The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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utility monsters, etc.

PhilosophyPosted by Jan Lester Mon, June 23, 2014 14:18:05

utility monsters, etc. Mental-state utility aside (see *utilitarianism), if utility ought to be maximised in some form then we need to reply to three classic *criticisms of this as a desirable criterion (and also as compatible with *liberty). 1) This will engender the social and even genetic evolution of utility monsters: people with huge appetites that have come about because the biggest appetites will win in any *resource-distribution contest based on mere utility. 2) We ought to engineer people’s wants by dishonest *propaganda, coerced *eugenics, etc., to make sure that their wants can most fully be met. 3) We should prefer a more-*populated world with low average utility as long as total utility is plausibly higher than that of a less-populated world of much happier people.

We can immediately agree (if only for the sake of argument with 3, which is not so clear) that all of these outcomes would be undesirable, and unlibertarian if imposed, but argue that they are not entailed by utilitarianism as such. 1) We can rule out pandaring to utility monsters on the basis that the long-run effects would be disastrous for utility. It would be like always giving in to the tantrums of a small child, only on a society-wide scale. So gross appetites alone are not a sufficient reason to *proactively impose on others. 2) People do not want to be deluded or forcibly engineered to achieve someone else’s conception of their ‘utility’. People value having their own *spontaneous wants satisfied, including as these wants also spontaneously evolve. Therefore any proactively imposed wants do not count as utility-improving by this conception of utility. 3) This is a mere logical possibility. In practice it would involve forcing people to reproduce and then maintain their offspring, by some method, beyond what they would freely choose to have done. The ensuing loss of utility to the parents and wanted children plus the kind of *totalitarianism that would need to be involved, and the *tax-funding of that totalitarianism, do not seem to make it a practical problem for utilitarianism.

However, even if there were a systematic clash between liberty and utility at some theoretical extreme, that need not indicate an inconsistency between libertarianism and utilitarianism for most practical purposes. And thus the *classical *liberal compatibility thesis is preserved in practice. See *consequentialism.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

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