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Bernard Williams' 2 examples vs. Utilitarianism

Bernard Williams' 2 examples vs. Utilitarianism
Hobbdidday
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Posted Nov 28, 2006 - 4:38 PM:
Subject: Bernard Williams' 2 examples vs. Utilitarianism
In case you don't know Bernard Williams' famous two examples, they go about as follows:

1. George is a scientist who is out of work. He is offered a job in a laboratory which does research into chemical and biological weapons. George is strongly opposed to the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons. If he does not take the job, his wife and his children will suffer. And if he does not take the job, it will be given to someone else who will pursue the research with fewer inhibitions. Should he take the job?

2. Jim is an explorer who stumbles into a South American village where 20 Indians are about to be shot. The captain says that as a mark of honour to Jim as a guest, he will be invited to shoot one of the Indians, and the other 19 will be set free. If Jim refuses, all 20 Indians will be shot. What should Jim do?

It seems that Utilitarianism would require George to take the job and Jim to shoot one of the Indians.

My question is, what is the Utilitarian response? I'll probably end up feeling ignorant because I cannot think of a cohesive one. Keep in mind that Bernard Williams has the following argument which counteracts a few of the most common Utilitarian responses:

Williams argues that (and excuse my language, it will definitely be more crudely put than in Williams' texts) Utilitarianism becomes kind of transcendental; even if Jim can do something wrong in order to pursue Utilitarianism goals (save 19, lose 1, rather than lose 20), it becomes a very shaky argument to say that you ought sometimes to do something terrible in order to lead, eventually, to a greater outcome. That is, conceivably somebody could have killed Hitler's mother, for example, which would be terrible but eventually lead to a world with greater happiness, we assume. A second example would be to, for example, use a community that is non-utilitarian as an example of why utilitarianism is so GOOD. Again, you are actually making sure Utilitarianism does not take place in one area in order to pursue the larger goal of having people in every other area follow it.

Williams argues that at that point, Utilitarianism is something less than Utilitarianism. Essentially, (because I think I was a bit unclear above), Williams argues that integrity is necessary to HAVE moral convictions that make you take utilitarian action - but utilitarianism eliminates integrity. Also, I think Williams uses kind of a slippery slope argument to establish a final society where not EVERYONE can be utilitarian because this would lead to prisoner dilemmas. PLEASE correct me if I've misunderstood Williams.

How do the Utilitarians respond? Does anyone have any alternate or clearer views on what Bernard Williams tries to argue later on in his text, "A Critique of Utilitarianism?"

Thanks very much for your input!
Pwrong
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Posted Nov 28, 2006 - 9:12 PM:

1. George is a scientist who is out of work. He is offered a job in a laboratory which does research into chemical and biological weapons. George is strongly opposed to the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons. If he does not take the job, his wife and his children will suffer. And if he does not take the job, it will be given to someone else who will pursue the research with fewer inhibitions. Should he take the job?


It's worth noting that if George takes the job, some other guy will miss out, and his family will suffer too. If we don't have any more information, the two families cancel each other out. If we assume George will work hard at the job, and the two potential employees are equally qualified, then it doesn't matter who takes the job. George also has the option of taking the job and not trying very hard, or even sabotaging the project.

2. Jim is an explorer who stumbles into a South American village where 20 Indians are about to be shot. The captain says that as a mark of honour to Jim as a guest, he will be invited to shoot one of the Indians, and the other 19 will be set free. If Jim refuses, all 20 Indians will be shot. What should Jim do?
Kill one of the Indians. We assume of course, that the captain is telling the truth.

That is, conceivably somebody could have killed Hitler's mother, for example, which would be terrible but eventually lead to a world with greater happiness, we assume.
This is different to the example above, because there is no way of knowing that Hitler's mother would give birth to an evil dictator. You can't go around killing women just in case.
KipBond
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Posted Nov 29, 2006 - 5:31 PM:

It's important to distinguish between Act Utilitarinism (what Williams is disputing) and Rule Utilitarinism. I think the bottom line in both is that what is good is maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering. It is right to act in order to do good. Rule Utilitarinism takes a more pragmatic approach: since all of the variables cannot be measured to calculate present (much less future) happiness, the best we can do is approximate right actions by using "rules of thumb" that we believe to most often result in happiness.

In the 1st example, I think the most measurable and predictable happiness will be George's own: if he is not happy at that job, then he should try to find another one ASAP.

In the 2nd example, unless Jim is relatively certain that the situation will result in more happiness (including his own happiness living with having murdered someone), then he should not kill the Indian. The rule of thumb is that murdering someone results in suffering, not happiness. There are exceptions, but they have to be measured carefully. My own rationale would be that I would doubt the word of the captain, since he is a self-proclaimed murderer who is trying to play games with me.
theyoungsocrates
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 1:08 AM:

Hobbdidday wrote:

Williams argues that at that point, Utilitarianism is something less than Utilitarianism. Essentially, (because I think I was a bit unclear above), Williams argues that integrity is necessary to HAVE moral convictions that make you take utilitarian action - but utilitarianism eliminates integrity. Also, I think Williams uses kind of a slippery slope argument to establish a final society where not EVERYONE can be utilitarian because this would lead to prisoner dilemmas. PLEASE correct me if I've misunderstood Williams.


You have in front of you B. Williams' major aruments, but I think that part of your trouble with this is that you are misunderstanding what he is saying. Williams isn't saying simply that Utilitarianism should be "fixed" or something to that effect, but completely against the utilitarian process.

He gives two examples, as you have provided, Jim and the Indians as well as George and the Biochemical weapons job. In the first example with Jim there is the question of whether to kill one person to save many (a classic utilitarian dilemma). In the case of George there are few factors other lying on the decision that he makes: 1) The prosperity of his family, 2) Taking a job that would lead to him effectively supporting the killing of numerous peoples in the use of the weapons he would develope, and 3) The possibility of a person with less of a moral interest taking the biochem weapons job and creating even worse weapons.

Utilitarianism would argue for Jim to kill one indian and save the other 19 (utility is maximized) and for George to take the job (prosperity for family and prevension of greater harm ==> again maximizing utility). Williams argument against this lies a necessity for an individual's integrity to be upheld. He follows his examples by saying that Jim would agree with the decision to kill one and save many. George, on the other hand, is morally opposed to the research and developement of these weapons. Jim's integrity would still be upheld in the same conclusion that Utilitarianism reaches, while George's would not be.

Williams, although his conclusion with Jim is the same as utilitarianism's, disagrees with utilitarianism there because of HOW it reaches the decision. He is arguing that there are two things that the utilitarian process creates: 1) a sense of "negative responsibility" and 2) an element of "high-mindedness". Negative responsibility occurs because Utilitarianism disregards the actions of anyone other than the "judge" if you will (George and Jim fulfill this role) and so there is a repsonibility placed on them that would or should also lie on other people's shoulders and not just their own. High-mindedness is a result of the impartiality claim that Utilitarianism relies on. By making us completely impartial in regards to morality we disregard anything but factors in the situation -- Michael Stocker, who makes similar claims vs. the Kantian tradition, calls this "dehumanizing." By separating ourselves from the situation we effectly treat morality as a computer could or would, and Williams is arguing that there is a major problem with this.

These two products of the Utilitarian process lead to the loss of integrity that Bernard Williams is discussing. We need to heed to our own integrity. This argument can seem as though to argue for a relativist approach, but Williams is opposed to that as well. Through his conclusion we reach a point where our approach to morality needs to be somewhere between this completely impartial and integrity-sacrificing mode and the danger of a completely subjective/relativist mode.


I can give you a response that Utilitarianism would present against Williams, but I thought it best to let you understand him more before going into that.

P.S. To respond to KipBond: there isn't a need to distinguish between Act and Rule Utilitarianism here because both types still destroy our integrity as Williams is arguing.
Pwrong
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 3:01 AM:

It's important to distinguish between Act Utilitarinism (what Williams is disputing) and Rule Utilitarinism. I think the bottom line in both is that what is good is maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering. It is right to act in order to do good. Rule Utilitarinism takes a more pragmatic approach: since all of the variables cannot be measured to calculate present (much less future) happiness, the best we can do is approximate right actions by using "rules of thumb" that we believe to most often result in happiness.


I don't think that's right.

wikipedia wrote:
Rule utilitarianism should not be confused with rules of thumb.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism


abolitionist
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 3:12 AM:

Hobbdidday wrote:
In case you don't know Bernard Williams' famous two examples, they go about as follows:

1. George is a scientist who is out of work. He is offered a job in a laboratory which does research into chemical and biological weapons. George is strongly opposed to the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons. If he does not take the job, his wife and his children will suffer. And if he does not take the job, it will be given to someone else who will pursue the research with fewer inhibitions. Should he take the job?

2. Jim is an explorer who stumbles into a South American village where 20 Indians are about to be shot. The captain says that as a mark of honour to Jim as a guest, he will be invited to shoot one of the Indians, and the other 19 will be set free. If Jim refuses, all 20 Indians will be shot. What should Jim do?

It seems that Utilitarianism would require George to take the job and Jim to shoot one of the Indians.

My question is, what is the Utilitarian response? I'll probably end up feeling ignorant because I cannot think of a cohesive one. Keep in mind that Bernard Williams has the following argument which counteracts a few of the most common Utilitarian responses:

Williams argues that (and excuse my language, it will definitely be more crudely put than in Williams' texts) Utilitarianism becomes kind of transcendental; even if Jim can do something wrong in order to pursue Utilitarianism goals (save 19, lose 1, rather than lose 20), it becomes a very shaky argument to say that you ought sometimes to do something terrible in order to lead, eventually, to a greater outcome. That is, conceivably somebody could have killed Hitler's mother, for example, which would be terrible but eventually lead to a world with greater happiness, we assume. A second example would be to, for example, use a community that is non-utilitarian as an example of why utilitarianism is so GOOD. Again, you are actually making sure Utilitarianism does not take place in one area in order to pursue the larger goal of having people in every other area follow it.

Williams argues that at that point, Utilitarianism is something less than Utilitarianism. Essentially, (because I think I was a bit unclear above), Williams argues that integrity is necessary to HAVE moral convictions that make you take utilitarian action - but utilitarianism eliminates integrity. Also, I think Williams uses kind of a slippery slope argument to establish a final society where not EVERYONE can be utilitarian because this would lead to prisoner dilemmas. PLEASE correct me if I've misunderstood Williams.

How do the Utilitarians respond? Does anyone have any alternate or clearer views on what Bernard Williams tries to argue later on in his text, "A Critique of Utilitarianism?"

Thanks very much for your input!




IMO, the utilitarian approach is the one that would lead to the maximization of happiness/minimization of suffering according to the best of one's knowledge at the time as determined through rational scientific means.


Here's my opinion;


1. Given that chemical and biotechnological weapons are illegal - it would be best for George to decline the job and contact the authorities.


2. I would think it would be best to seek dialogue with the captain - try to reason with him and ascertain the situation.
KipBond
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 6:16 AM:

theyoungsocrates wrote:
P.S. To respond to KipBond: there isn't a need to distinguish between Act and Rule Utilitarianism here because both types still destroy our integrity as Williams is arguing.

I think the actions will be different for Jim under Rule Utilitarianism in this case. I just think Rule Utilitarianism is more pragmatic, and understands that all of the variables cannot be measured. In this case, what is the probability the chief is telling the truth? What will happen to the 19 survivors after they are freed? How will your life be different after you purposefully murdered the 1 Indian? Are you sure you only have 2 options (doubtful)?
KipBond
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 6:28 AM:

Pwrong wrote:
I don't think that's right.

I think Rule Utilitarianism really breaks down to Act Utilitarianism w/ "Rules of Thumb" after a number of exceptions and caveats are applied to the rules. I guess I just use a watered down version of "Rule Utilitarianism" (Act Utilitarianism w/ Rules of Thumb).
Pwrong
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Posted Nov 30, 2006 - 6:56 AM:

No, rules of thumb are completely separate. Any code of ethics can have them. There are very simple situations that don't require rules of thumb to solve, where act and rule utilitarianism will give different solutions. An example is the organ harvesting problem in the wikipedia article.

wikipedia wrote:
To illustrate, consider the following thought experiment, which can be compared with the survival lottery scenario and the Trolley problem: A surgeon has five terminal patients: one needs a liver, one needs a pancreas, one needs a heart, and two need kidneys. A sixth, non-terminal patient just came in to have his appendix removed. Should the surgeon kill the sixth man and pass his organs around to the others?

An act utilitarian would consider the probable consequences of sacrificing the sixth patient on that particular occasion, while a rule utilitarian would look at the consequences of performing such a sacrifice every time such a situation arises. One potential rule would be: "whenever a surgeon could kill one relatively healthy person in order to transplant his organs to more than one other person who needs them, he ought to do so." If instituted in society, this rule would obviously lead to bad consequences. Relatively healthy people would stop going to the hospital, many risky transplant operations would be performed, etc. Therefore, a rule utilitarian would say we should implement the opposite rule: "don't harvest healthy people's organs to give them to sick people." For a rule utilitarian, therefore, it would be immoral for the surgeon to kill the sixth man. Of course, it is possible that the act utilitarian would decide not to sacrifice the sixth man, but most would agree that rule utiltarianism would provide stronger reasons not to.

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Posted Dec 14, 2009 - 12:52 PM:
Subject: critique of Williams
Is there a key objection to Williams' 'Integrity' argument? So far all I have found are alternatives to Consequentialism.
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