Total versus average happiness

Utilitarianism, prioritarianism and other varieties of consequentialism.
CarlShulman
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Re: Total versus average happiness

Post by CarlShulman » Tue Mar 06, 2012 11:26 pm

Richard Chappell calls himself a value holist http://www.philosophyetc.net/2008/12/va ... draft.html, taking into account features like totals, the distribution across lives, etc. On the issue of killing people to bring up the average, he says http://www.philosophyetc.net/2010/07/ki ... ch-results:
Compare two very different forms of 'average utilitarianism':
(1) The value of a world is a function of the average happiness at each moment: e.g., the sum (or perhaps the average) of the momentary net happiness divided by the momentary population.
(2) The value of a world is a function (namely, the average) of the welfare values of each individual's whole life. (Welfare need not be temporally located.)

The "killing to promote average utility" objection only makes sense against the type-1, momentary view. On the second view, where we take a timeless perspective, killing someone does not reduce the (eternal) population. It merely makes one of the lives shorter than it otherwise would be. But that life still counts as one life in the history of the world, the same as it ever did. So, if death was bad for the person -- if it made their life worse than it otherwise would have been -- then, all else equal, it thereby reduces the average welfare of the world. It thus counts as a bad outcome. And doesn't this seem by far the more plausible view?

More generally: It makes a big difference if we understand individual welfare as a value that inheres in whole lives, rather than mere momentary timeslices. We've seen that it allows us to avoid the absurd result that harming some (by killing them), while helping no-one, could improve the world according to the average principle. It also helps against a related objection that applies even to the total principle: that killing someone and replacing them by someone slightly happier would increase utility. This may be true of chickens and other beings that lack a persisting identity, but you can't replace a person without cutting short a temporally-extended life, the disvalue of which might easily outweigh the increase in mere momentary happiness.

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Pablo Stafforini
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Re: Total versus average happiness

Post by Pablo Stafforini » Wed Mar 07, 2012 3:21 am

Hi Carl,
Richard Chappell wrote:(2) The value of a world is a function (namely, the average) of the welfare values of each individual's whole life. (Welfare need not be temporally located.)
Chappell's timeless average utilitarianism does avoid the problem Arepo mentions in his comment above:
Arepo wrote:Average utilitarianism can give you a situation with multiple happy people in which killing one of the less happy people, making everyone marginally less happy in the process (but one of them only momentarily so, before he dies), gives you a greater average.
However, it does not avoid the different problem I myself mentioned:
Pablo Stafforini wrote:Average utilitarianism has even more implausible implications. For instance, consider a world A in which people experience nothing but agonizing pain. Consider next a different world B which contains all the people in A, plus arbitrarily many people all experiencing pain only slightly less intense. Since the average pain in B is less than the average pain in A, average utilitarianism implies that B is better than A. This is clearly absurd, since B differs from A only in containing a surplus of agony.
This is because here no lives are shortened or prolonged; world B contains all the same lives contained in A, plus additional lives.

Chappell himself acknowledges that even his preferred version of average utilitarianism has "other, more absurd, implications", and although he doesn't elaborate, he probably has this problem in mind.

Verrian
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Re: Total versus average happiness

Post by Verrian » Mon Feb 24, 2014 11:43 pm

I really need to understand this important dilemma, in clear and few words (and, perhaps, in a simple example) in order to understand the so called "Repugnant Conclusion".

Neither H. Sidgwick (ME, IV, i, 2) nor the S.E.P. helped me :roll:
Italian user. Please, pardon possibly wrong english (use a simple one, b.t.w.) and consequent ignorance and inattention. Thanks

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Darklight
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Re: Total versus average happiness

Post by Darklight » Tue Feb 25, 2014 2:39 am

I really need to understand this important dilemma, in clear and few words (and, perhaps, in a simple example) in order to understand the so called "Repugnant Conclusion".

Neither H. Sidgwick (ME, IV, i, 2) nor the S.E.P. helped me :roll:
Have you tried looking at the Wikipedia article on Average and Total Utilitarianism? It's a bit more clear than the S.E.P. and Sidgwick.
"The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life." - Albert Einstein

Verrian
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Re: Total versus average happiness

Post by Verrian » Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:59 pm

Hehehe... thanks.

Reading it... I ask my self why, in both cases, the "hedons" or utilities are such a fixed amount. I mean, the utilitarians' social action is, maybe, supposed to be finished and spent. When population increases, then also its needs increase; so... where's the maximum utility, the greatest-happiness effort? ... The happiness considered in the dilemma seems to me something springy that, if dilated, becomes flat. Why? Where's the production factor? Don't know, maybe I'm still too ignorant.

An other thing: in SEP entry, I read
D. Parfit wrote:For any possible population of at least ten billion people...
Wait, what? at least? not-less of?
D. Parfit wrote:...all with a very high quality of life...
Wow! an easy-conceivable scenario, right? So you see I'm soon dazed just for the first lines of entry! lol

Thus, is it a contradiction within the Bentham's maixm? Greatest happiness vs. greatest number? Or is it the Malthus' problem (quoted in Sidgwick, ibidem) where the resources and affluences are limited whilst the population is unlimited? Is it just Population Law? That's all?

Wearing doubts.
Italian user. Please, pardon possibly wrong english (use a simple one, b.t.w.) and consequent ignorance and inattention. Thanks

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