, you've merely asserted that it's irrelevant. I disagree. If utilitarianism is to work, then it needs a means of measuring pleasure and pain. Bentham understood that and so did Mill.
    It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former- that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

    If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. (ibid)”
    If you’d quoted all of my sentence rather than just the assertion, then you’d have included my explanation for why the assertion was justified. You claimed that it was necessary to demonstrate a “worked example,” which as I stated is undeniably irrelevant, because what is significant to utilitarianism is whether or not the assertion of utilitarianism ‘that one ought act solely so as to maximise preferences’ is ethically correct. Accepting or denying that this is a valid ethical assertion is by nature a separate issue to any demonstration of workings based on the assertion.

    The quotation makes precisely the same assertion that I have made- that preferentiality is decided exclusively by that which is most preferred: “one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure” and also that a type of good may generally more preferable to a different (artificial) category of goods, such as metal over bodily, or social over combative, but that this is merely a generalisation, not a rule with any force about those categories in themselves: “utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former- that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature.”

    If I give you a hundred situations wherein I tell you what I think is good, it offers you no* proof that I have correctly defined good, if there isn’t previous agreement upon what good would constitute. Inevitably if I offer ‘concrete workings’ of an imaginary scenario, there is no reason why you can not simply state that you disagree based on your own view on the original premise of what actually is ethical.

    Further, it is misleading to assert that I don’t accept that one needs a means of judging examples of relative pleasure and pain in order to judge examples of relative pleasure and pain. As I have asserted extensively, the only basis upon which we can judge relative preferences is by speculation based on behaviourism, self-knowledge and scientific theorisations. I’ve also asserted that since this is undeniably the sole basis upon which such judgements could be made, any model of a numerical scale, is purely an approximation. If some-one asks “what about X on a scale 1-10?” they are not positing a scientific measure whereby one can measure X objectively, rather, the scale is simply a means of representing one’s speculation of X relative to something of the same type.

    If you can posit a methodology whereby one can actually access a persons experience as an objective measure, then all well and good, if not then the possibilities are either that one judge persons preferences on a different basis, or that one dismiss the possibility of taking account of a person’s suffering to any extent. Any other assertion is simply stressing that utilitarianism is very difficult.
    Both Bentham and Mill judged the preferences of persons based on exactly the same factors that I have denoted, any other judgement could only ever be a guide, whereby one states rules which generally suit preferences. These generalisations have no force in themselves, as clearly they are merely exactly the same process, phrased less specifically. For example, based on the previous speculations about what persons prefer, one could say that ‘killing persons is generally’ bad, and add a potentially infinite number of distinct qualifiers, until one’s generalisations are as specific as the total number of situations one could face, but crucially, such a point would be exactly identical to the original speculation about what persons might prefer because it would be derived entirely from exactly this foundational speculation.

    “It's a common test of any ethical theory. If you can't work through an example, then it's pretty clear that the theory has no value to human beings. You keep trying to reduce everything to "either you agree with me, or not" and I clearly don't agree with you, so I'm not sure why you write so much, to so little effect.

    In my example, I wanted you to think through how you'd apply your proposed system. If you admit then it can't help with a contrived and closed example, then it's even less use in the real world where we often aren't aware of all the possible consequences. Bentham would try to apply his calculus and weight up the pluses and minuses, so would Mill, who wrote:
    defenders of utility often find themselves called upon to reply to such objections as this- that there is not time, previous to action, for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by Christianity, because there is not time, on every occasion on which anything has to be done, to read through the Old and New Testaments. (ibid)
    So Mill clearly believes that there is time to make those calculations and that it's appropriate to do so. You apparently don't. That's another distinction between your philosophy and theirs.”
    That is incorrect. You must agree that the actual validity of an ethical theory is whether it is accurate in itself, working through an example is demonstrably of no benefit, because since you disagree with the theory it is completely incidental whether you agree with the conclusions drawn from it. Further, even if you did agree with utilitarianism, and me in every ethical respect, you could still easily disagree with a worked example on the basis of disagreement about ‘real world’ facts, sociology etc. Further to this I’ve given you a hundred worked examples, regarding the basis upon which one can validly conclude that stealing some-one’s possessions, or murdering them is wrong from a utilitarian view. One can object that these examples are ‘superficial’ but it makes no difference, were I to offer worked examples for an infinite number of possible scenarios, representing, if you like, my speculations numerically, your objections or agreement would take one of two forms, either you could assert that I was wrong because what I have defined as good (namely the utilitarian formulation) is incorrect, and thus that in solely acting so as to best satisfy preferences I have erred, or you could claim that I have incorrectly calculated the consequences which will bring most satisfaction of preferences. If you make the former objection, then our disagreement is about whether the utilitarian theory ‘act so as to best fulfil preferences’ is a correct ethical assertion, and thus the worked example is irrelevant; if you make the latter objection and claim that I have incorrectly worked out what will, in the scenario, bring the greatest fulfilment of preferences, then your objection is not to do with utilitarianism at all, but rather is a disagreement between us about our views of what persons prefer and what results from actions. Consequently the worked example is undeniably irrelevant.

    You refer to Mill and Bentham applying their calculus again, but this is wholly irrelevant. Mill and Bentham both asserted that the greatest good was attained by causing the greatest fulfilment of the desires. Neither claimed to have access to a measure thereof in an objective form, would be an obvious contradiction. Bentham asserted that one ought to act so as to result in the most happiness- that one adds up “plusses and minuses” is obvious, and no different from what I’ve asserted. Stating that Bentham would use his calculus, whereas I believe this is impossible is utterly false. Bentham’s hedonic calculus is in no way distinct from his original formulation, if it were he would be contradicting himself. If Bentham were considering a situation his goal would doubtless be to consider what would bring the most happiness for persons. There is no distinction between considering what will bring the most happiness, and considering what will bring the most long lasting, most intense, most certain, least remote, most fecund, most pure happiness to the greatest possible extent. It is assumed that the nature of good is such that more of it is better than less, and longer lasting better than shorter lasting, consequently it is by definition exactly the same thing to apply the utilitarian principle to a problem, as to apply the hedonic calculus. Demanding a calculus is clearly wrong, and claiming that Bentham and Mill are distinct from myself, in that they possess concrete ‘rules’ is demonstrably false. The proposition by Bentham, Mill and all utilitarians is that the utilitarian principle ‘act so as to bring about the most good (the most desired result)’ is correct; any calculus stated thereafter is therefore not different in any form, to the original assertion, the whole point is that they are identical. The hedonic calculus is tautologically identical to the utility principle. Mill’s generalisations as to whether mental or bodily pleasure are preferable are specified precisely as generalisations, expressing one’s speculation about preferences in a more general form. The claim that Mill and Bentham assert anything distinct to myself because they are ‘with calculus’ and I am without, is clearly incorrect as the two views are entirely identical.

    “I agree, but how did you make that assessment? Do you just make it up as a you go? Is there any obligation for consistency and coherency in your decision making on this basis?”
    The assessment is based upon the best of our knowledge at the time, speculating as to probable preferences. You can reasonably speculate that you would prefer gain a doctorate than not, and can similarly assume that other persons in your position concur. There is no objective measure you can offer to formalise this assessment except as a model that approximates the speculation you begin with. In discussion you can assert various reasons why this seems reasonable, but these generalisations are not rules in themselves and carry no force except as an expression of one’s observations that can be more or less likely than not, to be accurate and helpful judgements about other persons preferences. The important thing, fundamentally is an acknowledgement that persons do have preferences, and that judgement can be made reasonably about the respective weights thereof. If one accepts that it is possible to speculate reasonably as to relative weight of preferences then the question of how, is purely one of describing what we already acknowledge that we do, any objection leads necessarily either to an alternative methodology or the acceptance that we cannot consider another’s likely preference.

    Consistency and coherency are necessarily concomitant with ‘speculating as to person’s preferences (to the best of one’s current knowledge). We lack omniscience or access to total knowledge of person’s preferences, therefore the best that one can do is ‘the best speculation as to current preferences’ by definition. Stating a formalised system, “does the person express a preference overtly? Have you observed expressions of pain or pleasure the last time you acted accordingly with that person? Have you observed pain or pleasure when acting accordingly with another persons? Etc” would simply represent another series of generalisations based on the totality of our knowledge of other persons at the current time. As such, such a system cannot be considered to have any weight or significance in itself, it is only useful for the purposes of guiding some-one with little knowledge. For example, were we faced with alien visitors who asked ‘How ought we to act?’ the best way to communicate quickly a system that would maximise the actual ethical goal (the only ethical statement that has any force), ‘meet preferences as well as is possible,’ would be to quickly say “Well don’t touch anything. If you see any thing that’s moving or making a noise, it’s a good idea not to point your lazers at it. If anything stands near you and makes a noise and looks like me, don’t bare your teeth at it etc.” Such a system of ‘ethics’ would functionally be the same as any form of system for calculating the greatest good, other than a purely tautological repetition of ‘cause the greatest preferences to be fulfilled’ as it would simply offer generalised guidelines that have no significance except that they serve to maximise the greater good more often than not.

    “I mean that whether something is moral or not is entirely up to God. It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice. So murder is wrong because God says so. However God can order the murder of a particular King and it becomes a moral act. You can argue that the situation changes, but that's confusing cause and effect.”
    That makes no references to situations though, which precludes the possibility or basing our ethical judgements upon our observations of the world- which you may well accept, clearly. Nevertheless it raises the problem of endeavouring to know the “say so” of God. Functionally, unless the will of God is known directly, in the situations in which we have to act, morality would practically have to be derived from a system of ethical assertions which constitute morality, which are assumed to be derived directly from God.

    “I disagree - it's entirely materialistic and inimical to Christianity, for example. (Bentham certainly was).”
    It doesn’t follow that utilitarianism is therefore either atheistic or theistic, as it is entirely possible to be utilitarian or not, whether or not one is theistic or atheistic. The fact that many persons of faith hold to non-rational (no offence intended) moral systems, does not suggest a necessary link.
    *(edited in)
    Offline

    12
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by wanderer)
    I wasn't claiming it as utilitarian, but situational - you said that "It doesn't depend on the situation for its grounding in morality, but upon God's choice." But the two aren't mutually exclusive, as we can see here - Christians have to make decisions about the morality of actions based on the situation, as most moral dillemmas arise from 'which is the lesser of two evils' typr situations.

    Can I start up about Wittgenstein, rule following, and how we can only understand God's prescripts by observing interpretation through his actions? Can I? Can I? huh? huh?
 
 
 
Turn on thread page Beta
Updated: September 14, 2010

University open days

  1. University of Cambridge
    Christ's College Undergraduate
    Wed, 26 Sep '18
  2. Norwich University of the Arts
    Undergraduate Open Days Undergraduate
    Fri, 28 Sep '18
  3. Edge Hill University
    Faculty of Health and Social Care Undergraduate
    Sat, 29 Sep '18
Poll
Which accompaniment is best?

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

Write a reply...
Reply
Hide
Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.