Monday, September 11, 2017

Rawls' Rejection of Utilitarianism

If you were an atheist, what kind of ethical system would you appeal to? One possibility is utilitarianism. But utilitarianism has some problems.

See, e.g., this article on John Rawls' attack on utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism seeks to answer the question: how can we maximize people's preferences. How can we achieve the most satisfaction possible for everyone. But utilitarian theory, claims Rawls, "has some odd consequences." Why, e.g., is rape "wrong?" The article states: 

"A utilitarian would have to answer that the pain to the victim outweighs the pleasure to the rapist. Surely, though, this is not why rape is wrong; the pleasure the rapist gets shouldn’t be counted at all, and the whole thing sounds ridiculous. (By the way, Judge Richard Posner, who might be called Jeremy Bentham redivivus, accepts just this view of rape in his Sex and Reason.)"

Consider this. Executing a few Danish cartoonists may bring pleasure to a Muslim mob. Doing this would achieve greater satisfaction for a greater number of people. "A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution." Herein lies the problem. "As Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.”"

Rawls rejects utilitarianism, and puts forth his own theory in his famous A Theory of Justice