Utilitarianism

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Angelbee1
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#1
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#1
Hi guys!
Can you help me !!
What is the issue around partiality with utilitarianism?
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ml.1612
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#2
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(Original post by Angelbee1)
Hi guys!
Can you help me !!
What is the issue around partiality with utilitarianism?
I haven't studied utilitarianism at A-level so I'm not sure exactly what the course requires you to think about on this question. But I'd read it as something like this: Utilitarianism seems unreasonably impartial.

We all seem to treat our family and friends favourably over others. The same person who would donate their kidney to save their brother may not do so to save a total stranger. At school, you may share a packet of crisps with your friends, but not with the whole canteen. Indeed, most people see nothing wrong with this kind of preference over those people who are closest to you. This seems an important part of life, and of value to us.

When determining what actions are morally required of people, the utilitarian can appeal only to the principle of the greatest happiness. This gives them no special provision for treating friends any differently than strangers. We cannot preference our friends when making decisions, because in doing so, we may deviate from the greatest happiness, which is prohibited by utilitarianism. If we're following the principle of utility strictly, we shoudl give no special attention to our friends, insofar as doing otherwise would produce more happiness.

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A standard response would be that it does, in fact, serve the greatest happiness to treat your friends with special interest. There is a co-incidence here between serving the greatest happiness and treating your friends well. The though is that, if we do suddenly reject any kind of special treatment for our friends, the whole institution of 'friendship', which many would suggest is very good for the general happiness, would collapse. This is to say that there is benefits to the greatest happiness for maintaining relations of friendship (similarly with family relations).

Theres a lot of literature on 'multi-level' utilitarianism, which suggests that while the morality of actions are determined by an appeal to the greatest happiness, this is not necessarily the best 'decision rule' - the way in which we should decide what action to take. If we blindly follow the principle of utility, we are likely to error in quite disastrous ways. We might be better off following some different principle, which itself is justified by the fact that following this principle produces the greatest happiness.

I won't go into too much detail here about the 'multi-level' distinction, but it seems sensible that "treat your friends well" may be part of a good decision rule. If we go around treating our friends no differently from strangers, we may accidentally produce a world that's far worse than the one where we have friends, so from a utilitarian perspective, it's better to have friends.

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There are two obvious ways you could dig into this response. Firstly, it's quite a bold statement to say that treating your friends with partiality will always contribute to the greatest happiness. Moreover, this is an empirical statement - it would be impossible to prove this a prioiri. So we're relying on quite a strong - although some would argue, reasonable - assumption that partiality does actually contribute to the greatest utility. It seems though that we could construct a case where it would be better to treat everyone with impartiality, and not preference your friends, in which case, the utilitarian would have to accept that partiality towards their friends is morally wrong.

But there's a slightly deeper objection. Even if it's true that being partial to your friends is better for the general utility than any other course of action (i.e. if our standard intuitive moral judgements about friendship are correct), it seems that the utilitarian misses the point of friendship. If my friend asked you why you shared your chips with her, and I replied with "because the greatest happiness told me so", she'd probably not feel particularly warmly. How is that different from "because the teacher told me so"? It doesn't capture descriptively our feelings about friendship, as being distinct from these moral calculations. It's often a powerful objection in ethics to say that, even if a theory gets it correct, it may do so for the wrong reasons. It may be accurate prescriptively, but fail to explain descriptively why we have certain obligations.

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Hope this is helpful! As I said, this is not related to any course in particular - these are just some thoughts related to how that which utilitarianism requires us to do often differs from our intuitions about what is right.
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C,D,Eb,F,D,Bb,C
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#3
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#3
(Original post by Angelbee1)
Hi guys!
Can you help me !!
What is the issue around partiality with utilitarianism?
Boils down to this: (and I like the previous response too, but this is my take, as an A-Level student...btw good luck for Thursday if you are in year 13!)

Utilitarianism wants to produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest number. Additionally, because of the egalitarian and originally, government influencing nature of the theory, it emphasises that 'each is to count for one, and none for more than one'. Thus, when applied to individual moral decisions, there should be no 'special pleading', e.g you should save the doctor who will cure cancer, rather than your child in a situation when they are both in a burning building and you can only save one, since you should give no extra moral weight to someone you care about when making a moral decision. Mill emphasises that utilitarianism requires the moral agent to be STRICTLY IMPARTIAL as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.

And so, it is obvious to say, we would rather save our child than the doctor etc. A good Michael Lacewing summary is: "A rule that allows partiality to family and friends will create more happiness than a rule that requires us to be impartial all the time. "

Hope this is clear
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Angelbee1
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#4
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#4
(Original post by C,D,Eb,F,D,Bb,C)
Boils down to this: (and I like the previous response too, but this is my take, as an A-Level student...btw good luck for Thursday if you are in year 13!)

Utilitarianism wants to produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest number. Additionally, because of the egalitarian and originally, government influencing nature of the theory, it emphasises that 'each is to count for one, and none for more than one'. Thus, when applied to individual moral decisions, there should be no 'special pleading', e.g you should save the doctor who will cure cancer, rather than your child in a situation when they are both in a burning building and you can only save one, since you should give no extra moral weight to someone you care about when making a moral decision. Mill emphasises that utilitarianism requires the moral agent to be STRICTLY IMPARTIAL as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.

And so, it is obvious to say, we would rather save our child than the doctor etc. A good Michael Lacewing summary is: "A rule that allows partiality to family and friends will create more happiness than a rule that requires us to be impartial all the time. "

Hope this is clear
thank you!!!
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