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Social Contract and Utilitarianism

Social Contract and Utilitarianism

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Social Contract and Utilitarianism

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  1. Social Contract and Utilitarianism

  2. Thomas Hobbes • State of nature is a state of war “of every man against every man” in which the lives of human beings are “solitary poor nasty brutish and short” • The State, for Locke and Hobbes is simply the solution to a practical problem that arises for human being trying to protect their basic interests under the potential violence of early human social conditions before the advent of “civil society” • This basic situation—not God, or natural laws—is the key to understanding how we ought to act

  3. The Prisoner’s Dilemma(applies to any situation where the outcome for you is determined not just by your own decisions, but also the decisions of others) • If Smith does not confess, but you confess and testify against him, they will release you and give Smith 10 years • If Smith confesses and you do not he will go free while you get 10 years • If you both confess you will each get 5 years • If neither of you confess they will hold you both for 1 year

  4. Social Contract Theory • What do I owe others? • Follow rules that rational people will accept, on the condition that others have accepted them as well • In what consists my own dignity? • Protecting my own self-interest (egoism?) in a truly intelligent fashion (i.e. in a way that takes into account the logical necessity for cooperation) • Why be moral? • We benefit from living in a place where rules are accepted

  5. Main Objections to Social Contract Theory • Based on a historical fiction—modern anthropology show that human beings and all their progenitor species were highly social creatures who have always lived in groups—in other words there was no “state of nature” in which people lived independent non-social lives from which they then choose cooperation • Social contract Theory leaves out of consideration any beings that cannot be rationally held to contracts, such as: • Human infants • Nonhuman animals • Future generations • Oppressed populations

  6. Mill’s Principle of Utility • Do whatever action will produce the greatest happiness (utility) for the greatest number (of beings that are capable of happiness and that will be affected by your action—ie “sentient beings”) • Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive • Mill’s ideas about promoting happiness in general motivated those who created the first social groups dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals

  7. Utilitarianism • What do I owe others? • Do whatever action will produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number • In what consists my own dignity? • Being happy (hedonism) • Why be moral? • Happiness is just obviously a good thing

  8. Hedonism • Hedonism is a school of thought going back into ancient times which argued that pleasure is the only intrinsic good (self-evident) • Used as a justification for evaluating actions in terms of how much pleasure and how little pain (i.e. suffering) they produce • A utilitarian accepts Hedonism but adds the idea that one must strive to maximize net pleasure for all sentient beings (aggregate pleasure minus pain)

  9. Consequentialism • Consequentialism refers to those moral theories (such as Utilitarianism) which hold that the consequences of one's conduct are the true basis for any judgment about the morality of that conduct • A morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good (however defined) outcome, or consequence • Opposed to principle-based ethical system (such as Kant’s)

  10. Main Arguments For • Simple principle/calculus (the “hedonic calculus”) eg. All cases of “cost-benefit analysis used by govt’s or businesses trace their origin back to Utilitarianism • No abstract rules “written in the heavens” • Secular ethic that avoid controversial metaphysical assumptions, and relies instead on consensus that pain is self-evidently bad and pleasure is self-evidently good

  11. Main Objections to Utilitarianism • No discrimination between types of pleasure • Is pleasure really all that matters in terms of values? Does Hedonism make sense (eg. The injured pianist, the matrix, a ridiculing friend) • Are consequences all that matter? Can a Utilitarian view really support a notion of absolute human rights (one of the reasons Mill wrote “On Liberty”)? • Too impartial? What about human relationships?