Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Indirect Utilitarianism


Can Utilitarianism save integrity? Can we love our families for their own sake, or respect certain laws for their own sake whilst simultaneously maintaining a utilitarian stance?

This is the aim of indirect utilitarianism. That the maximization of the good is used to evaluate our actions and not as the motivation or decision procedure of our actions.

So I can love my family not because it increases happiness but for their own sake because doing this overall or in the long run increases happiness.

Rule Utilitarians think an “act is right when it is accordance with a rule whose general acceptance produces the most (actual or expected) utility.

Act Utilitarians evaluate “individual acts according to their (actual or expected” utility.” (p.43 Course Reader)

So according to rule Utilitarians I should keep my promises even though a single act of breaking a promise may greatly maximize utility.

The first problem with this is one of motivation, can I say to my friend they are my friend for their own sake or because as a general rule having friends promotes happiness or utility of some kind? I am still treating my friends and family instrumentally and to actually treat them as an ends whilst at the same time treat them as a means requires an act of doublethink or self-induced schizophrenia.

The second problem is that you are now committing to acting in certain situations so as to not produce the maximum good because following the rule generally maximizes good. This is not the greatest good for the greatest number and it certainly doesn’t resemble utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is a mechanical normative theory with an abstract ideal in mind and whilst its logic seems intuitive its consequences and demands are not.

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