Talk:Utilitarianism/Archive 2

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Archive 1 Archive 2


Motive Utilitarianism and the 80-20 rule

Could someone clarify the meaning and application of the 80-20 rule rule in this context? Among other things if you follow the link, it says "80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients." How is this related to Motive Utilitarianism? If the reference is too obscure maybe it should just be removed. Felisophia (talk) 13:09, 25 October 2008 (UTC)

80% of the benefit comes from the first 20% of the effort. That is, it's better to do a variety of activities skimmingly, casually, even sloppily than a few activities to pristinely high standards of excellence. This rule-of-thumb will be true, say, 80% of the time! Johnson175 (talk) 23:27, 21 February 2009 (UTC)

The reference to the 80-20 rule is still pretty obscure, even with your explanation Johnson175. Maybe it's better to do a variety of activities skimmingly than a few activities to high standards of excellence, but why not do everything to high standards? Is there a conflict between going by rule-of-thumb and thinking everything through when the situation calls for it? Is the idea that it only takes 20% of the effort to develop motives that go by rule-of-thumb in comparison to the effort to thinking everything through? Does Robert Adams himself refer to the 80-20 rule, and how is he using it? I haven't yet had a chance to read his stuff, and when I do I will try to clarify this section myself, but in the meantime maybe someone else will get to it. Felisophia (talk) 12:50, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

No, in his 1976 article, Robert Adams did not mention the 80-20 rule. I think 80-20 is valuable because it's a good response to the perfectionism and go-it-alone-ism implied in so many examples in journal publications (we're going to laser-beam in on a few choices and obsess on them, and the rest of life, well, the rest of life, especially social reactions with any kind of depth, complexity, feel-and-touch are essentially abandoned, as too complex for the examples I guess . . . and this is no way to live your life). All the same, 80-20 may be too obscure a reference.
The all-time classic example of the 80-20 rule is you have company coming over, you have a number of things to do. You can either do a thorough job of vacuuming or you can race it across the floor. Well, in this case, probably 95% of the benefit is obtained by racing the vacuum across the floor. Do that and continue on with the other things you need to get done. Johnson175 (talk) 02:54, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
I think that the whole section about motive utilitarianism should be rewritten or deleted. I read some of the article here (pages 236-250) and I barely see any connection with what is written in that section. Also, how are the examples about gay, politician and diagnostician relevant? All the paragraph is very vague.--Tiredtime (talk) 17:04, 29 June 2009 (UTC)

Dispute "ends justify the means"

I'd like to dispute the part of the article that says of Utilitarianism, "the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome: put simply, the ends justify the means."

The phrase "the ends justify the means" is usually used to connotate the idea that it is acceptable to do harm now if the end result will be a benefit. Thus Wikipedia conveys to casual readers that Utilitarianism, advocated by John Stuart Mill, is in direct conflict with Mill's harm principle:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.

Can anyone point to anywhere in Bentham's or Mill's writings where they say the ends justify the means, or something similar? --JHP (talk) 00:51, 20 November 2008 (UTC)

You raise a good point JHP. There is a sense in which utilitarians do believe that "the ends justify the means", but, when stated so baldly as that, the statement is misleading. I cannot point to a place where Bentham or Mill make that simple statement, but Mill discusses the point you're raising in Utilitarianism where he says that the principle of utility is "stigmatised" by "giving it the name of Expediency".

He goes on to say that the popular use of the term "expediency" has two meanings. These meanings seem to me to be pretty much the same as what is commonly meant by the phrase "the ends justify the means":

1) A person sacrifices the interests of a wider community to his own personal interests.

Mill gives the example of a politician who sacrifices the interest of his country in order to remain in power.

2) A person sacrifices a larger set of ends for the sake of some immediate end.

Mill gives the example of someone telling a lie for some immediate end, but in the process undermining general regard for truth-telling, and the trustworthiness of human assertion.

Without considerable qualification the phrase "the ends justify the means" suggests either or both of these misinterpretations of the principle of utility.

Felisophia (talk) 14:40, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

I think paraphrasing utilitarianism as "the ends justify the means" without further explanation is not helpful. Not being a native speaker, I've looked up "end" in Wiktionary. It appears that there are two not quite identical meanings which "end" could have here:

  • meaning number 5, "Result."
  • meaning number 6, "A purpose, goal, or aim."

The first meaning would do utilitarianism (or consequentialism generally) at least some justice, while the second one would misrepresent it as some form of 'ethics of intend' (Gesinnungsethik). The common German translation ("Der Zweck heiligt die Mittel") does emphasis the latter meaning, while some ancient quotes found on Wikiquote seem to imply the the former meaning.

In my opinion, the definition given by "It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome" is clearly understandable by itself, whereas the simplified explanation following afterwards tends to confuse the issue.

In his book Practical Ethics, noted utilitarian Peter Singer allocates a whole chapter (some 25 pages) to the discussion of "Ends and Means". Thus the relationship between ends and means is obviously not as clear-cut as implied by the disputed phrase.

As both of my previous speakers seem to share some concerns about the phrase, I will now invoke WP:BB and just delete it. --X127 (talk) 02:19, 4 May 2009 (UTC)

History section, and the broad middle path between capitalism and socialism

Our history section ends with the passage: “Ludwig von Mises advocated libertarianism using utilitarian arguments. Likewise, some Marxist philosophers have used these principles as arguments for political socialism.”

I think we can do better. Utilitarianism lends itself very nicely to all kinds of middle positions on economics, and a number of people have done work in these areas, for example,

Amartya Sen: “ . . .The wounded person, who had been knifed on the back, was a Muslim daily labourer, called Kader Mia. He had come for some work in a neighbouring house - for a tiny reward - and had been knifed on the street by some communal thugs in our largely Hindu area. As he was being taken to the hospital by my father, he went on saying that his wife had told him not to go into a hostile area during the communal riots. But he had to go out in search of work and earning because his family had nothing to eat. The penalty of that economic unfreedom turned out to be death, which occurred later on in the hospital. The experience was devastating for me, and suddenly made me aware of the dangers of narrowly defined identities, and also of the divisiveness that can lie buried in communitarian politics. It also alerted me to the remarkable fact that economic unfreedom, in the form of extreme poverty, can make a person a helpless prey in the violation of other kinds of freedom: Kader Mia need not have come to a hostile area in search of income in those troubled times if his family could have managed without it.” [1]

Yes, this is a personal example. And yes, we might include more formal examples for the article. However, at the same time, we may want to also include a few personal examples. Afterall, utilitarianism is concerned with the real welfare of real human beings. Johnson175 (talk) 23:51, 21 February 2009 (UTC)

(And I think Amartya has published in both economics and philosophy.)

Dr. Cora Diamond

I sent an email to Dr. Cora Diamond about her being referenced in this article and she denied that she has ever stated anything about this particular issue. I believe it would be appropriate to delete this reference to her until someone can bring forth some documentation that proves her involvement. (Kcauley (talk) 19:12, 7 October 2009 (UTC))


The page was getting pretty long (137KB), so I archived all discussions last edited before November 2008 (month arbitrarily chosen). -kotra (talk) 00:28, 22 February 2009 (UTC)

Infinitarian paralysis problems

I have a few issues with this criticism. Firstly, most modern cosmology theories do not predict an "infinite" Universe in the sense that this argument does. There is a difference between the idea that the Universe is boundless (3-dimensional surface on an expanding 4-dimensional hypersphere, as an example) and the idea that there is an infinite amount of space. Wikipedia makes this point clearly and calls the question of an infinite Universe an "important open question in cosmology". Furthermore, even if you grant a "truly" infinite Universe, this neither necessitates nor really argues for an infinity of sapient creatures. It's one thing to present an author's valid hypothesis as a criticism, but when his argument is based on a series of assumptions, and the assumptions are patently untrue, it's not very useful. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 18:19, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Would it be correct to at least say that "some modern cosmology theories predict an infinite Universe"? I don't know much about cosmology, so when writing the paragraph, I expected that someone would eventually add something about how many theories claim that the universe is infinite. I can not find any dependable sources myself. The paragraph you cited contains no citations too. I understand the difference between boundless and infinite, that's why I used the word infinite, not boundless.
If the universe is infinite, there is an infinite number of gorillas with IQ of 187 and infinite number of [insert any nonsense here]. See Bostrom's explanation (at the bottom of page 50, begins with "If there are an infinite number of planets") and infinite monkey theorem. However, I understand that this claim may be debatable, so I suggest something like this :

Philosopher Nick Bostrom claims that in infinite universe there is an infinite number of planets and "each planet has finite non‐zero chance of giving rise to intelligent life". According to the philosopher, this would mean that in infinite universe there is (with probability of one) an infinite number of intelligent beings and therefore an infinite amount of pain and pleasure. However, we can affect only finite amount of pain and pleasure. Yet an infinite quantity can not be changed by adding or subtracting a finite quantity.

(If there are any grammar mistakes in the last paragraph (I make a lot of them), please correct it)
--Tired time (talk) 08:37, 1 December 2009 (UTC)
Just because the universe is infinite doesn't mean that there is an infinite number of [fill in the blank]. A simple proof is that there are (obviously) NOT an infinite number of gorillas of infinite size in the universe. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 23:36, 14 December 2009 (UTC)
Good one. I meant that there is an infinite number of anything, which has a non-zero probability of coming into existence. As I understand, the probability of infinitely large gorilla coming into existence is zero because it's impossible. Anyway, if you do find some citable criticism of this theory, you can add it to the article, because now it's just a self-research--Tired time (talk) 08:53, 16 December 2009 (UTC)
The gorilla argument was clearly specious. My point is that an infinite universe need not contain an infinite quantity of matter. There is nothing necessitating that there be an infinite number of planets in an infinite universe... again, not granting that the infinite universe itself is even accepted as a given. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 21:35, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
You have your opinion, I have my opinion, both are reflected in the paragraph and sourced. I don't understand what are you trying to achieve with further discussing. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth", so the paragraph should not be deleted even if the argument is invalid :) --tired time (talk) 22:40, 17 March 2010 (UTC)
Ah, I see that the opposing viewpoint is now reflected and sourced. :) It'd been awhile, and I was just revisiting old talk pages... I suppose I should have looked at the article as well. ;) --Dante Alighieri | Talk 18:07, 19 March 2010 (UTC)

Deleting components you disagree with rather than incorporating multiple views.

Ah the irony! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:12, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

The added material was original research or original thought and lacked reliable sources to substantiate the claims. --- Barek (talkcontribs) - 17:15, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Incorrect. This article lacks a neutral POV. It gives grossly disproportionate attention to certain views and authors (for example the work of Peter Singer) (any relation?) whilst ignoring entire large important schools of thought and work by important academicians like Ken Arrow and Herbert Simon. It makes statements that are quantitatively absurd or uninformed and attempts to address this are silenced. Shame on you.

(and on a page on Utilitarianism to boot!) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:22, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

If you want this edit in the article, please find a reliable source. Unsubstantiated opinion is not appropriate for an encyclopedia article. --- Barek (talkcontribs) - 17:28, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Excessive emphasis on Peter Singer - a quite minor figure in the history of utilitarianism - suggests a political agenda or POV. Either properly reflect varying opinions, reduce excess emphasis/bias, or address your POV explicitly. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:38, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

You were provided on your user talk page with a link to the appropriate cleanup tags that can be used within articles: Wikipedia:Template messages/Cleanup. Do not add plain text comments within articles, that is not the correct way to flag perceived needed cleanups; text comments related to article improvements should be addressed on article talk pages. --- Barek (talkcontribs) - 17:41, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Note also, there is a fundamental difference between "original research" and reason. Reason about a statement or argument (particularly one that is patently logically or mathematically naive or inconsistent) is not to be discouraged on a wiki page about Philosophy. Note also that hypertext links to other relevant wiki pages constitute an appropriate and useful reference (as you will note if you revert some of the changes and follow the links).

I've noted that this page has been cited before as not reflecting a neutral POV. Perhaps it would be best to incorporate varying views as per standard wiki protocol rather than deleting them. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:55, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

You are mistaken - many of your posts have revolved around original research. However, it's important to remember that the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth - this is one of Wikipedia's core content policies.
Your efforts would be better directed towards finding reliable sources, as you have been encouraged to do repeatedly.
If you continue to have other cleanup concerns with the article, you have been provided multiple times with links to the appropriate means of tagging those perceived issues. --- Barek (talkcontribs) - 18:01, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Stick to your position Barek, if someone wants to add material that makes specific claims, then it is quite clear in policy that they are also responsible for adding reliable references in support of those claims. I'd like to ask the IP editor to please tone their rhetoric concerning accusations of "political bias", if they have concerns with the article's neutrality, then please by all means apply the appropriate template at the top of the page and also at the same time provide specific instances in the article of what they feel lacks "neutrality", however, please remember that we do not argue from our own authority here. Also, please focus on content itself rather than on what are assumed to be the motivations of other editors. thanks Deconstructhis (talk) 02:04, 12 March 2010 (UTC)

Citation: Lack of convincing proof

This objection refers to Bertrand Russell's criticism in History of Western Philosophy.

[[[2]]] —Preceding unsigned comment added by Tsprat (talkcontribs) 01:03, 12 March 2010 (UTC)

Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945, repr., New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 778. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Tsprat (talkcontribs) 01:01, 12 March 2010 (UTC) Tsprat (talk) 01:05, 12 March 2010 (UTC)Tsprat


International Website fo Utilitarian Philosophy An account and update of Congresses, Conferences and scholars activity in Utilitarian Philosophy. By P. Schofield, Professor at University College London, and H. Geninet Université de Reims (France). Is it possible to add this website? Thanks, (Hortensejoanne (talk) 09:38, 30 April 2010 (UTC))

Utilitarianism and the environment

Could perhaps a section be added mentioning interpretations of Utilitarianism and the environment. For example, John Stewart Mill's Political Economy 1848 mentioned that Mill believed we should sacrifice economic growth for the sake of the environment[3]. Given the growing concern of the environment, I think it may warrant a section of its own. Anyone care to comment? --Rebroad (talk) 15:45, 15 May 2010 (UTC)

Average vs Total confusion

In the Average vs Total section, the article states that a problem with total utilitarianism is that it falls victim to the Repugnant Conclusion. The article then states that average utilitarianism 'avoids [the Repugnant Conclusion], but causes other problems like the Mere Addition Paradox'. However, the Repugnant Conclusion and the Mere Addition Paradox are, according to Wikipedia, the same thing (they go to the same Wikipedia article). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:07, 1 June 2010 (UTC)

Pending changes

This article is one of a number selected for the early stage of the trial of the Wikipedia:Pending Changes system on the English language Wikipedia. All the articles listed at Wikipedia:Pending changes/Queue are being considered for level 1 pending changes protection.

The following request appears on that page:

Comments on the suitability of theis page for "Pending changes" would be appreciated.

Please update the Queue page as appropriate.

Note that I am not involved in this project any much more than any other editor, just posting these notes since it is quite a big change, potentially

Regards, Rich Farmbrough, 00:31, 17 June 2010 (UTC).

IP edits really that much of a problem?

For example we have this edit:

Revision as of 07:00, 6 August 2010 (edit) (undo) (talk) (→Aggregating utility)

". . . rendering impossible the task of adding up the various pleasures of multiple individuals.

" However, it should be noted that the apparent separation and consistency of individual consciousness, which is both a strong human intuition and an implicit premise in this critique, is itself a subject of debate and criticism in the philosophy of mind.

"One defense to this criticism can be made by ask one simple question: who must figure out the exact sum of all individuals' happiness? No objectively calculated measure of aggregate happiness is necessary nor useful in this case. To doubt the ability (for someone) to add up individuals' feelings, is to suggest that there necessarily is someone (a person, a bunch of persons, or computers) trying to figure out the sum of individuals' happiness before a related social decision can be made. If there were such "someone", the situation would be analogous to a centrally-planned economy, where a few socialist bureaucrats constantly struggle to figure out what and how much goods to produce for the people. [ref]J. H. Burns, Utilitarianism and Democracy, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 35 (Apr., 1959), pp. 168-171[/ref]"

The guy's in there pitching. This is miles away from "vandalism." And more than that, I'd say we are getting some positive change. We are getting some back and forth. Our biggest problem by far is underparticipation. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 04:23, 8 September 2010 (UTC)

Did Machiavelli advocate breaking rules for the welfare of the average person?

Our history section currently reads: ‘ . . . and notably Niccolò Machiavelli, who introduced utilitarian notions in his political treatise The Prince, and wrote that "in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result"[2].’

The genius of utilitarianism is that the peasant, the commoner, the lowly, counts as much as a king. And this was absolutely revolutionary stuff, esp. during the time of jolly ol’ England when Bentham was writing his stuff, as it well would have been in many other societies.

However, if all Machiavelli is saying is that the end justifies the means, that is much more pedestrian stuff. It’s part of utilitarianism, but arguable the less interesting part, in fact it's almost the pop part, almost the bastardized part. For utilitarianism is not saying that any old action is fine as long as it produces net happiness over net suffering. No, utilitarianism is saying do the one action which produces the greatest balance of happiness than suffering, and that's a much more demanding standard.

Show me the part(s) where Machiavelli is saying again and again, 'for the welfare of the average person,' 'general welfare,' 'human well-being,' 'welfare of the entire broader community' (I'm putting these in single quotes because I'm not sure he said these things at all, much less whether this was one of his primary emphases, that's the real question). Okay, other examples, did Machiavelli say , for the benefit of all persons now alive, and also for future generations? Did he say, we may look down upon the laborer, but he has a real life nonetheless, as important to him as the prince's life is to the prince? FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 20:59, 12 July 2010 (UTC) FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 16:10, 13 July 2010 (UTC)

I have removed the reference to Machiavelli. If someone wants to make the case that he was a past advocate, I'm willing to listen. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 16:23, 13 July 2010 (UTC)

Bentham on animal rights/animal welfare: "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

Trying to track down and find a good way to reference this frequent quote. Please help if you can. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 14:37, 9 August 2010 (UTC)

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Chapter XVII
§ 1. Limits between Private Ethics and the Art of Legislation.

"IV. What other agents then are there, which, at the same time that they are under the influence of man's direction, are susceptible of happiness. They are of two sorts: 1. Other human beings who are styled persons. 2. Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things.*122 [Emphasis added] As to other human beings, the art of directing their actions to the above end is what we mean, or at least the only thing which, upon the principle of utility, we ought to mean, by the art of government: which, in as far as the measures it displays itself in are of a permanent nature, is generally distinguished by the name of legislation: as it is by that of administration, when they are of a temporary nature, determined by the occurrences of the day."

Note: 122 [Emphasis added]: "Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us: we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit. [Cruelty to animals]. The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor.* It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? [Emphasis added]

  • See Lewis XIV's Code Noir."

I went ahead and added the boldface quote to Types of Utilitarianism, Other species. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 17:23, 24 August 2010 (UTC)

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALS AND LEGISLATION, Jeremy Bentham, 1789, Chapter XVII: Of The Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence. See esp. note 122.

What shorthand definition did Bentham use?

We currently attribute "the greatest good for the greatest number of people" to Bentham's 1789 book, and I'm just not finding it. FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 21:48, 20 August 2010 (UTC)

I have made a change using Bentham's "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle" from the footnote from page 1.,+Jeremy&hl=en&ei=ffhuTJO6AoGclgfEyLzBDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=snippet&q=greatest%20happiness&f=false

Please tell me what you think. And, as always, time permitting, please dive in and help! FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 22:14, 20 August 2010 (UTC)

Developments within the last five years?

Utilitarianism is not a museum piece. Often it's put forward as a purist theory, kind of a straw man or cardboard cutout to play off of. Which is fine. I tend to favor kind of hybrid theories anyway. But I think people have now developed pretty sophisticated versions of utilitarianism. So let's talk about them! Let's include some excerpts or summaries of papers, say, within the last five years and reference them. I have spent a modest amount of time trying to find them and have not really been successful. Well, my time for wiki is often pretty limited, and the Earned Income Tax Credit has kind of evolved into my main project (which I suppose is kind of an applied utilitarianism!). Anyway, if you're looking for a potentially fun (?) project, have at it! FriendlyRiverOtter (talk) 14:16, 8 October 2010 (UTC)

new edits

I was surprised at how much discussions of a science of morality have to say about the practicality/possibility of certain utilitarianistic claims. I have tried to incorporate them wherever I thought necessary, and as succinctly as possible. I welcome all constructive critcism!-Tesseract2 (talk) 01:37, 12 November 2010 (UTC)

John Paul II has an interesting personalist criticism which I have entered.Unimpeder (talk) 11:37, 2 November 2011 (UTC)

Weak rule utilitarianism

I question the assertion that Mill is a 'Weak Rule' utilitarian in the Act-rule section. The debate about whether Mill is an act or rule utilitarian is large and complex, especially as the act v rule distinction didn't exist when he wrote. There needs to be at least some sense that it is debatable what form of utilitarianism he supports if he is mentioned. I've changed it to just read 'Weak Rule utilitarianism posits that' for now, hope that is OK. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:04, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

'Lack of convincing proof'

This subsection, located under the ‘Criticisms’ heading, doesn’t describe the actual criticism. This suggests violation of NPOV. Furthermost (talk) 03:42, 18 November 2011 (UTC)

Conflict with Prioritarianism

Prioritarianism contains:

Indeed, like utilitarianism, prioritarianism is a form of aggregative consequentialism; however, it differs from utilitarianism in that it does not rank outcomes solely on the basis of overall well-being.

However, this article presents "Negative utilitarianism" as a form of utilitarianism, even though negative utilitarianism doesn't only consider overall well-being.--Chealer (talk) 19:31, 19 February 2012 (UTC)

"Negative utilitarianism" is an umbrella term for ethics that models the asymmetry of happiness and suffering, see Fabian Fricke (2002), Verschiedene Versionen des negativen Utilitarismus, Kriterion, vol.15, no.1. Consequently, the conflict is not between negative utilitarianism and prioritarianism. The versions of negative utilitarianism can be interpreted as special weighing functions (border cases) within prioritarianism. The problem is that historically the term "negative utilitarianism" preceeded the term "prioritarianism" and included the main idea of prioritarianism. Obviously, at that time, it was accepted that the term "utilitarianism" could be used for ethics that weighes the well-being of each individual (with the special case weight = zero) before accumulating it into the total. Popper's "The Open society and its Ennemies" appeared in 1945 whereas the term "prioritarianism" dates back to Temkin’s 1983 Ph.D. thesis (see Larry Temkin, Wikipedia). Why not define prioritarianism as a form of utilitarianism (as in 1945)? There are contemporary ethicians who maintain that the weighing function should be replaced by a metric within utilitarianism, see Broome John (1991), Weighing Goods, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, page 222. If we follow this idea then there is no difference between prioritarianism and utilitarianism at all. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:12, 20 February 2012 (UTC)

I propose you change the beginning of the Wikipedia article "Prioritarianism" as follows:

(…) "Indeed, like utilitarianism, prioritarianism is a form of aggregative consequentialism; however, it differs from utilitarianism in that it weighs each individual’s well-being before aggregating it into overall well-being."

With this little change you can remove the contradiction between the article "Prioritarianism" and the article "Negative Utilitarianism". Prioritarianism ranks outcomes solely on the basis of overall well-being (as well as utilitarianism), but overall well-being is calculated differently. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:39, 23 February 2012 (UTC)

I don't think this definition would represent prioritarianism. In fact, I think of utilitarianism in the way you define prioritarianism. --Chealer (talk) 17:45, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

Broome's argument is the following: "If the priority view should turn out to be untenable, that would not be the failure of a substantive view that the good of worse-off people deserves priority. It would simply be because we have no metric for a person's good that is independent of the priority we assign it." (Weighing Goods, page 222). If Broome's argument holds, then there is no substantial difference between utilitarianism and prioritarianism and, in particular, no contradiction between negative utilitarianism and prioritarianism. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:46, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

I agree. However, this would basically contradict the quoted sentence, which distinguishes utilitarianism from prioritarianism. --Chealer (talk) 21:59, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

You could add the following paragraph at the end of the first section (Wikipedia Prioritarianism):

“There are, however, ethicists who maintain that there is no substantial difference between prioritarianism and utilitarianism because there is no metric for a person's good that is independent of the priority we assign it." [at this point you cite Broome’s Weighing Goods, p.222 and Fabian Fricke, Verschiedene Versionen des negativen Utilitarismus, Kriterion Nr.15 (2002), pp.14-15]

There are two interpretations of prioritarianism: one works with weighing functions, the other one (Broome’s) with a “compassionate” utilitarian metric. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:30, 1 March 2012 (UTC)

John Paul II's view

I have restored the opinion of John Paul II. No grounds are given for its deletion. John Paul's philosophical standing is not less than that of Peter Singer, Richard Ryder, Anthony Kenny, Matthew Ostrow or others quoted in the article.Unimpeder (talk) 07:15, 19 April 2012 (UTC)

Strong and Weak Rule Utilitarianism

This article refers to the distinction between strong and weak rule utilitarianism. There are no relevant references in the article and despite spending quite some time searching, both on and offline, I can find no authoritative sources that make this distinction. I am aware of at least one current school-level text book that makes the distinction and one UK exam board seems to credit students who make the distinction. The earliest reference I can find is to a school textbook from 1983.

I am concerned that this is not a scholarly recognized distinction and is, in fact, a confusion that has emerged from a simplification of the Act/Rule distinction and Hare's Two Level Utilitarianism.

If no scholarly references can be found and added then I think the distinction should be removed from the article so that, if it is a corruption of the more precise theories, the error isn't perpetuated. Philosophyclass HSOG (talk) 19:38, 22 May 2012 (UTC)

Mill's 'proof' - added original research and citation templates

Mill clearly says a lot of things in Section Four but the claim that he makes this argument needs to have a reliable reference. Given that he starts the section by claiming that it isn't possible to prove any first principles by reasoning it is odd to see that he supposedly presents a 'definitional' proof. Either way, there needs to be a reliable reference. Mill does seem to expand the definition of happiness in this section but the article needs to have the correct balance between introducing the notable features and becoming a commentary on one text. There is a separate article on Mill's book for that kind of detail. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:36, 20 June 2012 (UTC)

Thanks. I know it seems sketchy with hims stating "No proof can be given..." but you have to take in the context of what he was saying. He says that know proof can be given that happiness is desirable except that each person desires his happiness, not that no proof of Utilitarianism can be given. --Polsky215 (talk) 02:10, 21 June 2012 (UTC)
Actually, what Mill says is "IT HAS already been remarked, that questions of ultimate ends do not admit of proof, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. To be incapable of proof by reasoning is common to all first principles; to the first premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of our conduct. But the former, being matters of fact, may be the subject of a direct appeal to the faculties which judge of fact- namely, our senses, and our internal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to the same faculties on questions of practical ends?"
In other words, any 'proof' he is going to offer is going to be analagous to the way you cannot prove there is an external world you just have to appeal to the senses and be done with it. That is why it seems highly unlikely that any 'definitional' proof can be drawn from what he says. If you are saying he is providing proof of 'utilitarianism' generally and not the foundational claim about happiness being desirable you will need to explain how that works, provide an appropriate quotation from Mill and provide an appropriate reference to a scholarly article for purposes of verification. As it stands the claim isn't supported by the quote you give from Mill and, furthermore, you have added a citation to the Stanford encyclopedia that as far as I can tell says nothing to support this notion of a 'definitional' proof. If it does can you specify what part of that article you are referring to. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:33, 21 June 2012 (UTC)
That quote definitely seems to contradict a proof of Util in the sense I'm using. If that quote is from the book I must have overlooked it. My apologies. I'll delete the quote from where it is. But do you think it would fit under the section discussing Mill's view of pleasure and pain. Because even if Mill didn't intend it as a proof, it is a key quote for explaining and helping people to except Utilitarianism. thanks --Polsky215 (talk) 14:55, 21 June 2012 (UTC)
OK. If keeping the quote is what is important to you then let’s work together on finding the best place for it. The new location is better in some ways but it is now a little anomalous in that Mill is making a slightly different point. It is probably better back where it was but with a different introduction. Does that work for you? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:55, 21 June 2012 (UTC)
Ha sure—it looks good where you put it. I like the use of "wilst." --Polsky215 (talk) 18:41, 21 June 2012 (UTC)

Deletion of ‘Wittgensteinian critique’

I deleted this paragraph as it is a non-standard criticism (or at the very least expressed in a non-standard way) and is unsupported by any references. I note that in a previous talk topic it is said that another philosopher linked to this paragraph was removed after confirming that they had said no such thing. In any case, as it stands, the paragraph importantly fails to discriminate between different kinds of utilitarianism. No doubt if anyone can find any reliable references for purposes of verification the paragraph can be reinstated. (talk) 18:46, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

Deletion of ‘Lack of convincing proof’

This paragraph doesn’t seem to be related to utilitarianism per se but more a general attack on anything that isn’t certain. It is certainly a completely non-standard attack on utilitarianism and shouldn’t be in an article on utilitarianism unless it can be properly supported with relevant and reliable references. I cannot be 100% certain but the Hart reference doesn’t look correct but it is difficult to be sure because no page reference has been given. In any case, it doesn’t look relevant to an article on utilitarianism. What is said about Mill’s proof is already covered elsewhere in the article. (talk) 18:48, 25 June 2012 (UTC)

Deletion of 'Individual interests vs a greater sum of lesser interests"

I deleted this paragraph because it doesn’t really seem to be notable point about utilitarianism as such. The paragraph doesn’t have any appropriate page references but I suspect it is referring to the part of Practical Ethics [p 332] where Singer says that what he has just said is ‘speculative’ and the reader can accept it or reject it depending on how it accords with their own introspection. He then goes on to say that his next suggestion is ‘more speculative still’. Presumably an encyclopedia style article should focus on recognized core concerns and notable points that have generated significant debate. If every speculative point is included then we just end up repeating everything that has ever been written on the subject. In any case neither the heading nor the argument was particularly clear. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:15, 29 June 2012 (UTC)

Deleted Biological explanation

I deleted this section as it is a direct copy and paste from the Peter Singer page where it still resides under a different heading. In any case, it sits better on the Singer page as it is more Singer’s particular take on things rather than a main discussion point within utilitarianism. Even on that page the section needs some work. The section finishes off with a number of unreferenced assertions and the reference to Binmore 2005 doesn’t have a page reference. Having looked at Binmore’s Natural Justice I can only find six references to Singer none of which are relevant and am not able to track down any passage that supports what is claimed in the article. I haven’t read the whole book so may have missed it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:37, 1 July 2012 (UTC)

Overlap with Consequentialism

There is a large overlap between consequentialism and utilitarianism, which is a form of the former. For example, both articles cover rule consequentialism/utilitarianism, motive consequentialism/utilitarianism, negative consequentialism/utilitarianism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on consequentialism discusses both topics in the same article, and is our best external link about utilitarianism. The entry discusses utilitarianism and classic utilitarianism without defining the difference between the two. Utilitarianism refers to classic utilitarianism too without defining it. Even consequentialism is problematic and the topic of the SEP entry's "What is Consequentialism?".

I asked whether these 2 articles should be kept separate on the philosophy project's talk page. I am also tagging this article as overlapping with consequentialism. This could be addressed by merging articles or by moving some content from here to consequentialism. --Chealer (talk) 22:07, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

I think this page has changed a lot since this template was added and I don't think the case for integration is now very strong. I would note the following:
  • This page now gives a clear and coherent account of the development of utilitarianism and it would damage that story if parts were transferred to the consequentialism page.
  • Although there is difference in preference in the philosophical community and maybe between the historical perspective and the current perspective, the majority of those mentioned on this page self-described as utilitarians.
  • As you note, consequentialism is itself problematic but it is at least broader than utilitarianism.
  • Those who use 'consequentialism' differ on when to use the word 'utilitarianism' some just using it historically for Bentham and Mill others using it for any hedonistic variety and others including preference utilitarianism.
  • There will always be overlap between some pages, e.g. consequentialism and Jeremy Bentham and this issue is how to appropriately manage that overlap
  • Since Consequentialism is the broader topic the most appropriate way would be for that page to have shorter summaries and links to this page rather than vice versa.
  • Traffic shows more users arrive at the utilitarianism page than at the consequentialism page. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Philosophyclass HSOG (talkcontribs) 19:50, 4 July 2012 (UTC)

Augustine, Aquinas and utilitarianism

I can see it is important to Narssarssuaq to include the quotation from Aristotle. It certainly works better at the beginning of the section than at the end of it. However, I'm not sure there is much value in adding a paragraph to a section on early utilitarianism and then explaining why the people mentioned are not utilitarians. The situation would be different if Bentham or Mill had clearly been influenced by them and this could be demonstrated with relevant references/citations. What I have tried to do is to rewrite the paragraph so that it more naturally leads in to the topic. I hope that works for everyone. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Philosophyclass HSOG (talkcontribs) 09:45, 9 August 2012 (UTC)

I think it is important to make it clearer in the article how utilitarianism differs from an embracement of happiness as the highest human goal. In particular, it should be pointed out how virtue ethics cannot be understood as utilitarianism even when it embraces precisely that goal, as in the case of Aristotle and Aquinas. Aquinas holds acts related to the virtue charity as equal to happiness. It is difficult for me to see any other distinction between the two branches of ethics than utilitarianists' rejection of accepting universal causes or precursors for and thus definitions of happiness into their theories. This, however, could merely follow from the very definition of utilitarianism, i.e. it does not necessarily reflect the actual opinions of Bentham and Mill. Narssarssuaq (talk) 12:55, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
I tried to fix it in the introduction. Narssarssuaq (talk) 13:28, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
I agree with User:Philosophyclass HSOG. The section is more of a history of hedonism than an early history of utilitarianism. I've renamed the header and inserted a See Also template directing readers to the hedonism article.--Theconsequentialist (talk) 09:12, 21 November 2012 (UTC)

Removal of Quasi-utilitarianism section

This paragraph has some major problems. Some of the references are simply incorrect, e.g. the first doesn't even mention Mill, let alone describe him as a quasi utilitarian. The 'position' isn't a position within utilitarianism and many of the references point to people who are not describing a position within utilitarianism but a position that may may be similar to utilitarianism in some way. As such, this paragraph could be very misleading to people using this as an encyclopedia article. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:38, 8 December 2012 (UTC)

Although I agree that the paragraph on Quasi-Utilitarianism can be improved, I believe it should remain in this article. Quasi-Utilitarianism - Utilitarianism mixed with other considerations - is the most common form of utilitarianism in public policy today. Mill is mentioned clearly, contrary to what wrote. The term 'Quasi-Utilitarian' has been used many times, including by Smart, describing Mill, in 1956 (I checked this reference, and others, and they are correct: there is at least a mention of quasi-utilitarianism in all, and some have made quasi-utilitarianism into a substantial and coherant view). Perhaps this paragraph should go somewhere else in the article, or be a separate wiki-page (what do people think?). But it needs to be in Wikipedia. Improve it, move it, or make it a separate piece - but it should not be deleted in my opinion.Felixthehamster (talk) 22:15, 9 December 2012 (UTC)

There do not seem to be any authoritative, verifiable sources to support the definition of 'Quasis-Utilitarianism' given in this paragraph and none to support the claim that Iain King gives 'the most detailed exposition of quasi-utilitarianism'. This is really a basic requirement for an entry in Wikipedia. A few disparate and varying uses of the phrase some of which are just in blogs and similar articles are not enough to establish usage. A claim may be interesting and thought provoking but without authoritative, verifiable sources it would count as original research and, as such, specifically not meant to be included in an article.

Philosophyclass HSOG (talk) 20:44, 5 January 2013 (UTC)

The reference given in the article is to and that page does NOT mention Mill. If the reference were to page 13 of Smart's contribution to 'Utilitarianism For and Against" then Smart does say "I propose to call Mill a quasi-ideal utilitarian" and does so because he believes he holds an intermediate position between the hedonistic act-utilitarian position of Bentham and the Ideal Utilitarian position of Moore. However, that does not in any way help to establish that there is a some kind of version of utilitarianism called quasi-utilitarianism. Similarly, if you go to the second reference ( ) then the only time the word 'quasi' is used is when it says, "Rule-utilitarianism is a quasi-rule-oriented system". The third reference is to a blog post which isn't appropriate in wikipedia and says "Just a cold, selfish, exploitative, quasi-utilitarian calculation" which is clearly using the word "quasi" to mean nothing more than "sort of". Likewise with the Hardin reference. The fifth is to another blog post which has the sentence "Yet seeing this enormous 'Self help' industry, much of which is concerned with how to gain happiness, and I wonder whether we are all in fact not quasi-Utilitarian" which again is not a reference to a position within utilitarianism. The Clifford Christians reference merely says, "Utilitarianism is prevalent in the media professions, and in quasi-form is the mind-set of most students preparing for careers, such as journalism, that serve democratic societies." This essentially sums up the problem. Quasi-utilitarianism isn't a position as the paragraph suggests but is simply a way of referring to a variety of positions which might be held by people who wouldn't necessarily call themselves utilitarians but have been influenced by it in some way...because it has been so influential. Much is made of Iain King's book but the book doesn't mention quasi-utilitarianism, or, at least, if it does I cannot find such a reference and no reference is given in the article and, other than in wikipedia and its derivatives, I can find nobody describing it as such. Even Crocker's book which is said to criticise King's position doesn't use the term quasi-utilitarianism. As it stands this paragraph is not well referenced and is misleading. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:03, 14 December 2012 (UTC)

Utilitarianism is not necessarily naturalistic.

As this article later points out, there are utilitarians who do not hold that happiness is a natural fact (i.e., "ideal utilitarians"), so it would seem incorrect to state that utilitarianism is a form of naturalism in the introduction. (talk) 16:36, 9 December 2012 (UTC)

Efficiency is the keyword of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism = Balance and Efficiency, Rather than using Perceptional terms such as happiness and other ethical conundrums i think the main page should be more structured towards observable pro survival developments that counteract time and pressure and the incorporation of these attributes into our behaviour as the definition of what the term Utilitarian implies--Prestigiouzman (talk) 14:20, 29 August 2013 (UTC)

Why is there a link to greedy reductionism on this page?

The implications are vague and need clarification, if not, it should be deleted. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:58, 2 November 2013 (UTC)

edit: I have deleted the link, if anyone wants to clarify why utilitarianism is associated with greedy reductionism, please do so instead of implying it with a link. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:01, 2 November 2013 (UTC)

Who coined the term "Utilitarianism" ? Jeremy Bentham ? Or John Stuart Mill ?

The article does not mention when the term "utilitarianism" was first used, just that it was part of the title of one of Mill's publications. Would like to see some clarification on this please ... --EvenGreenerFish (talk) 23:55, 29 December 2013 (UTC)

Mill and the Golden Rule

I deleted the quote from Mill about the golden rule...

"In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as one would be done by, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality."

not because it is inaccurate but because, as it stands, it is misplaced and doesn't fully reflect what Mill was saying. The key point Mill was making was in his previous sentence, namely "I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a distinterested and benevolent spectator." It might be good if the article did say something about utilitarianism universalism (the happiness of all concerned) and of it's impartiality but the introduction may not be the best place. (talk) 20:36, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

  1. ^ John Stuart Mill. "On Liberty". Oxford University. pp. 21–22. Retrieved 2008-02-27.  Unknown parameter |published= ignored (help)
  2. ^ Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 18.