Best 43 of Utilitarianism quotes - MyQuotes
To have understood the polymorphous character of pleasure and happiness is of course to have rendered those concepts useless for utilitarian purposes; if the prospect of his or her own future pleasure or happiness cannot for reasons which I have suggested provide criteria for solving the problems of action in the case of each individual, it follows that the notion of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is a notion without any clear content at all. It is indeed a pseudo-concept available for a variety of ideological uses, but no more than that.
The reaction against utilitarianism was a second romanticism, in which the fight against social injustice and the opposition to the actual theories of the "dismal science" played a much smaller part than the urge to escape from the present, whose problems the anti-utilitarians had no ability and no desire to solve, into the irrarionalism of Burke, Coleridge, and German romanticism.
Instead of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, one should demand, more modestly, the least amount of avoidable suffering for all; and further, that unavoidable suffering—such as hunger in times of an unavoidable shortage of food—should be distributed as equally as possible.
One of the main arguments that I make is that although almost everyone accepts that it is morally wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals, 99% of the suffering and death that we inflict on animals can be justified only by our pleasure, amusement, or convenience. For example, the best justification that we have for killing the billions of nonhumans that we eat every year is that we enjoy the taste of animal flesh and animal products. This is not an acceptable justification if we take seriously, as we purport to, that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering or death on animals, and it illustrates the confused thinking that I characterize as our “moral schizophrenia” when it comes to nonhumans. A follow-up question that I often get is: “What about vivisection? Surely that use of animals is not merely for our pleasure, is it?” Vivisection, Part One: The “Necessity” of Vivisection | Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach
In another building, I was shown his [Mr Brunel's] manufactory of shoes, which, like the other, is full of ingenuity, and, in regard to subdivision of labour, brings this fabric on a level with the oft-admired manufactory of pins. Every step in it is effected by the most elegant and precise machinery; while as each operation is performed by one hand, so each shoe passes through twenty-five hands, who complete from the hide, as supplied by the currier, a hundred pair of strong and well-finished shoes per day. All the details are performed by ingenious applications of the mechanic powers, and all the parts are characterized by precision, uniformity, and accuracy. As each man performs but one step in the process, which implies no knowledge of what is done by those who go before or follow him, so the persons employed are not shoemakers, but wounded soldiers, who are able to learn their respective duties in a few hours. The contract at which these shoes are delivered to government is 6s. 6d. per pair, being at least 2s. less than what was paid previously for an unequal and cobbled article. While, however, we admire these triumphs of mechanics, and congratulate society on the prospect of enjoying more luxuries at less cost of human labour, it ought not to be forgotten, that the general good in such cases is productive of great partial evils, against which a paternal government ought to provide. No race of workmen being proverbially more industrious than shoemakers, it is altogether unreasonable, that so large a portion of valuable members of society should be injured by improvements which have the ultimate effect of benefiting the whole.
Described in this way, utilitarianism has little in common with the prosaic, visionless notion of the 'merely utilitarian,' in the sense of a narrowly or mundanely functional or efficient option. No such limited horizon confined the thought and character of the great English-language utilitarian philosophers, whose influence ran its course from the period just before the French Revolution through the Victorian era. Happiness, for them, was more of a cosmic calling, the path to world progress, and whatever was deemed 'utilitarian' had to be useful for that larger and inspiring end, the global minimization of pointless suffering and the global maximization of positive well-being or happiness. It invokes, ultimately, the point of view of universal benevolence. And it is more accurately charged with being too demanding ethically than with being too accommodating of narrow practicality, material interests, self-interestedness, and the like.
Many of the innovations in science and philosophy have come from unbelievers, some of whom died for their 'unbeliefs.' Without unbelief, we might well be living in the Dark Ages or at least in the intellectual equivalent of that time. In past centuries many theists savagely attacked atheists on the ground that someone without a belief in God must be a moral 'monster,' who would permit any action. This argument is rarely heard today, as the number of people who are openly atheists has become so large that its falsity is self-evident. Atheists do have a moral code to guide them. It is usually based upon the Golden Rule, plus a variety of utilitarian reasons, although there are a number of other possible systems. Rather than being immoral, most atheists are extremely moral. There are a large number of people who can and do manage to lead decent upright lives with no use for a belief in God as a guide. Atheists do not care whether others believe as they do. They do ask, however, for the right to believe as they wish ....
First premise: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it. Second premise: Extreme poverty is bad. Third premise: There is some extreme poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. Conclusion: We ought to prevent some extreme poverty.
Settle, for sure and universally, what conduct will promote the happiness of a rational being.
Voluntary euthanasia occurs only when, to the best of medical knowledge, a person is suffering from an incurable and painful or extremely distressing condition. In these circumstances one cannot say that to choose to die quickly is obviously irrational.
In my opinion, if, as the result of certain combinations, Kepler's or Newton's discoveries could become known to people in no other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people who were hindering the discovery, or standing as an obstacle in its path, then Newton would have the right, and it would even be his duty... to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to mankind. It by no means follows from this, incidentally, that Newton should have the right to kill anyone he pleases, whomever happens along, or to steal from the market every day. Further, I recall developing in my article the idea that all... well, let's say, the lawgivers and founders of mankind, starting from the most ancient and going on to the Lycurguses, the Solons, the Muhammads, the Napoleons, and so forth, that all of them to a man were criminals, from the fact alone that in giving a new law, they thereby violated the old one, held sacred by society and passed down from their fathers, and they certainly did not stop at shedding blood either, if it happened that blood (sometimes quite innocent and shed valiantly for the ancient law) could help them.
Is it possible for a man to move the earth? Yes; but he must first find out another earth to stand upon.
[D]espite what our intuition tells us, changes in the world’s population are not generally neutral. They are either a good thing or a bad thing. But it is uncertain even what form a correct theory of the value of population would take. In the area of population, we are radically uncertain. We do not know what value to set on changes in the world’s population. If the population shrinks as a result of climate change, we do not know how to evaluate that change. Yet we have reason to think that changes in population may be one of the most morally significant effects of climate change. The small chance of catastrophe may be a major component in the expected value of harm caused by climate change, and the loss of population may be a major component of the badness of catastrophe. How should we cope with this new, radical sort of uncertainty? Uncertainty was the subject of chapter 7. That chapter came up with a definitive answer: we should apply expected value theory. Is that not the right answer now? Sadly it is not, because our new sort of uncertainty is particularly intractable. In most cases of uncertainty about value, expected value theory simply cannot be applied. When an event leads to uncertain results, expected value theory requires us first to assign a value to each of the possible results it may lead to. Then it requires us to calculate the weighted average value of the results, weighted by their probabilities. This gives us the event’s expected value, which we should use in our decision-making. Now we are uncertain about how to value the results of an event, rather than about what the results will be. To keep things simple, let us set aside the ordinary sort of uncertainty by assuming that we know for sure what the results of the event will be. For instance, suppose we know that a catastrophe will have the effect of halving the world’s population. Our problem is that various different moral theories of value evaluate this effect differently. How might we try to apply expected value theory to this catastrophe? We can start by evaluating the effect according to each of the different theories of value separately; there is no difficulty in principle there. We next need to assign probabilities to each of the theories; no doubt that will be difficult, but let us assume we can do it somehow. We then encounter the fundamental difficulty. Each different theory will value the change in population according to its own units of value, and those units may be incomparable with one another. Consequently, we cannot form a weighted average of them. For example, one theory of value is total utilitarianism. This theory values the collapse of population as the loss of the total well-being that will result from it. Its unit of value is well-being. Another theory is average utilitarianism. It values the collapse of population as the change of average well-being that will result from it. Its unit of value is well-being per person. We cannot take a sensible average of some amount of well-being and some amount of well-being per person. It would be like trying to take an average of a distance, whose unit is kilometers, and a speed, whose unit is kilometers per hour. Most theories of value will be incomparable in this way. Expected value theory is therefore rarely able to help with uncertainty about value. So we face a particularly intractable problem of uncertainty, which prevents us from working out what we should do. Yet we have to act; climate change will not wait while we sort ourselves out. What should we do, then, seeing as we do not know what we should do? This too is a question for moral philosophy. Even the question is paradoxical: it is asking for an answer while at the same time acknowledging that no one knows the answer. How to pose the question correctly but unparadoxically is itself a problem for moral philosophy.
John Stuart Mill
All social inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient, assume the character not of simple inexpediency, but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical, that people are apt to wonder how they ever could have been tolerated; forgetful that they themselves perhaps tolerate other inequalities under an equally mistaken notion of expediency, the correction of which would make that which they approve seem quite as monstrous as what they have at last learnt to condemn. The entire history of social improvement has been a series of transitions, by which one custom or institution after another, from being a supposed primary necessity of social existence, has passed into the rank of a universally stigmatised injustice and tyranny. So it has been with the distinctions of slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and plebeians; and so it will be, and in part already is, with the aristocracies of colour, race, and sex.
To reduce poetry to its reflections of historical events and movements would be like reducing the poet's words to their logical or grammatical connotations.
The utilitarian behaves sensibly in all that is required for preservation but never takes account of the fact that he must die...His whole life is absorbed in avoiding death, which is inevitable, and therefore he might be thought to be the most irrational of men, if rationality has anything to do with understanding ends or comprehending the human situation as such. He gives way without reserve to his most powerful passion and the wishes it engenders.
In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected." (Frauds on the Fairies, 1853)
W. Somerset Maugham
Jeremy Bentham startled the world many years ago by stating in effect that if the amount of pleasure obtained from each be equal there is nothing to choose between poetry and push-pin. Since few people now know what push-pin is, I may explain that it is a child's game in which one player tries to push his pin across that of another player, and if he succeeds and then is able by pressing down on the two pins with the ball of his thumb to lift them off the table he wins possession of his opponent's pin. [...] The indignant retort to Bentham's statement was that spiritual pleasures are obviously higher than physical pleasures. But who say so? Those who prefer spiritual pleasures. They are in a miserable minority, as they acknowledge when they declare that the gift of aesthetic appreciation is a very rare one. The vast majority of men are, as we know, both by necessity and choice preoccupied with material considerations. Their pleasures are material. They look askance at those who spent their lives in the pursuit of art. That is why they have attached a depreciatory sense to the word aesthete, which means merely one who has a special appreciation of beauty. How are we going to show that they are wrong? How are we going to show that there is something to choose between poetry and push-pin? I surmise that Bentham chose push-pin for its pleasant alliteration with poetry. Let us speak of lawn tennis. It is a popular game which many of us can play with pleasure. It needs skill and judgement, a good eye and a cool head. If I get the same amount of pleasure out of playing it as you get by looking at Titian's 'Entombment of Christ' in the Louvre, by listening to Beethoven's 'Eroica' or by reading Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday', how are you going to prove that your pleasure is better and more refined than mine? Only, I should say, by manifesting that this gift you have of aesthetic appreciation has a moral effect on your character.
In every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself.
It is interesting, in this context, to think again of our earlier argument that membership of the species Homo sapiens does not entitle a being to better treatment than a being at a similar mental level who is a member of a different species. We could also have said – except that it seemed too obvious to need saying – that membership of the species Homo sapiens is not a reason for giving a being worse treatment than a member of a different species. Yet in respect of euthanasia, this needs to be said. If your dog is ill and in pain with no chance of recovery, the humane thing to do is take her to the vet, who will end her suffering swiftly with a lethal injection. To ‘allow nature to take its course’, withholding treatment while your dog dies slowly and in distress over days, weeks or months, would obviously be wrong. It is only our misplaced respect for the doctrine of the sanctity of human life that prevents us from seeing that what it is obviously wrong to do to a dog, it is equally wrong to do to a human being who has never been able to express a view about such matters.
When we say that humans have a “right” not to be used for these purposes, this means simply that the interest of humans in not being used as non-consenting subjects in experiments will be protected even if the consequences of using them would be very beneficial for the rest of us. The question, then, is why do we think that it is morally acceptable to use nonhumans in experiments but not to use humans? Vivisection, Part Two: The Moral Justification of Vivisection | Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach
A week-old baby is not a rational and self-aware being, and there are many nonhuman animals whose rationality, self-awareness, capacity to feel and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. If, for the reasons I have given, the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either.
We have examined a number of ethical issues. We have seen that many accepted practices are open to serious objections. What ought we to do about it? This, too, is an ethical issue.
For a merely conscious being, death is the cessation of experiences, in much the same way that birth is the beginning of experiences. Death cannot be contrary to an interest in continued life any more than birth could be in accordance with an interest in commencing life. To this extent, with merely conscious beings, birth and death cancel each other out; whereas with self-aware beings, the fact that one may desire to continue living means that death inflicts a loss for which the birth of another is insufficient compensation.
Effective altruism is about asking "How can I make the biggest difference I can?" and using evidence and careful reasoning to try to find an answer. It takes a scientific approach to doing good. Just as science consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what's true, and a committment to believe the truth whatever that turns out to be. As the phrase suggests, effective altruism consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what's best for the world, and a commitment to do what's best, whatever that turns out to be.
Divine worship means the same thing where time is concerned, as the temple where space is concerned. "Temple" means... that a particular piece of ground is specially reserved, and marked off from the remainder of the land which is used either for agriculture or habitation... Similarly in divine worship a certain definite space of time is set aside from working hours and days... and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitarian ends.
We have a special name, here, for a certain kind of failure to defer to the greater good—for putting a personal sense of doing right above any objective measure of the outcome. It’s called ‘moral vanity’.
You know what? This isn't about your feelings. A human life, with all its joys and all its pains, adding up over the course of decades, is worth far more than your brain's feelings of comfort or discomfort with a plan. Does computing the expected utility feel too cold-blooded for your taste? Well, that feeling isn't even a feather in the scales, when a life is at stake. Just shut up and multiply.
No doubt we instinctively prefer to help those who are close to us. Few could stand by and watch a child drown; many can ignore the avoidable deaths of children in Africa or India. The question, however, is not what we usually do, but what we ought to do, and it is difficult to see any sound moral justification for the view that distance, or community membership, makes a crucial difference to our obligations.
The capacity for suffering – or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness – is not just another characteristic like the capacity for language or for higher mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try to mark ‘the insuperable line’ that determines whether the interests of a being should be considered happen to have selected the wrong characteristic. The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a child. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because mice will suffer if they are treated in this way.
When we make ethical judgments, we must go beyond a personal or sectional point of view and take into account the interests of all those affected, unless we have sound ethical grounds for doing otherwise. This means that we weigh interests, considered simply as interests and not as my interests, or the interests of people of European descent, or of people with IQs higher than 100. This provides us with a basic principle of equality: the principle of equal consideration of interests. The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is that we give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions. This means that if only X and Y would be affected by a possible act, and if X stands to lose more than Y stands to gain, it is better not to do the act. We cannot, if we accept the principle of equal consideration of interests, say that doing the act is better, despite the facts described, because we are more concerned about Y than we are about X. What the principle really amounts to is: an interest is an interest, whoever's interest it may be.
If then, merely out of regard to population, it were right that paederasts should be burnt alive, monks ought to be roasted alive over a slow fire. (Offences Against One's Self,
But if all maximizing models are really arguing is that “people will always seek to maximize something,” then they obviously can’t predict anything, which means employing them can hardly be said to make anthropology more scientific. All they really add to analysis is a set of assumptions about human nature. The assumption, most of all, that no one ever does anything primarily out of concern for others; that whatever one does, one is only trying to get something out of it for oneself. In common English, there is a word for this attitude. It’s called “cynicism.” Most of us try to avoid people who take it too much to heart. In economics, apparently, they call it “science.
For preference utilitarians, taking the life of a person will normally be worse than taking the life of some other being, because persons are highly future-oriented in their preferences. To kill a person is therefore, normally, to violate not just one but a wide range of the most central and significant preferences a being can have. Very often, it will make nonsense of everything that the victim has been trying to do in the past days, months or even years. In contrast, beings that cannot see themselves as entities with a future do not have any preferences about their own future existence. This is not to deny that such beings might struggle against a situation in which their lives are in danger, as a fish struggles to get free of the barbed hook in its mouth; but this indicates no more than a preference for the cessation of a state of affairs that causes pain or fear. The behaviour of a fish on a hook suggests a reason for not killing fish by that method but does not in itself suggest a preference utilitarian reason against killing fish by a method that brings about death instantly, without first causing pain or distress. Struggles against danger and pain do not suggest that fish are capable of preferring their own future existence to non-existence.
Utilitarianism: If we Britiash were Utilitarians we would have to believe that imprisoning the innocent and torturing suspects was justified if the Home Secretary thought it a good thing for our peace of mind.
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. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead of light.
J. M. Coetzee
What would yield the greater benefit to mankind: if I spent the afternoon taking stock in my dispensary, or if I went to the beach and took off my clothes and lay in my underpants absorbing the benign spring sun, watching the children frolic in the water, later buying an ice-cream from the kiosk on the parking lot, if the kiosk is still there? What did Noël ultimately achieve labouring at his desk to balance the bodies out against the bodies in? Would he not be better off taking a nap? Maybe the universal sum of happiness would be increased if we declared this afternoon a holiday and went down to the beach, commandant, doctor, chaplain, PT instructors, guards, dog-handlers all together with the six hard cases from the detention block, leaving behind the concussion case to look after things. Perhaps we might meet some girls. For what reason were we waging the war, after all, but to augment the sum of happiness in the universe? Or was I misremembering, was that another war I was thinking of?
What is the difference between Utilitarianism and Communitarianism? Let me explain to you based on my modest and humblest understanding by using an analogy of Ham Sandwich and Egg Sandwich. To prepare and serve a Ham Sandwich, a poor pig’s life must be sacrificed to serve the majority of the consumers—that is Utilitarianism. To serve an Egg Sandwich, on the other hand, a cheerful hen must dutifully lay an egg every day to serve the majority of the consumers—that is Communitarianism. In utilitarianism, the means is not important, as long as it produces the beneficial result (consequentialism) for the majority, then it is ethically and morally justifiable. It does not matter if you bomb the enemy’s innocent women and children, so long as it maims the enemy’s capability to retaliate, then your act is defensible for the greater good of your country. In communitarianism, however, individual life and individual contribution to the community are both important. As long as you continue laying eggs willingly and happily, you contribute to the common good of the community as a dependable and responsible hen, I mean, individual. (Danny Castillones Sillada, Inusara Journal, October 8, 2016).
John Stuart Mill
That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature, does not necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling of justice might be a peculiar instinct, and might yet require, like our other instincts, to be controlled and enlightened by a higher reason. If we have intellectual instincts, leading us to judge in a particular way, as well as animal instincts that prompt us to act in a particular way, there is no necessity that the former should be more infallible in their sphere than the latter in theirs: it may as well happen that wrong judgments are occasionally suggested by those, as wrong actions by these. But though it is one thing to believe that we have natural feelings of justice, and another to acknowledge them as an ultimate criterion of conduct, these two opinions are very closely connected in point of fact. Mankind are always predisposed to believe that any subjective feeling, not otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some objective reality.
My suggestion, then, is that we accord the fetus no higher moral status than we give to a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel and so on. Because no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person. Until a fetus has some capacity for conscious experience, an abortion terminates an existence that is – considered as it is and not in terms of its potential – more like that of a plant than of a sentient animal like a dog or a cow.
In the absence of any general inference from ‘A is a potential X’ to ‘A has the rights of an X’, we should not accept that a potential person should have the rights of a person, unless we can be given some specific reason why this should hold in this particular case.
John Stuart Mill
The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.
John Stuart Mill
It is a strange notion that the acknowledgment of a first principle is inconsistent with the admission of secondary ones. To inform a traveler respecting the place of his ultimate destination, is not to forbid the use of land-marks and direction-posts on the way. The proposition that happiness is the end and aim of morality, does not mean that no road ought to be laid down to that goal, or that persons going thither should not be advised to take one direction rather than another. Men really ought to leave off talking a kind of nonsense on this subject, which they would neither talk nor listen to on other matters of practical concernment. Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not founded on astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational creatures, they go to sea with it ready calculated; and all rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with their minds made up on the common questions of right and wrong, as well as on many of the far more difficult questions of wise and foolish. And this, as long as foresight is a human quality, it is to be presumed they will continue to do. Whatever we adopt as the fundamental principle of morality, we require subordinate principles to apply it by: the impossibility of doing without them, being common to all systems, can afford no argument against any one in particular: but gravely to argue as if no such secondary principles could be had, and as if mankind had remained till now, and always must remain, without drawing any general conclusions from the experience of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absurdity has ever reached in philosophical controversy.