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Utilitarianism and Obviousness

By JAMES LENMAN

Abstract

This article seeks to diagnose a serious defect in a highly influential supposed counterexample to utilitarianism: Bernard Williams s case of Jim and the Indians. Discussing this, Williams argues that, according to utilitarianism, it is obviously right to say that Jim should kill an Indian. But as this is not obviously right, Williams takes the example to furnish a forceful counterexample to utilitarianism. I note here that the force of the supposed counterexample is in fact very doubtful as the utilitarian can readily enough explain the non-obviousness of the claim that Jim should kill with reference to the non-obviousness of utilitarianism itself.

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