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Old 07-03-2011, 07:44 PM   #1
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Utilitarian hypothetical

Assume we are talking about Bentham's utilitarianism, and that we are examining utilitarianism in an isolated community the size of Manhattan. Now assume everyone in this community is just like all regular humans except for 1 person. This one person has the capacity to experience pain and pleasure to the extremes, such that if he were to stub his toe the pain he would experience would be equal to the sum of the pain experienced by all those living in Manhattan stubbing their toe -- and the same for pleasure (his pleasure is a normal persons pleasure * the number of people living in his isolated community).

Now I think there are some interesting scenarios. Say this one person gets the most pleasure from having sex. Or say he gets the most pleasure from owning slaves. Or gets pain from people not doing what he tells them to do.

How could Bentham defend his principle of utility under a scenario like this? Does anyone honestly think that in this scenario, a good portion of the people in Manhattan should be forced to have intercourse with this guy (or be his slave / always do what he says) as long as their pain is less than his pleasure?
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Old 07-03-2011, 08:52 PM   #2
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Does the guy work for Goldman Sachs?
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Old 07-04-2011, 12:39 AM   #3
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_monster
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Old 07-04-2011, 01:14 AM   #4
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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Originally Posted by chocaholic View Post
This basically quoted the first paragraph of the OP...
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Old 07-04-2011, 06:37 PM   #5
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

I mean the guy is dead so he cannot defend himself .... anyone willing to defend him / his principle of utility as it relates to this scenario? Even if you are playing devils advocate?

Anyone willing to humor me with their views on these quotes:

1. "utilitarianism seems fine but doesn't work in this scenario"
2. "good thing humans suffer from diminishing returns"
3. "this is one of the reasons utilitarians sucks" etc
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Old 07-04-2011, 10:36 PM   #6
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryanb9 View Post
I mean the guy is dead so he cannot defend himself .... anyone willing to defend him / his principle of utility as it relates to this scenario? Even if you are playing devils advocate?

Anyone willing to humor me with their views on these quotes:

1. "utilitarianism seems fine but doesn't work in this scenario"
2. "good thing humans suffer from diminishing returns"
3. "this is one of the reasons utilitarians sucks" etc
I'll have a go at defending Bentham from this.

He argued for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
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Old 07-04-2011, 10:44 PM   #7
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Sounds like a jerk.

Last edited by jb9; 07-04-2011 at 10:44 PM. Reason: changed insults
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Old 07-04-2011, 11:21 PM   #8
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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I'll have a go at defending Bentham from this.

He argued for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Okay so this seems to be a disagreement about the definition(ish) of Bentham's principle of utility. What I think is meant by greatest good for greatest number is weighing happiness on one side of a scale and the reverse of happiness on the other side (obv). But beyond this, if you have happiness which equals 2 units on one side, which came by 1 unit from 2 people, and 3 units of the reverse of happiness on the other side (which came from 1 person) than the action / decision etc does not promote utility (take for instance 2 people who are on someone's life-insurance policy, they both gain from this guy's death, but killing this guy is worse for him than it is good for the two who would gain the money from his death).

Where would you disagree?
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Old 07-05-2011, 07:08 AM   #9
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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Originally Posted by Ryanb9 View Post
Okay so this seems to be a disagreement about the definition(ish) of Bentham's principle of utility. What I think is meant by greatest good for greatest number is weighing happiness on one side of a scale and the reverse of happiness on the other side (obv). But beyond this, if you have happiness which equals 2 units on one side, which came by 1 unit from 2 people, and 3 units of the reverse of happiness on the other side (which came from 1 person) than the action / decision etc does not promote utility (take for instance 2 people who are on someone's life-insurance policy, they both gain from this guy's death, but killing this guy is worse for him than it is good for the two who would gain the money from his death).

Where would you disagree?
I'd say that's nothing like what Bentham meant.

As for the OP theory that afaik only Madnak believes (or used to) it sounds like a cunning plan with the one small flaw
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Old 07-05-2011, 10:12 AM   #10
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Solution is to simply kill this guy. Biggest EV.
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Old 07-05-2011, 12:44 PM   #11
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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Originally Posted by chezlaw View Post
I'd say that's nothing like what Bentham meant.
what did he mean?
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Old 07-05-2011, 12:46 PM   #12
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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Originally Posted by Ryanb9 View Post
what did he mean?
He argued for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

That was the principle, he then looked for a method. You have described a method. When a conflict is found between a method and the principle then we modify the method.

Last edited by chezlaw; 07-05-2011 at 12:54 PM.
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Old 07-05-2011, 01:33 PM   #13
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Preference utilitarianism seems like a better approach to achieve greatest happiness for greatest number of people than this sort of hedonistic addition scheme.
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Old 07-05-2011, 05:22 PM   #14
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

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Originally Posted by chezlaw View Post
He argued for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

That was the principle, he then looked for a method. You have described a method. When a conflict is found between a method and the principle then we modify the method.
So he would say that if a guy was to do labor for free to help people, he would do more good by working for 3 hours--1 hour for 3 people-- than he would by working for 10,000 hours for just 2 of those people?
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Old 07-05-2011, 05:38 PM   #15
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Re: Utilitarian hypothetical

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryanb9 View Post
Okay so this seems to be a disagreement about the definition(ish) of Bentham's principle of utility. What I think is meant by greatest good for greatest number is weighing happiness on one side of a scale and the reverse of happiness on the other side (obv). But beyond this, if you have happiness which equals 2 units on one side, which came by 1 unit from 2 people, and 3 units of the reverse of happiness on the other side (which came from 1 person) than the action / decision etc does not promote utility (take for instance 2 people who are on someone's life-insurance policy, they both gain from this guy's death, but killing this guy is worse for him than it is good for the two who would gain the money from his death).
It isn't at all clear how to measure "units" of happiness.

Definitely there are some cases in which many interpretations of utilitarianism would favor helping this guy out.

I'd rather see one anthill destroyed than one human killed. All I have to do is imagine a being such that this being : humans :: humans : ants, and then killing a bunch of people for the sake of this being seems just fine by me.

Of course, said being probably doesn't exist, and if it did exist the likelihood of it getting pleasure from torturing people or whatever is unlikely.

But if there is a being such as that, then who am I to complain? I'm an ant, that's who. You might as well ask "what if God wants to torture people?" I mean, the answer is "that would suck." Bearing on utilitarianism? None, really.
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