Discussion Questions on Utilitarianism
1. As mentioned in the book and in class on Monday, there are a number of different versions of utilitarianism. How should we decide between them? Is there a utilitarian argument for favoring total vs. average or average versus total happiness or for including or excluding the happiness of animals?
2. Utilitarians seek to maximize total or average utility. Economists concerned with the theory of rationality or with explaining behavior prove that preferences can be represented by utility functions. Are utilitarians and economists talking about the same thing when they talk about "utility." Is utility as an ordinal representation of preferences adequate for the purposes of utilitarians? What about utility as a cardinal representation of preferences?
3. What is "the mental shoe horn technique" (p. 106)? What is it supposed to accomplish?
4. In your view, what is the strongest argument in defense of utilitarianism?
5. In your view, what is the strongest argument criticizing utilitarianism?
6. What explains why the utilitarian is concerned about the distribution of income and wealth but not concerned about the distribution of utility?
7. How plausible is the view that the ultimate aim of morality is to maximally satisfy preferences?
8. What makes a moral theory deontological? Why do deontological moral theories appear irrational?