Discussion Questions on Harsanyi, "Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior"

1. Harsanyi identifies four sources of his brand of utilitarianism. What are they and what role do they play in his theory?

2. What is the equiprobabliity model and the equiprobability postulate? How does Harsanyi distinguish what he is doing from what Rawls does and how does he criticize Rawls?

3. On page 47 Harsanyi draws a connection between moral preferences and social welfare functions. What is it? What are moral preferences?

4. On pp. 48-49 Harsanyi sketches a theorem that apparently shows that utilitarianism derives from principles of rationality and very weak conditions connecting moral and personal preferences. How strong an argument is that theorem for utilitarianism? Which of the premises seems most questionable to you?

5. What is "the similarity postulate," and how does it facilitate interpersonal comparisons. Do you think we should accept the similarity postulate?

6. On page 54 Harsanyi contrasts his preference utilitarianism with hedonistic and ideal utilitarianism. Which version of utilitarianism seems best to you and why?

7. On pages 55-6, Harsanyi distinguishes between "manifest" and "true" preferences. What is the difference? How can we tell what an individual's true preferences are?

8. What is Harsanyi's argument on page 56 from not counting the satisfaction or frustration of anti-social preferences? Is his an argument that a utilitarian can legitimately make?

9. What is rule utiltarianism? Why does Harsanyi think that it is superior to act utilitarianism? When do the two versions of utilitarianism disagree?