Utilitarianism and Impartiality

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Utilitarianism and Impartiality
Paul
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Posted Apr 17, 2002 - 10:59 PM:

Anyone really bored, or need some help getting to sleep? Here's an essay to read, something fairly short I wrote for a class about a week ago: www.philosophyforums.com/es...m/essays/impartiality.html

It helps to have read Bernard Williams' "A Critique of Utilitarianism," but I don't think it's neccesary.
Paul
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Posted Apr 21, 2002 - 1:38 AM:

Pulling this in from the "do you agree?" thread:
Originally posted by The_Thinker
Do you agree with Williams' thesis? The essay seems like a report of Williams' paper. -_-


No, I disagree with Williams. Williams thinks he's shot down utilitarianism with his examples, and as I say in the paper he hasn't really done anything except show that what we want to do is not always the most moral thing. Our lives don't consist of maximizing morality, there are personal considerations... no one is expected to spend all their time helping the poor, saving lives, etc. Williams acts as though any decent moral theory must tell us to do what we think we should do, so he wants personal agency to be a part of the moral theory... which I would say is misguided.
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Posted Apr 28, 2003 - 8:44 AM:

I agree with you Paul. Impartiality means that one doesn't place more value on one person (animal) than another...all things being equal. In making an ethical decision, my own self should not override someone I don't know, or my own family ought not override someone not of my family, just because it is myself or my family. This is an important aspect of utilitarianism and does seem 'counter-intuitive', but nonetheless I do think it is necessary regarding an ethical decision. To say this is not how we feel, or not what we actually do in many cases, is no threat to utilitarianism. It doesn't say that utilitarianism is false either. Like you said, in some cases doing what is right may be hard...if it wasn't, then those of us concerned with moral philosophy wouldn't be truely perplexed when it comes to these issues. If someone allowed their self-interest to override impartiality, simply because that person is that person, my response to them would be that I understand their decision from a psychological point of view (actually psychological hedonism underlies the utilitarian position) but I would say they acted unethically. Now...that doesn't mean that what they did was 'wrong'...I can make a distinction between the ethical and the right and wrong. There may be no negative consequences of their choice, it is the basis or justification for their choice that makes it unethical. If their choice in this situation results in more suffering than other alternatives..then it would not only be unethical but wrong also. An 'ethical philosophy' is not simply a normative system. If this was so then I could say I do whatever I want regardless (that is the moral law) and I don't care what anyone else does and that would be sufficient. What makes a moral philosophy be a moral philosophy (a system of ethics) is that it applies to all moral agents equally...that is the standard of 'reason' in ethics. If a system is counter to this...then it is an insufficient ethic..not an ethic at all. In principle, utilitarianism satisfies this critera. We can disagree with utilitarianism, but not because it is counter to our intuition of self-interest. In the case of the nuclear guy, he may not be doing the ethical thing under a utilitarian system, but he may be doing the ethical thing under another system. One would have to ask him his critera for what makes a decision be the ethical one. If his reply boils down to how HE feels, then he doesn't have an ethical system at all. As far as the indian guy, he is making an unethical choice according to utilitarianism, but maybe he advocates a deontological ethic. He would have to make his argument...but again if it just boiled down to how he feels then his ethic is insufficient.

Trey
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Posted Apr 28, 2003 - 10:33 AM:



The link is broken. Would you please post a new link. I would like to read the article. Thank you.
Paul
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Posted May 3, 2003 - 4:13 AM:

It's still in the essays section, it's just that the format of that section changed a little. See http://www.philosophyforums.com/essays/ and select "Utilitarianism and Impartiality" from the list. (I don't want to post the exact url again for the particular essay because it may change soon if I get around to some alterations I've had planned.)
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Posted May 9, 2003 - 5:20 AM:

It seems to me that there are "special duties" which we owe to some. For instance, our immediate families. And, also, we have special duties we owe as employees or as officials, which override utilitarian considerations. A mailman should not take it on himself whether or not he ought to deliver a piece of mail because he knows that particular piece of mail is not something the receiver wants, and it would produce more good than evil if that envelope were not delivered. It is his duty to deliver the mail, each piece of it, to the appropriate destination. Otherwise, he should not have taken the job in the first place. And if it comes to saving either my aunt or my dog from drowning, it seems to me that I ought to save my aunt, even if the consequences of saving my dog would be better, and even if I preferred to do so.
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Posted May 24, 2003 - 4:48 AM:

Here's something about prima facia duties on the net

http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/p/primafac.htm

I'd copy and paste it here but i dont know if its legal. Is it?
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Posted Apr 15, 2008 - 9:26 AM:

where is the articel???
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