A Critique of Utilitarianism - Gillette

A Critique of Utilitarianism - Gillette

A Critique of Utilitarianism Bernard Williams Two Examples (see 613): George and the CBW lab Is a Chemist Must support his family Job available at CBW lab George is morally opposed to CBW If George doesnt take the job, another, more zealous

individual will Jim and the Indians Is a botanist Stumbles upon a massexecution in progress Is offered the visitors priviledge of killing one of the protestors himself; if he does, the other 19 will be set free If he does not, all 20 will be killed by Pedro Jim is morally opposed to

killing Point one: Ease of decision Williams contends that this is a minor point, but it is at least odd that both George and Jim are faced with difficult moral decisions, but that Utilitarianism gives clear and obvious answers for these cases. Negative Responsibility Negative Responsibility holds that people are just as culpable for what they fail to prevent as they

are for what they actively do. Example: A is just as guilty for failing to prevent B from pushing C off a cliff as if A had pushed C off a cliff. If absolute negative responsibility is unreasonable, and if Utilitarianism requires absolute negative responsibility, then Utilitarianism is unreasonable. Negative Responsibility In the George and Jim cases, the Utilitarian is asking us to hold George responsible for what the

more zealous person would do should George decline the job. Williams thinks this is unreasonable. In the Jim case, the Utilitarian is asking us to hold Jim responsible for Pedros killing all of the protestors because Jim could have prevented much of it. Williams thinks this is unreasonable. Remote Effects (psychological) Assume Jim kills one of the protestors to save 19 and despite the gratitude of the 19, feels terrible about killing the one.

This introduces a fork: If the utilitarian can consider this feeling as legitimate, then our arbitrary prejudices and squeamishness has a strong influence on our moral decision-making, and this seems wrong (see 616) If the utilitarian dismisses these reactions as irrational or non-utilitarian, then we are faced with the unpleasant consequence that the utilitarian ought to like killing (for example) when the conditions favor it. This seems wrong too.

Integrity Both the George and Jim cases require their subjects to give up on their personal moral projects whenever circumstances demand it. This is the opposite of Integrity. Integrity requires that people hold to their considered moral judgments. If integrity is a genuinely important part of moral life, and if utilitarianism is incompatible with integrity, then utilitarianism is incompatible with moral life. Study Questions:

Why is it a problem if Utilitarianism implies absolute negative responsibility? Is integrity an important part of the moral life? Why or why not? How would J.J.C Smart reply to Williams concerns?

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