• GreyScorpio
    93
    Utilitarianism is the theory that an action is moral only if it maximizes pleasure. For example, a classic example, if you were a train driver and your train spontaneously failed causing your breaks to stop working and people were on the two junction tracks. One person on the left and five people on the write. Which track do you take? Utilitarians will obviously say to take the left track with the one person on it sacrificing his life to save the five on the right track. This is because more people would be happy with the outcome as the quantity of people is greater in five than one. However, is it correct to be able to condone killing this way? Not to mention other moral dilemmas of which utilitarianism would perhaps favor the side that is not socially moral.

    Your thoughts ...
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k
    Morality in utilitarianism is defined by the calculus used to derive moral outcomes or the greatest good principle. There is one problem with that though...

    Namely how do you devise such an awesome calculus to define what is moral? There are so many things to factor in that decisions made by such a calculus are hopelessly complex and impractical.

    Maybe when computers become sufficiently complex to factor in all the possibilities of said calculus in the real world, then maybe we could have some impartial arbitration of decision making also.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    Namely how do you devise such an awesome calculus to define what is moral? There are so many things to factor in that decising such a calculus is hopelessly complex and impractical.Posty McPostface

    I completely agree. But how do you feel about Kant's way of resolving this. Instead of having to base morals on a man made calculus, Kant uses a logical categorical imperative in which he claims that there are duties that we ought to do regardless of there consequences. It is near enough the exact opposite to Utilitarianism because it is not consequentialist. So Kant clearly destroys the calculus because he has put in place set rules that do not condone acts such as lying. Whereas Utilitarianism would.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k


    Yes, but Kant's categorical imperative doesn't deal well with morally contextually bound decisions. So, utilitarianism has the upper hand here.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    Of course, but overall Utilitarianism does condone immoral actions where as the categorical imperative would be more stern on these situations that Utilitarianism just doesn't have the capacity to account for.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k


    Yes, but utilitarianism is more practical or flexible than kantian imperatives. So, under such an assumption it seems like utilitarianism is superior to categorical imperative moral decision making.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k
    So, the complexity and flexibility of the utilitarian calculus can be viewed as an advantage over categorical imperatives of deontological ethical based theories.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    but utilitarianism is more practical or flexible than kantian imperatives. So, under such an assumption it seems like utilitarianism is superior to categorical imperative moral decision making.Posty McPostface

    Yes, but the decisions made by utilitarianism would be more flexible on the grounds that it cares solely on the consequences and disregards the actions. For example, If a woman discarded his last amount of food intending to litter but accidentally throws it into the lap of a hungry homeless man, is this woman moral? Utilitarianism would condone this action and call it moral even though there was no moral act. This disregards the theory overall because it no longer becomes a moral theory does it?
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k


    It would be considered as an accidental moral act. Good intent or the desire to obey or abide by the utilitarian calculus also matters in consequentialist moral theories as far as I'm aware...

    If you treat the utilitarian calculus as a rulebook to abide by, then the differences between deontologists and consequentialists kind of gets blurry. A little.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    If you treat the utilitarian calculus as a rulebook to abide by, then the differences between deontologists and consequentialists kind of gets blurry. A little.Posty McPostface

    Agreed, but morality is based on a 'rule book' it needs to be.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k


    Pretty much. And that's why utilitarianism is in my view better than deontological ethical theories. Because the calculus can always be worked on collectively, where deontologists are bound by what 'feels' right or are trapped in the is/ought problem.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    True, but then what of Emotivism that overcomes is/ought but is still bound by what feels right. It is entirely objective and is based on how you feel when in a situation.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.9k


    Yeah, but think about it from the perspective of an individual. They're hopelessly confounded to.their own feelings and biases. Utilitarianism overcomes these issues by being able to formalize ethical conduct into a calculus.
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    As does the categorical imperative, the only thing it lacks is flexibility, but morals do that anyway. We have established that objectivity is not effective when speaking of morals hence an issue with Emotivism, with Utilitarianists it is a way too simple matter of maximizing pleasure when morality is not all about pleasure, clearly. For something to be moral doesn't necessarily always have to favor the most individuals. Like in war, for example. Utilitarianism would say that war is correct in favor of the winner only, meaning that it doesn't look into situations clearly, no?
  • Cabbage Farmer
    165
    Utilitarianism is the theory that an action is moral only if it maximizes pleasure.GreyScorpio
    Do utilitarian theorists nowadays agree that pleasure maximization is the best or only criterion of utility?

    I expect the evaluation of utility is an open question.


    For example, a classic example, if you were a train driver and your train spontaneously failed causing your breaks to stop working and people were on the two junction tracks. One person on the left and five people on the write. Which track do you take? Utilitarians will obviously say to take the left track with the one person on it sacrificing his life to save the five on the right track. This is because more people would be happy with the outcome as the quantity of people is greater in five than one.GreyScorpio
    Is there another reasonable solution to the problem as it is defined? Flip a coin, perhaps, or just leave the train running down whichever line it happens to be on.... I won't say choosing the left track is worse than leaving the outcome to chance. For my scruples it seems like the best course of action, however we might seek to justify it with moral models.


    However, is it correct to be able to condone killing this way? Not to mention other moral dilemmas of which utilitarianism would perhaps favor the side that is not socially moral.GreyScorpio
    I wouldn't call it "condoning killing" to choose the left track or to condone that choice, in the example as you've defined it.

    It's a reasonable attempt to do the least harm in a terrible situation.


    Not to mention other moral dilemmas of which utilitarianism would perhaps favor the side that is not socially moral.GreyScorpio
    That's where things start getting sticky.

    Vary your problem to put more pressure on the utilitarian and on ordinary moral intuitions: Suppose the person on the left is a brilliant heart surgeon who saves lives and improves quality of life of individuals, thus indirectly benefiting whole communities, and trains other experts to perform similar feats....
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    Is there another reasonable solution to the problem as it is defined? Flip a coin, perhaps, or just leave the train running down whichever line it happens to be on.... I won't say choosing the left track is worse than leaving the outcome to chance. For my scruples it seems like the best course of action, however we might seek to justify it with moral models.Cabbage Farmer

    Flipping a coin then leaves it to something else rather than the rules of morals. I was speaking as if I were a Utilitarian. They would choose the left side (One person) because the pleasure is maximized this way in the sense that more people walk away happy with their lives.

    I wouldn't call it "condoning killing" to choose the left track or to condone that choice, in the example as you've defined it.Cabbage Farmer

    The choice that has been chosen is evidently taking another life. Perhaps that was a bad example. Take this one for thought: A burglar intends to rob a house where an old lady lives. One day he breaks open a window to break in, but sees the old lady on the floor. In shock, he flees. The old lady awakes, it turns out she was unconscious because her boiler broke and released carbon monoxide, the robber breaking the window allowed oxygen to come back into the room allowing her to regain consciousness. A Utilitarian would claim that this is a moral act. In this sense is Utilitarianism not condoning the robber's actions to break into someone else's home?

    It's a reasonable attempt to do the least harm in a terrible situation.Cabbage Farmer

    It would be, but the thoughts that arise at the time is how many people are being killed. I'm sure the train driver would much rather being blamed for one life being lost than five others as it maximizes the pleasure overall.

    I expect the evaluation of utility is an open question.Cabbage Farmer

    Utilitarianism has been evolved multiple times. There is Act, rule and preference utilitarianism that make attempts to rid of the very problems that I am proposing. But, we haven't quite yet got onto the issues of those particular theories.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.9k
    Maybe utilitarianism isn't an appropriate moral framework for individuals. Planners in public health, urban design, military readiness, etc. can better use "the most good for the most people" than 1 individual can. Conversely, Kant's categorical imperative may be a better guide for the individual.

    In the Fucking Trolley set up, somebody is going to get killed, no matter what. The conductor of the trolley will run over 5 or 1, and you will or will not push the fat man off the bridge onto the switch. Ghastly. This doesn't represent any moral system, it's a conversation starter.

    Better to choose real situations to illustrate moral systems. If you are even moderately alert, you will regularly encounter real opportunities to make difficult moral choices. For instance, the beggar problem: How do we judge his or her worthiness to receive our (usually) pitifully small gift? If there are several beggars nearby, which one do we choose -- or do we choose all of them -- or none? How much to give? Does it really matter to you whether they buy beer or buy vegetables? (If you were begging, would not a few beers at the end of another humiliating day be rather pleasant?) Do you have any knowledge of poverty's structure? Do you believe that anyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps--no matter their personal history?

    How 'moral' are our assumptions about other people's visible misfortunes?
  • tim wood
    809
    So Kant clearly destroys the calculus because he has put in place set rules that do not condone acts such as lying.GreyScorpio

    It's altogether too easy to misunderstand Kant. Here are four forms of his categorical imperative.

    "The Formula of the Law of Nature: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.

    The Formula of the End Itself: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

    The Formula of Autonomy: "So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.

    The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: "So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends."

    See? No set rules at all. Guidelines. Rigorous to be sure: mainly they establish abstract boundaries on actions. Every action is to be in concert and consistent with a certain critical thinking (which Kant makes clear). BUT, the thinking itself is never specified; it just has to satisfy the guidelines. In fact, in addition to the rigor, establishing your maxim is also something of a creative art. In addition, if you find yourself with multiple (two or more) conflicting or contradictory maxims, Kant says that one "rules" and the rest fall away (for the situation).
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    Maybe utilitarianism isn't an appropriate moral framework for individuals.Bitter Crank

    This is interesting. So, in a sense morality is different depending on the amount of people that it effects. In which sense the flexibility of Utilitarianism is useful for many people. In terms of maxims, don't you think that there are so many rules for a maxim to be appropriate that the inflexibility forces morality to be set rules?
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    In terms of maxims, don't you think that there are so many rules for a maxim to be appropriate that the inflexibility forces morality to be set rules?
  • tim wood
    809
    In terms of maxims, don't you think that there are so many rules for a maxim to be appropriate that the inflexibility forces morality to be set rules?GreyScorpio

    Can you unpack this a bit? A maxim is just a rule you invent for yourself that, if it's a Kantian maxim, also satisfies certain standards of reason - mainly being universalizable, not self-contradictory, and not using people as means rather than ends. "Morality" comes into the picture in so far as it informs reason, no further.
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