Back to the index

Ethics - combination of systems

Table of Contents

Ethics - combination of systems

(confidence: arbitrary choice by an etihcal subjectivist)

Assuming that utilitarianism is ultimately correct. In practice, humans cannot predict the outcome of many acts, and utility is hard to calculate and compare. Many thought experiments constrain the variables to make the result clear, but in real life, we need to consider things like "weakening moral norms against murder" which can be very hard to quantify.

It is then important to have strong rights that are almost always respected, except if we are really really sure of ourselves. (So yeah, its OK to kill one guy to save a million, go ahead).

TODO: rights become meaningless if there is a 'except..' involved, must be almost absolute, at least normatively

There rules act as a useful heuristic, allowing us to avoid needing to drop down to utilitarian thinking in day to day life. The rules must be justified and updated based on utilitarianism however. Rules without something to justify them do not make sense (where do the rules come from in the first case).

See a similar idea by R. M Hare

To argue in this way is entirely to neglect the importance for moral philosophy of a study of moral education. Let us suppose that a fully informed archangelic act-utilitarian is thinking about how to bring up his children. He will obviously not bring them up to practise on every occasion on which they are confronted with a moral question the kind of arch angelic thinking that he himself is capable of [complete consequentialist reasoning]; if they are ordinary children, he knows that they will get it wrong. They will not have the time, or the information, or the self-mastery to avoid self-deception prompted by self-interest; this is the real, as opposed to the imagined, veil of ignorance which determines our moral principles. So he will do two things. First, he will try to implant in them a set of good general principles. I advisedly use the word 'implant'; these are not rules of thumb, but principles which they will not be able to break without the greatest repugnance, and whose breach by others will arouse in them the highest indignation. These will be the principles they will use in their ordinary level-1 moral thinking, especially in situations of stress. Secondly, since he is not always going to be with them, and since they will have to educate their children, and indeed continue to educate themselves, he will teach them,as far as they are able, to do the kind of thinking that he has been doing himself. This thinking will have three functions. First of all, it will be used when the good general principles conflict in particular cases. If the principles have been well chosen, this will happen rarely; but it will happen. Secondly, there will be cases (even rarer) in which, though there is no conflict between general principles, there is something highly unusual about the case which prompts the question whether the general principles are really fitted to deal with it. But thirdly, and much the most important, this level-2 thinking will be used to select the general principles to be taught both to this and to succeeding generations. The general principles may change, and should change (because the environment changes). And note that, if the educator were not (as we have supposed him to be) arch angelic, we could not even assume that the best level-1 principles were imparted in the first place; perhaps they might be improved.

TODO: additionally, does utilitarianism make sense for humans at all? Maybe only sensible for policy decisions, no human can really work that way (even Singer treats his daughters better than strangers). WHY is utilitarianism best (see Haidt for musings), why not rely more on my own intuition? (inconsistancies?) What utility function? Rah.

Back to the index

Last modified 2019-05-16 Thu 10:20. Contact max@maxjmartin.com