In 1973, Ursula Le Guin wrote a short story about a utopian city called 'Omelas'. The story is, at its core, a philosophical thought experiment. To summarize: Let’s just accept for the sake of argument, a city that is so self-sufficient, and so devoid of want or suffering or strife that the people of the city were able to live in an unceasing state of joyous bliss. Every season involved weeks-long festivals of celebration, and nobody was deprived of any need, material, moral, or psychological.
This video is absolutely stunning in its brazenness. If this fellow is what the academy is producing, then it would seem that the whole job of the bioethicist is to invent new excuses that politicians and bureaucrats can use to expand the harm they do, without pricking their own consciences. Note the magician’s sleight-of-hand trick he’s playing, here. His opening gambit is “making risks tolerable”. So, of course, everyone goes chasing off after “tolerable”.
In a previous post, I outlined some significant differences between Mill and Plato on the question of Pleasure, that I think are grounded in a misreading of Plato. Here, I present a few differences between Mill and Aristotle on the summum bonum, right and wrong action, and pleasure. When considering the arguments in Utilitarianism, and the obvious allusions to Plato and Aristotle within it, many seem to me to be incomplete at best, and misguided at worst.
…after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the subject, than when the youth Socrates listened to the old Protagoras, and asserted… the theory of utilitarianism against the popular morality of the so-called sophist… ~John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism I wonder, sometimes, if Mill had ever actually read the Protagoras.
In recent years, it has been speculated that Jeremy Bentham was an autist. This speculation arises out of Bentham’s extreme attempts at systematizing human interactions in his formulation of Utilitarianism. Though I realize modern Utilitarianism is much more sophisticated now (in various forms of sociology and econometrics), I think they all still suffer from the fundamental assumptions laid down by Bentham. In this essay, I will show how one of those basic tenets leads to absurd conclusions, and hides imported value assumptions from other forms of ethics.
Is it better to be truly just, or merely to seem so? This is the question put to Socrates by Glaucon in The Republic. Jonathan Haidt, in his book, “The Righteous Mind”, counts Glaucon among the cynics for putting this challenge to Socrates. But Haidt is missing a subtle and very powerful nuance in Plato’s story. Socrates had just finished embarrassing Thrasymachus for his weak defense of cynical egoism. Glaucon and Adeimantus were certainly entertained, but they were not satisfied with Socrates.
If you look closely at Mill’s arguments in Utilitarianism, he seems to be making a very strong response to Kant (perhaps against the Groundwork?). Mill accepts the notion of moral duty, just as Kant does. But he insists it derives not from any form of analytic (i.e., Kant’s notion of synthetic a priori) truth. Rather, Mill insists it derives from the apparently universal desire of mankind (individually, in aggregate) to seek its own pleasure.