Sunday, May 18, 2008

Debate with Quantum Troll on Utilitarianism

This is QT's response to the article previously published. This debate is taking place eon my boards.

QuantumTroll wrote:In another thread, Metacrock said this:

Metacrock wrote:unfortunately my page on utilitarianism has been down and I've been so wrapped up in the move and everything I forgot. here it is. It's also restored to the index on the social menu of Doxa.

OT: So I read the page, and here's my opinion.

Meta: Not that it matters much but I did open a thread on City of God board about this, and included a post of the essay.

QT:I think you're misrepresenting Utilitarianism by focusing on the slogan version. "Greatest good for the greatest number" is just a simple rule-of-thumb, and I don't know any serious ethicist who would claim that this encompasses the entire thought process behind utilitarian moral thought.

Meta: that is clearly more than just a slogan for Mill. That's a callculous. It's the summation of the theory. See Rawls, see the book Consquentialism and Ethics. I think that was the Title.

QT:Utilitarianism is about looking for the optimal outcome in a given situation by thinking about the consequences. Sometimes, sacrificing the few for the many is the best we can do, but that does not mean that this is the only thing to consider.

Meta:that is a contradiction in terms. Ethics is based upon a decision between either teological thinking or deontological thinking. Teleological thinking means the morality is seated in the consequence not the value. To try to back pedal and save a space for values such as human life you are missing the boat and making it into something other than util. Util is based upon Bentham. Pleasure over pain. It doesn't leave a place for a spiritual value system to be nested in the back of the life boat. You can't say "O ok we will save a place for the value of humans as individuals in spite of their relation to the group," and still be a Util.

OT: The rights of the sacrificees need to be taken into consideration, for instance. Sometimes the "greatest good" is not comparable to the sacrifice - like if you let a mobster brutally rape someone every month so he'll let you keep your clubhouse. Sure, 100 club members are not inconvenienced by having to move, but a family's life is destroyed every month.

Meta: you have to introduce another set of values to do that. Its the consquentialist focus that produces the business ledger mentality. For example, there is no basis for talking about "rights" Other than the right to pleasure over pain in the Util world. You have to intorduce some form of denolotocial value system to introduce that concept.

QT: What strikes me as kind of funny is that your analysis is very utilitarian. Your argument about why Utilitarianism is bad is that there are consequences like "It would allow or justify the sacrafice of minority for the relative comfort of the majority.

Meta: that's your misconception about deontology. There's nothing in deontology that says consquences don't matter. The point is the value doesn't derive from the consequences not that we don't care about consequences. Violating duty and rules is a bad outcome to an action and means that such an act is wrong. It doesn't mean we say "Ok ignore that because it's just an outcome." But the outcome in itself is not the essence of the eticality. It's not the outcome alone that makes for ethics.

QT: The contra war could have been jutified perfectly upon util grounds, as could the holocaust." If you're saying that something is bad because it has bad consequences for lots of people, it's Utilitarianism


Meta: Nope. if that were true than God would be a Util. The contra war was wrong because it sacrificed the will of the people and democratic elections for the sake of the rich and powerful who were trying to take back their property (which they stole in the first place) from the oppressed masses who rebelled against them. The result of that was 85,000 murders of innocent civilians. Looking at this as a deontologist doesn't mean we ignore the death toll in access why it was an evil act. But we understand that violating duty and obligation has horrible consequences.

Murder isn't wrong because it violates the principle of pleasure over pain, or because it robs the greatest good for the greatest number, but because it violates the sacred principles of right, (the right of the victim to live), commands against killing, and duty to neighbor; the result of doing that is that people are robbed of life. It's not the result alone that makes it wrong, but it adds to the magnitude of the offense.

Now I will grant you that Regan did try to justify the contra war on deontological grounds, and every other kind of grounds as well. I"m not saying that you can't make a bogus argument that violates the premises of the system using any system you choose. But fairly and clearly supporting the Util view the way it was meant to be justifies the contra war. Fairly and clearly using a deontological ethics does not.

QT: Maybe your problem isn't with Utilitarianism itself, but the values that people try to maximize. Some people would say that the ideal should be the greatest amount of physical pleasure summed among all humans, others might say that spiritual well-being is actually important. I'm sure you could come up with a more nuanced formulation of what we should maximize, maybe involving duty, obligation, suffering, and justice (or something).

Meta: I spelled it out:

(1) it reduced to ledger sheet and ignores individual
(2) forces individual to do immoral acts
(3) forces us to ignore principles and values other than Hedonistic calculation.

QT: In short, what I mean to say is that Utilitarianism is not a monolithic system of ethics.

Meta: yes it is, I wish you would try to back that up by qutoing some major ethicist.

QT: It still very much depends on an independent determination of which values are important. Once you have decided on the values you think are important, seeking to maximize these values over the entire world is a very logical step. The question of theodicy is still treatable with utilitarianism, as long as you put a high value on free will (i.e. free will is a greater good than a complete lack of evil).

Meta: that requires starting from a premise that is not based upon UTIL or even upon any sort of consequentialism. It requires that you start from a value system and then find some grounding the axioms of that system over and above Util view, and the util view comes in as a modifyer to "maximize" and at that point you are no longer working form normal Util assumptions.

It's just totally common knowledge among ethics students that Util is dead. Rawls is almost universally credited with destroying it, and almost no ethicists today claim to be Utils. That is something of an appeal to authority, but I'm speaking of experts in the field, not just popular support. The only people that really tag themselves with that label are outside the profession.

No comments: