Friday, July 17, 2009

More on utilitarianism

I wrote earlier that I'm an individualist utilitarian. That's not quite right; even if I properly describe this personal utilitarianism as only appealing to ordinal utility, I don't ever want to be accused of advancing the idea cardinal utility, and I doubt that the label "utilitarian" meaningfully reflects the difference. Mill had his differences from Bentham, but I don't think Mill reasoned entirely by ordinal utility, nor that Bentham reasoned entirely by cardinal utility.

Why am I so against the idea of cardinal utility? I find it dangerous to make decisions by trying to maximize cardinal utility, because it implies that one agent has the moral justification to make a moral choice for another agent. That's a basis for totalitarianism. So it's not exactly utilitarianism that I advocate, but rather a kind of deference to ordinal utility that produces a consequentialist justification for individual rights.

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