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Utilitarianism and the integrity of the practical realm

Venkatesh, Nikhil; (2019) Utilitarianism and the integrity of the practical realm. Masters thesis (M.Phil.Stud), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

I investigate Bernard Williams’s argument that has come to be knows as ‘the Integrity Objection’. Williams gives two cases in which agents are asked to perform some action that is at odds with their commitments, where if they do not perform the action, someone else will, with worse consequences. Utilitarianism recommends performing such actions. Williams’s objection is not to this conclusion, but to how utilitarians arrive at it. Utilitarianism regards our commitments as merely one more input into moral deliberation, to be evaluated impartially, and flouted or dispensed with when the utility calculus demands it. Williams believes that we cannot regard our commitments like that; therefore, we cannot deliberate in a utilitarian manner and have commitments. Adding the premise that utilitarianism recommends that we have commitments, since they make us and others around us happy, Williams makes a charge of incoherence against utilitarianism: it asks us to have commitments, but also to deliberate in a way that makes commitment impossible. One response to this objection is to embrace ‘self-effacingness’, denying that utilitarianism asks us to deliberate in a utilitarian way. Williams charges that this amounts to utilitarianism ‘ushering itself from the scene’. I develop this charge, describing three problems for such a response. I outline a utilitarian account inspired by Hare, in which there is a time for utilitarian deliberation, and a time for acting from commitments and other non-utilitarian motivations. This account is not wholly self-effacing, and therefore does involve sometimes regarding our commitments in the utilitarian manner Williams thought impossible. I argue that the commitments that are conducive to well-being and therefore recommended by utilitarianism can be regarded in this way without undermining their contribution to well-being. If this account works, therefore, it avoids Williams’s objection.

Type: Thesis (Masters)
Qualification: M.Phil.Stud
Title: Utilitarianism and the integrity of the practical realm
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2019. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: utilitarianism, integrity, morality, consequentialism, Bernard Williams
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10070818
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