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THE INTERPRETATION OF MAXIMIZING UTILITARIANISM

  • Jonathan Riley (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

Utilitarians and their critics commonly assume that maximizing utilitarianism necessarily aggregates over cardinal comparable personal utility rankings that are homogeneous in quality independently of their sources or objects, whether utility is conceived in terms of pleasure or preference satisfaction. Although familiar versions of utilitarianism, crude or sophisticated, do make such rich homogeneous utility information part of the very meaning of the doctrine, utilitarian philosophy loses credibility as a result. A more credible version of maximizing utilitarianism along John Stuart Mill's lines relies instead on plural kinds of ordinal non-comparable personal utilities that are heterogeneous in quality. One kind of utility is qualitatively superior to another if and only if the higher kind is more valuable than the lower kind irrespective of quantity. Given that the kind of utility associated with the moral sentiment of justice is qualitatively superior to any competing kinds, Mill's pluralistic ordinal utilitarianism gives absolute priority to a social code of equal rights and duties over competing considerations. Some key practical implications of this extraordinary utilitarianism are discussed with reference to various examples of the sort discussed in the literature.

Abstract

Utilitarians and their critics commonly assume that maximizing utilitarianism necessarily aggregates over cardinal comparable personal utility rankings that are homogeneous in quality independently of their sources or objects, whether utility is conceived in terms of pleasure or preference satisfaction. Although familiar versions of utilitarianism, crude or sophisticated, do make such rich homogeneous utility information part of the very meaning of the doctrine, utilitarian philosophy loses credibility as a result. A more credible version of maximizing utilitarianism along John Stuart Mill's lines relies instead on plural kinds of ordinal non-comparable personal utilities that are heterogeneous in quality. One kind of utility is qualitatively superior to another if and only if the higher kind is more valuable than the lower kind irrespective of quantity. Given that the kind of utility associated with the moral sentiment of justice is qualitatively superior to any competing kinds, Mill's pluralistic ordinal utilitarianism gives absolute priority to a social code of equal rights and duties over competing considerations. Some key practical implications of this extraordinary utilitarianism are discussed with reference to various examples of the sort discussed in the literature.

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Jonathan Riley , “Millian Qualitative Superiorities and Utilitarianism, Parts 1 and 2,” Utilitas 20 (2008)

Jonathan Riley , “Mill's Neo-Athenian Model of Liberal Democracy,” in Nadia Urbinati and Alex Zakaras , eds., J. S. Mill's Political Thought: A Bicentennial Reassessment (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 221–49

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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