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Questioning Natural Rights: Utilitarianism

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Title: Questioning Natural Rights: Utilitarianism


1
Questioning Natural RightsUtilitarianism
  • ER 11, Spring 2012

2
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3
  • First suspicion
  • Can there be foundations for rights/morality
    without God?

4
  • Yes, in principle there can
  • but we have yet to offer an account

5
  • Second suspicion
  • Maybe rights are not as important as we thought?

6
  • Maybe they are not foundational?

7
Utilitarianism
  • act in such a way that brings about maximal
    amount of net happiness (compared to other
    available actions)
  • Focused on consequences of actions states of
    affairs
  • Thinks of consequences in terms of overall
    happiness
  • Aggregates happiness - does not care about
    distribution

8
Example
  • Scenario 1 -- Units of happiness 10, 10, 10, 10,
    10
  • Scenario 2 Units of happiness 20, 5, 5, 20, 5
  • Utilitarians choose 2

9
What utilitarianism is not..
  • greatest happiness of greatest number
  • Incoherent, like search for house that is both
    cheapest and largest

10
What utilitarianism is not..
  • greatest happiness of the greatest number
  • Incoherent, like search for the house that is
    both cheapest and largest

11
What utilitarianism is not..
  • greatest happiness of the greatest number
  • Incoherent, like search for the house that is
    both cheapest and largest

12
Why utilitarianism?
  • Intuitively plausible just seems correct that
    one ought always to do what promotes overall good
  • Seems to capture essence of morality
    impartiality
  • simple, determinate

13
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
  • Social reformer
  • Prisons, animals
  • Against theology, conventional morality

14
  • Natural rights nonsense upon stilts
  • No good foundation available for them

15
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16
Bentham Association
17
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
  • The creed which accepts as the foundation of
    morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness
    Principle, holds that actions are right in
    proportion as they tend to promote happiness,
    wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of
    happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and
    the absence of pain by unhappiness, pain, and
    the privation of pleasure. (chapter 2)
  • the greatest amount of happiness altogether

18
Happiness Pleasure
  • Bentham all pleasures count equally
  • Mill higher and lower pleasures
  • Judgments of those who know both
  • Better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig
    satisfied

19
Two kinds of utilitarianism
  • Act-utilitarianism maximize happiness for each
    action
  • Utilitarians will never stop calculating need
    more information than they normally have
  • Rule-utilitarianism maximize happiness at level
    of rules
  • But what if exception to rule creates more
    happiness?

20
Careful
  • Not always clear which version of utilitarianism
    an author defends
  • Case in point Mill

21
Approaching Mill chapter -- Reaction to
utilitarianism
  • Concerns about distribution fairness matters
    too
  • Focus on happiness not anything that makes
    individuals happy creates claims on others
  • Asking too much of individuals

22
Utilitarianism and rights
  • Sheriff in remote town
  • Should he give one innocent person to the mob so
    that several others are saved?
  • Doesnt the innocent person have a right that
    this not be done?

23
Utilitarianism and rights
  • Forced organ donations?

24
Utilitarianism and Rights
  • In all ages of speculation, one of the strongest
    obstacles to the reception of the doctrine that
    Utility or Happiness is the criterion of right
    and wrong, has been drawn from the idea of
    justice. (p 1)
  • Chapter V of Ut.

25
Mills strategy
  • show that utilitarianism can say everything about
    rights/justice that makes sense to say
  • not basic (natural), but highly derivative
    devices of social coordination

26
A central Passage
  • To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have
    something which society ought to defend me in the
    possession of. If the objector goes on to ask,
    why it ought? I can give him no other reason than
    general utility. () The interest involved is
    that of security, to every one's feelings the
    most vital of all interests. (.) Our notion,
    therefore, of the claim we have on our
    fellow-creatures to join in making safe for us
    the very groundwork of our existence, gathers
    feelings around it so much more intense than
    those concerned in any of the more common cases
    of utility, that the difference in degree ()
    becomes a real difference in kind.

27
  • But what happens to rights if considerations of
    general utility outweigh them?

28
Another central passage
  • Justice is a name for certain moral
    requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand
    higher in the scale of social utility, and are
    therefore of more paramount obligation, than any
    others though particular cases may occur in
    which some other social duty is so important, as
    to overrule any one of the general maxims of
    justice. Thus, to save a life, it may not only be
    allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by
    force, the necessary food or medicine, or to
    kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only
    qualified medical practitioner.

29
  • Rights are suspended if considerations of
    general utility outweigh them

30
Upshot
  • In light of sheriff/forced organ donation
    scenarios, rights are too important to give up on
    them to the extent utilitarianism does
  • But Benthams skepticism specifically of natural
    rights might still be correct
  • Must see whether we can make sense of them in
    some other way before we give up on them

31
  • Second suspicion
  • Maybe rights are not as important as we thought?

32
  • Answer
  • Rights really are as important as we thought, but
    we still need a good account of human rights

33
Gallery of Skeptics Demanding Answers
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