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The Ellimist
The Ellimist
Level Five
Level Five

A case for utilitarianism Empty A case for utilitarianism

on January 16th 2020, 12:49 am
Message reputation : 100% (2 votes)
Utilitarianism, as in maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering across all conscious beings that will exist, makes sense as a *fundamental* moral philosophy. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's practical to directly apply it in every instance; instead, rules of thumbs and heuristics that will often manifest as deontological / rights-based systems can emerge.

Essentially, it comes down to what axioms you want your moral system to have. If we use mathematics as an example, axioms should be relatively simple and irreducible (so something like "X = X" is a reasonable axiom). There are some statements that are true but *derived* rather than axiomatic. To use physics as an analogy (of course it's empirical, but a lot of the time the derivations come from using certain basic empirical observations as if they were axioms/premises), it would be bizarre to use "mountains erode from rain" as some fundamental axiom - mountains *do* erode with rain, but that's evidently something that can be derived from more fundamental ideas.

If you take most rights that are used in deontology and ask "*why* do we value these rights?", you'll be able to come up with reasons, which means those reasons are more fundamental than the rights themselves. Property rights are important because of how property is important to us, so it would be weird to have some very emergent concept like "property" as an axiom.

There are subtler ways to break alleged moral axioms down as well. For example, a lot of concepts involving moral retribution and agency assume concepts like a continuous self and free will, neither of which fundamentally exist if you drill them down carefully enough. Those act as useful heuristics, but heuristics aren't axioms, and can often fail at the extremes. So "people should have the right to do what they want as long as they aren't hurting others" is a great principle, but not an axiom because there are concepts like "people" and "free" that are emergent. Likewise, "and eye for an eye" is a (sometimes) fair idea for practical reasons, but at a fundamental level it assumes a continuous self that doesn't really exist.

Utilitarianism really gets down to the most irreducible, fundamental thing we are looking at - the quality of conscious experience.

tl;dr: most moral ideas like rights aren't ends unto themselves because if you look carefully enough you can see *reasons* why you care about them. Utilitarianism drills down to what is *fundamental*, which is maximizing the quality of conscious experience.
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