MORAL CHOICE (UTILITARIANISM, CONTRACTARIANISM, FUTURE GENERATIONS, RIGHTS)

Abstract

In this dissertation I attempt to devise a satisfactory general principle for moral decision-making. I assume such a principle would give complete and consistent directives; it would give intuitively sound directives; and its fundamental aim would be the maximization of the good, or utility. Future generations provide a test of principles of moral choice. For a sound principle should accommodate choices affecting all people at all times. But attempts to accommodate choices affecting future generations under a general principle of moral choice have led to two paradoxes: the paradox of future generations and the mere addition paradox. The principles of total and average utility both give complete and consistent directives in all cases, including those where future generations are concerned; but both have counter-intuitive implications. Total utilitarianism must be rejected, for it implies the "Repugnant Conclusion," i.e., that for every large population with an excellent quality of life there is an enormous population with a wretched quality of life but more utility which it is better to bring about. The principle of average utility, however, can reply to the major objection against it, that it forbids adding people who lower the quality of life. It seems, prima facie, to be the comprehensive principle we seek. But utilitarianism faces two great problems. First, it justifies any means to the end of utility maximization. Second, suppose we define utility as personal preference satisfaction. Then according to utilitarianism the good simply consists in preference satisfaction and the right in maximizing preference satisfaction. But the satisfaction of some preferences is intuitively bad. Neither the problem of justifying bad means to a good end nor the problem of bad preference satisfaction can be solved within a utilitarian framework. But a principle of moral choice which gives priority to the satisfaction of certain preferences, designated under moral contracts as rights which we have a duty to respect, over the maximization of general utility will give satisfactory results in all cases where utilitarianism gives counter-intuitive ones. The principle of average utility can be retained as a moral remainder rule

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oai:scholarship.rice.edu:1911/15917Last time updated on 6/11/2012

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