Just Better Utilitarianism

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Abstract

Utilitarianism could still be a viable moral and political theory, although an emphasis on justice as distributing burdens and benefits has hidden this from current conversations. The traditional counterexamples prove that we have good grounds for rejecting classical, aggregative forms of consequentialism. A nonaggregative, liberal form of utilitarianism is immune to this rejection. The cost is that it cannot adjudicate when the basic needs of individuals or groups are in conflict. Cases like this must be solved by other methods. This is not a weakness in liberal utilitarianism, on the contrary. The theory clarifies what we should admit to begin with: That ethical doctrines do not have universally acceptable solutions to all difficult problems or hard cases. The theory also reminds us that not all problems are in this sense difficult or cases hard. We could alleviate the plight of nonhuman animals by reducing meat eating. We could mitigate climate change and its detrimental effects by choosing better ways of living. These would imply that most people's desire satisfaction would be partly frustrated, but liberal utilitarianism holds that this would be justified by the satisfaction of the basic needs of other people and nonhuman animals.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Dec 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • climate change
  • consequentialism
  • liberal utilitarianism
  • nonhuman animals
  • utilitarianism

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