Common objections to consequentialism

Utilitarianism, prioritarianism and other varieties of consequentialism.
DanielLC
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by DanielLC » Sun Apr 03, 2011 2:14 am

I don't understand what he's trying to say.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

rehoot
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by rehoot » Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:18 pm

DanielLC wrote:I don't understand what he's trying to say.
Was that a reference to my post earlier that day: "It was never contended or conceited by a sound, orthodox utilitarian that the lover should kiss his mistress with an eye to the common weal" (John Austin, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined, 2nd Edition, 1861, p. 101)

Austin was denying that utilitarians always act for the benefit of the greatest good by saying that guys kiss their girlfriends because of selfish desire. I think his comment was directed toward Bentham's work with respect to the conduct of governments. As an individual, I could adopt a selfish utilitarianism in which kissing my girlfriend is an expected consequence of utilitarianism, but if I had a day-job as a politician I might need to look toward the greatest good for the entire city (or state or nation). I think Austin is denying the second type of motivation.

Austin's comments would apply to individuals who assert that they choose their personal actions to benefit some greater good (the city, all humans, all life forms, etc.). It is common in this forum for people to justify vegetarianism because the alternative reduces global utility. Austin might make the inference that the vegetarians claim to always act "with an eye toward the common weal" in all situations, but I see this as an error. What vegetarians might do is avoid positive acts that cause disutility (i.e., avoid killing animals for food or paying somebody to do so), but at the same time vegetarians can pursue selfish interests as long as they incur minimal disutility to innocent bystanders (e.g., listening to music instead of digging a water well for a poor person).

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RyanCarey
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by RyanCarey » Tue Apr 12, 2011 10:47 am

Well this objection says that kissing one's girlfriend is selfish and un-utilitarian. I think that there are a lot of things that are utilitarian about kissing one's girlfriend. Firstly, if you don't engage in romance, you won't sustain a relationship, and that could well cause you greif. It could reduce your productivity too. Secondly, utilitarianism doesn't demand people to do the impossible. People can't be persuaded to live without romance, and encouraging them to do so is a waste of time. Utilitarianism depends on its persuasiveness. Consider this. If I directly act to reduce poverty, I may contribute one lifetime's salaries to this cause. If I instead persuade two others to be utilitarian, this can contribute up to twice as much to this cause. If I live my life as a moderately effective evangelist for utilitarianism, I can be twice as effective as I would be if I had directly donated to charity. Trying to live without romance is futile, and it will inhibit efforts to spread utilitarianism. So utilitarianism should embrace romance.
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Akeron
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by Akeron » Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:42 am

Arepo wrote:6) It’s impossible/undesirable to impose a structure on ethics. Better to rely on our judgement, and take one situation at a time.

8) It's very hard or impossible to evaluate actions the way consequentialists say we should, because they might have very long term consequences.

10) Happiness isn’t a universal sum which everyone contributes to or subtracts from, it’s a subjective experience that varies from each individual to the next. Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.

11) Utilitarianism demands impossible sacrifice from us (this Demandingness Objection seems to apply to most forms of consequentialism, but maybe less so than to util).

13) I agree with the sentiment of increasing wellbeing, but I disagree with the idea of using people for the benefit of others. It treats them as less than human because it disregards their intents and goals. So utilitarianism is a good starting point for ethics, but we must also respect human dignity.
These seem to be the most accurate.

Put even more concisely, consequentialism forces people to assume the risk of suffering, frustration, and punishment. The point of living under the rule of law, however, is overcoming the state of nature.

In other words, consequentialism, ironically, DISCOURAGES people from being rational since people don't know potential benefits in advance of experience. People are not allowed to be risk averse because they have to assume risks to find out what happens. Those lacking confidence are condemned as hopeless.

Consequentialism also seems to be an excuse for bad communicators. For example, a parent who hits a kid to teach that kid how not to behave rather than actually explaining why something is wrong.

Consequentialism also relieves people from communicating what's right. For example, a parent could teach a kid nothing, and then expect that kid to act out, forcing the kid to assume the risk of punishment in learning right and wrong.

In short, I don't see any difference between a utilitarian society and a hostage situation.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by Brian Tomasik » Mon Apr 30, 2012 1:25 pm

Hi Akeron. Are you conflating consequentialism with operant conditioning? I see no reason consequentialism would support the things you suggest, and even if it did, "global" consequentialists should realize that and then change course.

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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by Akeron » Tue May 01, 2012 12:20 pm

Alan Dawrst wrote:Hi Akeron. Are you conflating consequentialism with operant conditioning? I see no reason consequentialism would support the things you suggest, and even if it did, "global" consequentialists should realize that and then change course.
You're still assuming global consequences will necessarily be better.

For example, a consequentialist wouldn't see a problem with sacrificing individuals for the sake of the collective.

A consequentialist also wouldn't see a problem with utility monsters.

Lastly, a consequentialist has to account for "In the long run, we're all dead." Consequences which take place after an inflicter passes away don't mean anything. There's nothing inhibiting an inflicter from hurting others in pursuit of "Moon or bust."

In the case of operant conditioning, this means a conditioner wouldn't see a problem with forcing a pupil to endure a gauntlet of punishment, even if that means the pupil's complete destruction because the conditioner only wants haughty pupils.

Ergo, the conditioner would be taking one's own externally granted quantitative thickskin for granted, ignoring the internal qualitative subjectivity of personhood.

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Put simply, the consequentialist ignores a priori reason, believing people must assume the risk of learning from experience.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue May 01, 2012 1:11 pm

If we can see that the consequences of doing things as you suggest are bad, then they aren't consequentialist things to do after all. Consequentialism is about doing what works. In some cases, it may be that following seemingly non-consequentialist rules works better.

DanielLC
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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by DanielLC » Tue May 01, 2012 6:14 pm

Put simply, the consequentialist ignores a priori reason
It only ignores a priori reason if that gets better results. For all intents and purposes, ignoring knowledge never gets better results.
Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

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Re: Common objections to consequentialism

Post by Existent » Thu Jul 31, 2014 4:59 am

What about proofs of Utilitarianism as a whole? E.g., how do we know suffering is bad and pleasure is good? I am only aware of Mill's nortorious proof in Chapter 4 of Utilitarianism and some writings by Sidgwick, but most modern literature I found focuses mostly on Mill's proof.

To me, Utilitarianism just seems right, but of course that's inadequate from a critical point of view. Are there any proofs beyond just "People seek happiness and avoid suffering"

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