Is Happiness All that Matters?

CU assumes that happiness is the sole intrinsic good. But is that true? Consider the following two Reflective Equilibrium arguments.

The Honor Argument

Suppose the WildCards, an elite squadron of marines, is caught in a bombing raid. Everyone in the squad except West is knocked unconcious. West is seriously injured, but manages to drag each person to safety. Upon rescuing the last squad member, West collapses and dies. Vanssen is the first to wake up. She takes credit for the rescue, is promptly promoted, and becomes one of the best generals the marines have ever had. No one ever discovers Vanssen's lie.

  1 If CU is true, then Vanssen's lying is morally right.  
  2 Vanssen's lying is not morally right.  
3 CU is not true. 1&2

If the Honor Argument is sound, honor is also an intrinsic good; it sometimes trumps happiness.

The Friendship Argument

Suppose Brian pretends to be his wealthy roommate Jay's best friend. Jay is extremely generous with his money in general, and he is particularly generous with Brian since he firmly believes that Brian is his best friend. Behind Jay's back, however, Brian laughs and complains about Jay.

  1 If CU is true, then Brian's deception is morally right.  
  2 Brian's deception is not morally right.  
3 CU is not true. 1&2

Perhaps, then, true friendship is also an intrinsic good. We don't seek true friends because they make us happy. True friendship is its own end.

It appears to follow that happiness isn't all that matters: it is not the sole intrinsic good, contrary to what CU assumes.

Utilitarians--people who hold that morality is a matter of consequences for the greatest number--have several answers to this problem. Their strategy is to change what counts for measuring utility.

  • Instead of happiness, we might measure the utility of an action in terms of the extent to which the action maximizes pleasure-i.e., hedonism.
  • Instead of happiness or pleasure, we might measure the utility of an action in terms of the extent to which the action maximizes best interests-i.e., idealism.
  • Yet another alternative is to measure utility by preferences. The utility of an action is given by the extent to which it satisfies peoples preferences.

Utilitarians are clever.