Wednesday 10/9

Utilitarianism II


Today I assigned the first of our four case analyses this semester, Case I. The case is due Monday, 10/21, so there is enough time to think about how to answer the questions, provided you don't wait until Sunday, 10/20, at 11:00 pm to get started on it. As with the examinations, this first case is worth 50 points, the next one 100, and so on. It would be a great idea to get together with other students to discuss the case. It is also extremely important that you carefully proofread your cases. You only have at most two pages to answer five questions. Ideally, you will find yourself writing four or five pages, whereupon you'll edit and proofread to get it down to the maximum two. Writing philosophy is a process.





We began today by catching our breath so as to grasp the broader contours of the emerging argument for this course.

Our challenge, you see, was to find a non-relative moral normative theory. That is, moral relativism--the view that there no moral (T)ruths-with-a-capital 'T', only many moral truths-with-a-lowercase-'t'--seems highly implausible given the failures of both Cultural Ethical Relativism and Simple Ethical Subjectivism to pass the muster of our (decidedly minimal) standards of evaluation.

The most obvious alternative is to seek universal moral truth in the religious conviction that moral (T)ruths-with-a-capital 'T' can only be found with the certainty they must enjoy in theological views about the nature of God or the Universe God created.

And yet we are caught in the bind now of having to seek non-theological moral normative theory, since neither of the theological alternatives, Divine Command Theory or Natural Law Theory, is plausible in light of the Standards of Clarity, Coherence, and Reflective Equilibrium.

Put another way, we are in the position now of being caught between two equally untenable positions: Moral Relativism, on the one hand, and Moral Theology, on the other. Our purpose now is to discover alternatives which are neither relative nor theological in nature.

Today we got started on the first of three major moral normative theories which attempt to provide this alternative.

Utilitarian Ethical Theory (UET) is a cluster of theories all of which start from the notion that the morality of an action is determined by its consequences. Crudely put, right actions have good consequences; wrong actions have bad consequences. Exactly how we determine the good in good consequences or the bad in bad consequences is a problem for axiology, or the study of value. We might argue, for example, that happiness is the sole intrinsic good, where intrinsic goods are those goods sought for their own sake and extrinsic or instrumental goods are sought for the sake of something else. If happiness is the sole intrinsic good, then those states of affairs which bring about greater happiness are intrinsically more valuable than states of affairs which do not. If, further, we seek to maximize happiness by our actions for the greatest number considered equally, we have the core idea of what we shall call Classical Utilitarianism (CU).

We examined Classical Utilitarianism today by considering its application to a specific, practical case. The point of these sorts of applications is to help us understand the commitments of these theories while working out procedures for their application. In this case we used a Utility Chart to discover that it is permissible to break ones promises should doing so promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number, considered equally.

Having thought about how the theory bears on its application, we considered the various properties of Classical Utilitarianism must have. Next time we will argue that CU's assumption that happiness is the sole intrinsic good (eudaimonism) may be problematic, since, as we shall see, it can be argued that happiness is not the sole intrinsic good.