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Repugnant Desires and the Two-Tier Conception of Utility

  • Madison Powers (a1)


An important objection to many utilitarian theories is that their conceptions of utility may count as morally relevant contributions to individual well-being items which are morally or rationally suspect. For example, if the conception of utility is pleasure, or alternatively, the fulfilment of actual desire or satisfaction of preferences, then greater individual utility may be produced by whatever increases pleasure, fulfils desire, or satisfies someone's preferences. This is true no matter how disgusting or vile we may think such pleasures are, or how irrational or distasteful we find the fulfilment of a desire or the satisfaction of some preference.



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1 Griffin, James, Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance, Oxford, 1986. All parenthetical references are to this book.

2 Bales, R. E., ‘Act Utilitarianism: Account of Right-making Characteristics or Decision-making Procedure?’, American Philosophical Quarterly, viii (1971), 257–65.

3 My thanks to Roger Crisp for comments on previous drafts. Responsibility for errors remains my own.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
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