Utalitarianism

Length: 3-5 pp/1200 words (1500 words absolute max)

Format: typed (readable font, size, spacing, margins generous enough for comments, etc.), stapled, paginated, word-count given.

Instructions:
(1) You must define any technical terms.

(2) You must give a rationale for each premise of each argument you are discussing. Make sure that your rationales are not simply restatements of the premises. To repeat something gives no reason to believe that it’s true, even if it’s repeated loudly and often.

(3) Present and discuss what you take to be the most interesting objection .

(4) Give full present-explain-evaluate treatment.

(5) Arguments constitute the heart of any philosophy paper; make sure you focus on them.

(6) Try to keep things as clear and simple as possible.

1. State and fully explain a typical form of Utilitarianism. Many people think that Utilitarianism gives the wrong results in certain cases involving rights and criminal justice. Present, explain and fully evaluate objections to Utilitarianism based on a specific example of two such cases. How might a utilitarian reply? What do you think?

2. State and explain with examples some of the characteristic features of free market economies and command economies. Engels argued that, since we know how much, on the average, a person needs, it is easy to calculate how much is needed by a given number of individuals, and since production is no longer in the hands of private producers but in the hands of the community and its administrative bodies it is a trifling matter to regulate production according to needs.? This suggests that we ought to embrace a command economy and reject a free market economy. Forge this suggestion into an explicit formal argument. Explain and fully evaluate that argument. What do you think?

3. Who was Mill? What question is he (primarily) addressing in On Liberty? What is his ?Harm Principle?? To interpret this principle, we need to know what he means by ?harm?. State, explain and evaluate three suggestions. Would it be good if the Harm Principle (interpreted accorded to the most plausible of the three suggestions) were generally adhered to? What are some of its more radical consequences?

4. State and briefly explain Utilitarianism. What is toleration? State and explain Mill’s argument for toleration. In particular, explain his neutralist  strategy, and give the best case you can for Mill’s claim that suppressing falsehoods always causes harm. Is he right? Can you think of a better utilitarian case for toleration?

5. State and explain a typical form of Utilitarianism. Extract, explain and evaluate an objection to Utilitarianism from the following passage. Discuss one way that a utilitarian might respond. What do you think of this response? Does this show up any deep flaw in the theory? What? Could it be fixed up?

We may imagine a squad of soldiers to be practicing the throwing of live hand grenades; a grenade slips from the hand of one of them and rolls on the ground near the squad; one of them sacrifices his life by throwing himself on the grenade and protecting his comrades with his own body…But if the soldier had not thrown himself on the grenade would he have failed in his duty? Though clearly he is superior in some way to his comrades, can we possibly say that they failed in their duty by not trying to be the one who sacrificed himself? If he had not done so, could anyone have said to him, ?You ought to have thrown yourself on that grenade?? Could a superior have decently ordered him to do it? The answer to all these questions is plainly negative.

6. State and explain a typical form of Utilitarianism. Consider the following passage:

Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up against the wall is a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of them several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that the Indians are a random group of inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protesters of the advantages of not protesting. However, since Jim is an honored visitor from another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion and Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all…. The men against wall, and the other villagers, understand the situation, and are obviously begging him to accept. What should he do?
If the situation is essentially as described and there are no further special factors, [utilitarianism] regards [this] as…obviously the right answer. But even one who came to think that perhaps that was the answer, might well wonder whether it was obviously the answer.
…. It is absurd to demand of such a man, when the sums come in from the utility network which the projects of others have in part determined, that he should just step aside from his own project and decision and acknowledge the decision which utilitarian calculation requires…It is thus, in the most literal sense, an attack on his integrity.

In class, we put this passage to a slightly different purpose from what its author intended. He uses to introduce a number of themes: shooting people in cold-blood, integrity, obviousness, responsibility for the results of others, projects, etc. Choose any two of these themes and develop them as arguments against Utilitarianism. Explain and evaluate these arguments. How would a utilitarian respond? What do you think of these responses?

 

 

 

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