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Philosophy E166: Ethical Theory

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Title: Philosophy E166: Ethical Theory


1
Philosophy E166 Ethical Theory
  • Spring 2013, Week Eleven
  • Benthams Utilitarianism

2
Jeremy Bentham(1748-1832)
3
Facts about Bentham
  • Bentham was born on Feb 15, 1748 in London,
    England.
  • He was a precocious child who learned Latin,
    Greek, and French before he was 10.
  • He went to Oxford and took his degree at the age
    of 15.
  • Bentham and Benthamites like James and John
    Stuart Mill were considered radicals among the
    English establishment.
  • In 1823, Bentham founded a radical periodical
    called The Westminster Review.
  • He died in 1832 in London.
  • His body is preserved as an auto-icon at
    University College London http//www.youtube.com/
    watch?v5_PHRLg4FAs
  • He offered a systematization of utilitarianism.

4
Early Utilitarianism
  • The earliest writers we in the utilitarian
    tradition were theologians Richard Cumberland
    (1631-1718), John Gay (1699-1745)
  • They held that God wanted human happiness and
    that devotion to God was thus devotion to human
    happiness
  • Humes utilitarianism can be seen as secularizing
    this early utilitarianism
  • But that left the problem of motivation why be
    focused on human happiness with a benefit from it
    in the afterlife?

5
(No Transcript)
6
Hume on Utility
  • We may observe that, in displaying the praises
    of any humane, beneficent man, there is one
    circumstance which never fails to be amply
    insisted on, namely, the happiness and
    satisfaction, derived to society from his
    intercourse and good offices. (EM, sec. 2, 1)
  • As these topics of praise never fail to be
    employed, and with success, where we would
    inspire esteem for any one may it not thence be
    concluded, that the utility, resulting from the
    social virtues, forms, at least, a part of their
    merit, and is one source of that approbation and
    regard so universally paid to them? (EM, sec. 2,
    3)

7
Humes Utilitarianism
  • In all determinations of morality, this
    circumstance of public utility is ever
    principally in view and wherever disputes arise,
    either in philosophy or common life, concerning
    the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any
    means, be decided with greater certainty, than by
    ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of
    mankind. My emphasis. If any false opinion,
    embraced from appearances, has been found to
    prevail as soon as farther experience and
    sounder reasoning have given us juster notions of
    human affairs we retract our first sentiment,
    and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and
    evil. (EM, sec. 2, 12)

8
Hume on Utilitarianism and Justice in the Enquiry
  • Thus we seem, upon the whole, to have attained a
    knowledge of the force of that principle here
    insisted on, and can determine what degree of
    esteem or moral approbation may result from
    reflections on public interest and utility. My
    emphasis. The necessity of justice to the
    support of society is the sole foundation of that
    virtue and since no moral excellence is more
    highly esteemed, we may conclude, that this
    circumstance of usefulness has, in general, the
    strongest energy, and most entire command over
    our sentiments. (EM, sec. 3.)

9
Hume on Utilitarianism and Justice in the Treatise
  • Now justice is a moral virtue, merely because it
    has that tendency to the good of mankind and,
    indeed, is nothing but an artificial invention to
    that purpose. (My emphasis.) (Treatise 3.3.1)

10
Hume on the Common Point of View
  • The true interests of mankind might be the sort
    of thing that offers the common point of view
  • When a man denominates another his enemy, his
    rival, his antagonist, his adversary, he is
    understood to speak the language of self-love,
    and to express sentiments, peculiar to himself,
    and arising from his particular circumstances and
    situation. But when he bestows on any man the
    epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he
    then speaks another language, and expresses
    sentiments in which, he expects, all his audience
    are to concur with him. He must here, therefore,
    depart from his private and particular situation,
    and must chuse a point of view, common to him
    with others He must move some universal
    principle of the human frame, and touch a string,
    to which all mankind have an accord and
    symphony. (EM, sec. 9, par. 6.)

11
More on the Common Point of View
  • If he mean, therefore, to express, that this man
    possesses qualities, whose tendency is pernicious
    to society, he has chosen this common point of
    view, and has touched the principle of humanity,
    in which every man, in some degree, concurs.
    While the human heart is compounded of the same
    elements as at present, it will never be wholly
    indifferent to public good, nor entirely
    unaffected with the tendency of characters and
    manners. And though this affection of humanity
    may not generally be esteemed so strong as vanity
    or ambition, yet, being common to all men, it can
    alone be the foundation of morals, or of any
    general system of blame or praise. One man's
    ambition is not another's ambition nor will the
    same event or object satisfy both But the
    humanity of one man is the humanity of every one
    and the same object touches this passion in all
    human creatures.

12
Benthams Principle of Utility
  • By the principle of utility is meant that
    principle which approves or disapproves of every
    action whatsoever, according to the tendency it
    appears to have to augment or diminish the
    happiness of the party whose interest is in
    question or, what is the same thing in other
    words to promote or to oppose that happiness
    (Principles, I II). Troyer, p. 9.

13
Bentham Adds This
  • I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore
    not only of every action of a private individual,
    but of every measure of government.

14
Action Conformable to the Principle of Utility
  • In chapter 1, sec. 6, Bentham writes
  • An action then may be said to be conformable to
    then principle of utility, or, for shortness
    sake, to utility, (meaning with respect to the
    community at large) when the tendency it has to
    augment the happiness of the community is greater
    than any it has to diminish it.

15
Measure of Government Conformable to the
Principle of Utility
  • A measure of government (which is but a
    particular kind of action, performed by a
    particular person or persons) may be said to be
    conformable to or dictated by the principle of
    utility, when in like manner the tendency which
    it has to augment the happiness of the community
    is greater than any which it has to diminish it.
  • (Sec. 7.)

16
The Interest of the Community
  • Bentham says in section IV that the interest of
    the community then is the sum of the interests
    of the several members who compose it.
  • And in sec. V he writes A thing is said to
    promote the interest, or to be for the interest,
    of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum
    total of his pleasures or, what comes to the
    same thing, to diminish the sum total of his
    pains.

17
Three Interpretations of Benthams Principle of
Utility
  • Interpretation 1 A type of act a is morally
    right to degree n if and only if a tends to
    produce happiness to degree n.
  • Interpretation 2 A token-action a is morally
    right if and only if a produces more pleasure
    than pain.
  • Interpretation 3 A token-action a is morally
    right if and only if a produces at least as great
    a balance of pleasure over pain as any
    alternative (where an alternative to an action a
    df. another act that the person who would do a
    if it were to be done the agent could do
    instead at that time) i.e., a, we might say,
    maximizes pleasure.

18
Bentham on Right and Ought
  • Of an action that is conformable to the
    principle of utility one may always say either
    that it is one that ought to be done, or at least
    that it is not one that ought not to be done. One
    may say also, that it is right it should be done
    at least that it is not wrong it should be done
    that it is a right action at least that it is
    not a wrong action. When thus interpreted, the
    words ought, and right and wrong and others of
    that stamp, have a meaning when otherwise, they
    have none. (Section 10 of Ch. I.)

19
Benthams Use of Greatest Happiness
  • To this denomination has of late been added, or
    substituted, the greatest happiness or greatest
    felicity principle this for shortness, instead
    of saying at length that principle which states
    the greatest happiness of all those whose
    interest is in question, as being the right and
    proper, and only right and proper and universally
    desirable, end of human action of human action
    in every situation, and in particular in that of
    a functionary or set of functionaries exercising
    the powers of Government. Note to Chapter I of
    Principles Troyer, p. 62.

20
Why the Gap in Use
  • The word utility does not so clearly point to
    the ideas of pleasure and pain as the words
    happiness and felicity do nor does it lead us to
    the consideration of the number, of the interests
    affected to the number, as being the
    circumstance, which contributes, in the largest
    proportion, to the formation of the standard here
    in question the standard of right and wrong, by
    which alone the propriety of human conduct, in
    every situation, can with propriety be tried.

21
Arguments for the Principle of Utility?
  • Section 11 of Ch. I
  • Has the rectitude of this principle been ever
    formally contested? It should seem that it had,
    by those who have not known what they have been
    meaning. Is it susceptible of any direct proof?
    It should seem not for that which is used to
    prove every thing else, cannot itself be proved
    a chain of proofs must have their commencement
    somewhere. To give such proof is as impossible as
    it is needless. Troyer, p. 10.

22
An Argument
  • Section 12 of Ch I he writes
  • Not that there is or ever has been that human
    creature at breathing, however stupid or
    perverse, who has not on many, perhaps on most
    occasions of his life, deferred to it. By the
    natural constitution of the human frame, on most
    occasions of their lives men in general embrace
    this principle, without thinking of it if not
    for the ordering of their own actions, yet for
    the trying of their own actions, as well as of
    those of other men.

23
Everybody Follows It
  • There have been, at the same time, not many
    perhaps, even of the most intelligent, who have
    been disposed to embrace it purely and without
    reserve. There are even few who have not taken
    some occasion or other to quarrel with it, either
    on account of their not understanding always how
    to apply it, or on account of some prejudice or
    other which they were afraid to examine into, or
    could not bear to part with. For such is the
    stuff that man is made of in principle and in
    practice, in a right track and in a wrong one,
    the rarest of all human qualities is consistency.

24
Opposition Misapplies It
  • In Section 13 of Ch. I he writes
  • When a man attempts to combat the principle of
    utility, it is with reasons drawn, without his
    being aware of it, from that very principle
    itself. His arguments, if they prove any thing,
    prove not that the principle is wrong, but that,
    according to the applications he supposes to be
    made of it, it is misapplied. Is it possible for
    a man to move the earth? Yes but he must first
    find out another earth to stand upon.

25
Impossible to Disprove
  • In Section 14 of Ch. I he writes
  • To disprove the propriety of it by arguments is
    impossible but, from the causes that have been
    mentioned, or from some confused or partial view
    of it, a man may happen to be disposed not to
    relish it. Where this is the case, if he thinks
    the settling of his opinions on such a subject
    worth the trouble, let him take the following
    steps, and at length, perhaps, he may come to
    reconcile himself to it.

26
Alternative Views Bentham Argues Against
  • (1) The Principle of Asceticism the view of that
    pain is good and pleasure is bad (the opposite of
    the Principle of Utility)
  • (2) The Principle of Sympathy and Antipathy
    this principle is to represent for Bentham all
    alternative ethical theories that have been
    advanced by philosophers over the centuries.

27
His Argument Against Asceticism
  • Bentham rejects the Principle of Asceticism
    because he asserts that its simply the principle
    of utility misapplied.
  • If those who adopted (1) really knew what they
    were doing, says Bentham, theyd realize they are
    advocates of the principle of utility, too.
  • And they would realize that they have
    miscalculated their good.

28
His Argument Against Principle of Sympathy and
Antipathy
  • The debate between (2) and the principle of
    utility
  • On Benthams view, (2) evaluates right and wrong
    subjectively.
  • Bentham holds (2) to be a kind of moral
    subjectivism. All views besides his own are on
    his account subjectivist.
  • Consider an example Humes moral sense view,
    for example. Bentham holds that Humes view is
    subjectivist because it draws moral conclusions
    on the basis of feelings rather than the facts
    that his own view is based upon.
  • He thinks his view is the only possible objective
    moral approach to ethics.

29
His Argument is an Inference to the Best
Explanation
  • In other words, utilitarianism is an objective
    means for determining right and wrong.
  • It is one that everyone conforms to.
  • Every other system is a form of subjectivism and
    suffers for it.
  • Bentham concludes from
  • (a) the premise that utilitarianism is an
    objective moral system,
  • (b) the premise that all other moral systems are
    subjective, and
  • (c) the premise that everyone in fact conforms to
    the principle of utility
  • that the principle of utility is the best
    explanation of our moral beliefs.
  • Thus, I suggest that the argument is what is
    known as an argument to the best explanation.

30
No Account of Moral Motivation?
  • It might easily seem that Bentham doesnt offer
    an account of moral motivation, that he doesnt
    offer an account of why we should be interested
    in morality.
  • This is a glaring fault of his if his line of
    argument is that we need an objective account of
    moral beliefs in order to give them a grounding.
    He has a problem if that objective system doesnt
    conform to our moral motivation.
  • Its one thing to say that utilitarianism is the
    only objective system to account for moral
    beliefs and its another to provide an account of
    being motivated we need a mesh between the
    objective standards that system provides and
    motivation to follow those standards.
  • Why should we follow standards that are objective
    if we arent motivated to do so? What if we are
    just selfish?

31
Ethics, the Art of Motivating
  • Ethics at large may be defined, the art of
    directing mens action to the production of the
    greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the
    part of those whose interest is in view
    (Principles, 1.2)

32
How to Motivate
  • Sympathy
  • More effectively for the legislator -- punishment

33
Punishment
  • Bentham in the Principles presents a science of
    punishment
  • Chapter 13 Cases where punishment is
    inappropriate
  • Groundless
  • Inefficacious
  • Unprofitable
  • Needless
  • Chapter 14 Proportionality relation between
    punishment and offence
  • Chapter 15 Circumstantial conditions on
    impositions of punishment

34
Panopticon
35
A new mode of obtaining power
  • A prison design that allowed guards to observe
    all the inmates of a prison without allowing the
    inmates to know whether or not they were being
    watched
  • Bentham wrote in Panopticon (1787) that this was
    "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind,
    in a quantity hitherto without example.
  • In 1798 he wrote The building circular A
    cage, glazed a glass lantern about the Size of
    Ranelagh The prisoners in their cells,
    occupying the circumference The officers in the
    centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the
    inspectors concealed ... from the observation of
    the prisoners hence the sentiment of a sort of
    omnipresence The whole circuit reviewable with
    little, or if necessary without any, change of
    place. One station in the inspection part
    affording the most perfect view of every cell.
  • The actual design was never used, although many
    prisons have been said to have been influenced

36
The Hedonic Calculus
  • In Section 8 of Ch. IV, Bentham sets out the
    hedonic calculus
  • An article of property, an estate in land, for
    instance, is valuable, on what account? On
    account of the pleasures of all kinds which it
    enables a man to produce, and what comes to the
    same thing the pains of all kinds which it
    enables him to avert. But the value of such an
    article of property is universally understood to
    rise or fall according to the length or shortness
    of the time which a man has in it the certainty
    or uncertainty of its coming into possession and
    the nearness or remoteness of the time at which,
    if at all, it is to come into possession. As to
    the intensity of the pleasures which a man may
    derive from it, this is never thought of, because
    it depends upon the use which each particular
    person may come to make of it which cannot be
    estimated till the particular pleasures he may
    come to derive from it, or the particular pains
    he may come to exclude by means of it, are
    brought to view. For the same reason, neither
    does he think of the fecundity or purity of those
    pleasures. Thus much for pleasure and pain,
    happiness and unhappiness, in general. We come
    now to consider the several particular kinds of
    pain and pleasure.

37
The Seven Parameters
  • 1. intensity
  • 2. duration
  • 3. certainty
  • 4. propinquity (remoteness)
  • -----
  • 5. fecundity (productiveness)
  • 6. purity
  • 7. extent (number of persons reached)

38
Hedonic Value
  • The hedonic value (not Benthams term) of any
    episode of pleasure e,
  • HV (e) I (e) D (e)
  • where I(e) is some measure of the intensity of
    e, and D(e) is some measure of the duration of e.

39
Durations and Intensities
  • Pleasures are experiences. They have durations
    (starting and stopping points) so we can talk
    about the experience of pleasure that ran from
    9pm to 904pm. (Notice we dont always use the
    pleasure in that way.)
  • They also have intensities. Think for example
    about some kind of experience of pleasure youve
    had, e.g., eating a hot fudge sundae. There are
    peaks and valleys of intensity. There is a peak
    very quickly after that first bite as your mind
    gathers itself around the pleasurable experience
    of consuming all this saturated fact. Lets
    suppose that it plateaus then rises and falls.
    With a curve like that, theres no neat way of
    talking about identical intensity over time so we
    have to take the interval.

40
Doloric Value
  • The doloric value (again, not Benthams term) of
    any episode of pain e,
  • DV (e) I (e) D (e),
  • where I(e) is some measure of the intensity of
    e, and D(e) is some measure of the duration of
    e, and e indicates episodes of pain.

41
Hedonic Rating
  • The hedonic rating (not Benthams term) of a
    particular action a,
  • HR (a) HV(e1) HV(e2) HV(em)
  • ?HV(ei) for all i,
  • the sum of the hedonic values of all the
    episodes ei of pleasure that result if a were to
    be performed.

42
Doloric Rating
  • Similarly, the doloric rating (not Benthams
    term) of a particular action a,
  • DR (a) DV(e1) DV(e2) DV(em)
    ?DV(ei) for all i,
  • the sum of the doloric values of all the
    episodes ei of pain that result if a were to be
    performed.

43
Expected Values
  • The expected hedonic value and expected doloric
    value
  • Exp HV (e) Pr (e) I (e) D (e),
  • Exp DV (e) Pr (e) I (e) D (e),
  • which are expected values given the probability
    Pr (e) of es occurrence and the probability Pr
    (e) of es occurrence

44
Utility and Expected Utility
  • The utility of a particular action a is
  • U (a) HR (a) - DR (a),
  • And the expected utility of a particular action a
    is
  • EU (a) Exp HR (a) - Exp DR (a).

45
Restatement of Greatest Happiness Principle
  • Restatement of Greatest Happiness Principle in
    terms of the Hedonic Calculus
  • A particular action a is morally right if there
    is no b that is an alternative to a such that
    EU(a) gt EU(b).

46
The Role of Pleasure
  • In section 1 of Ch. I, Bentham writes
  • 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. On
    the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on
    the other the chain of causes and effects, are
    fastened to their throne. They govern us in all
    we do, in all we say, in all we think every
    effort we can make to throw off our subjection,
    will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In
    words a man may pretend to abjure their empire
    but in reality he will remain subject to it all
    the while.

47
Love of Reputation
  • From Ch. XI, the chapter on motives, Section 17
  • Where the tendency of the act is good, and the
    motive is a semi-social one, the love of
    reputation. In this case the disposition
    indicated is a good one. In a time of scarcity, a
    baker, for the sake of gaining the esteem of the
    neighbourhood, distributes bread gratis among the
    industrious poor. Let this be taken for granted
    and let it be allowed to be a matter of
    uncertainty, whether he had any real feeling for
    the sufferings of those whom he has relieved, or
    no. His disposition, for all that, cannot, with
    any pretence of reason, be termed otherwise than
    a good and beneficent one. It can only be in
    consequence of some very idle prejudice, if it
    receives a different name.

48
Self- and Extra-Regarding Pleasures
  • The baker is motivated by self-regarding
    pleasures.
  • And where hes not, hes motivated by the
    extra-regarding pleasure of benevolence.
  • Thus, everywhere the bakers motivation is
    pleasure.

49
Benthams Psychological Egoism
  • Bentham thinks that everything we do we do out
    of a desire for the good and that for human
    beings the good the object of desire is
    pleasure and avoidance of pain
  • Nature has placed mankind under the governance
    of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure, he
    writes at the outset of Ch. I of Principles. It
    is for them alone to point out what we ought to
    do, as well as to determine what we shall do..

50
Mills Response in Remarks
  • Mill That the actions of sentient beings are
    wholly determined by pleasure and pain, is the
    fundamental principle from which he starts and
    thereupon Mr. Bentham creates a motive, and an
    interest, corresponding to each pleasure or
    pain. Now if this only means that our actions
    are determined by pleasure and pain, that simple
    and unambiguous mode of stating the proposition
    is preferable. But under cover of the obscurer
    phrase a meaning creeps in, both to the authors
    mind and the readers, which goes much farther,
    and is entirely false that all our acts are
    determined by pains and pleasures in prospect,
    pains and pleasures to which we look forward as
    the consequences of our acts. This, as a
    universal truth, can in no way be maintained.
    (Remarks on Benthams Philosophy, 24)

51
Mills Response (cont.)
  • The pain or pleasure which determines our
    conduct is as frequently one which precedes the
    moment of action as one which follows it. A man
    may, it is true, be deterred, in circumstances of
    temptation, from perpetrating a crime, by his
    dread of the punishment, or of the remorse, which
    he fears he may have to endure after the guilty
    act and in that case we may say with some kind
    of propriety, that his conduct is swayed by the
    balance of motives or, if you will, of
    interests. But the case may be, and is to the
    full as likely to be, that he recoils from the
    very thought of committing the act the idea of
    placing himself in such a situation is so
    painful, that he cannot dwell upon it long enough
    to have even the physical power of perpetrating
    the crime. (Remarks, 24)

52
Mills Response (cont.)
  • I am persuaded, from experience, that the
    habit of speaking of all the feelings which
    govern mankind under the name of interests, is
    almost always in point of fact connected with a
    tendency to consider interest in the vulgar
    sense, that is, purely self-regarding interest,
    as exercising, by the very constitution of human
    nature, a far more exclusive and paramount
    control over human actions than it really does
    exercise. Such, certainly, was the tendency of
    Mr. Benthams own opinions. Habitually, and
    throughout his works, the moment he has shown
    that a mans selfish interest would prompt him to
    a particular course of action, he lays it down
    without further parley that the mans interest
    lies that way and, by sliding insensibly from
    the vulgar sense of the word into the
    philosophical, and from the philosophical back
    into the vulgar, the conclusion which is always
    brought out is, that the man will act as the
    selfish interest prompts. (Remarks, 28)

53
Benthams Book of Fallacies
  • In 29 of Remarks, illustrating Benthams
    psychological egoism, Mill quotes from Benthams
    Book of Fallacies
  • In every human breast (rare and short-lived
    ebullitions, the result of some extraordinarily
    strong stimulus or excitement, excepted)
    self-regarding interest is predominant over
    social interest each persons own individual
    interest over the interests of all other persons
    taken together. (Pp. 392-3.)

54
Benthams Book of Fallacies (cont.)
  • In another passage of the same work (p. 363) he
    says, Taking the whole of life together, there
    exists not, nor ever can exist, that human being
    in whose instance any public interest he can have
    had will not, in so far as depends upon himself,
    have been sacrificed to his own personal
    interest. Towards the advancement of the public
    interest, all that the most public-spirited
    (which is as much as to say the most virtuous) of
    men can do, is to do what depends upon himself
    towards bringing the public interest, that is,
    his own personal share in the public interest, to
    a state as nearly approaching to coincidence, and
    on as few occasions amounting to a state of
    repugnance, as possible, with his private
    interests. (Remarks, 30)
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