Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics

Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics

Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics

Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics

Synopsis

Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics explores the foundations of early utilitarianism and, at the same time, the theoretical bases of social ethics and policy in modern Western welfare states. Matti Hayry sees the main reason for utilitarianism's growing disrepute among moral philosophers is that its principles cannot legitimately be extended to situations where the basic needs of the individuals involved are in conflict. He is able to formulate a solution to this fundamental problem by arguing convincingly that by combining a limited version of liberal utilitarianism and the methods of applied ethics, we are able to define our moral duties and rights. Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics will appeal to students and teachers of philosophy who are interested in the doctrine of utilitarianism or in ethical decison-making.

Excerpt

The idea of writing this book came to me on the 13th of December, 1990, at approximately 10 o’clock in the evening. A few hours earlier I had publicly defended my doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki, and I was now having dinner with Timo Airaksinen, who had supervised my work, John Harris, who had examined it, and Heta Häyry, who had defended her own dissertation in November. During the starters, the conversation turned to my thesis, which was on health care ethics, and to the fact that in my defence I had rejected moral absolutism in certain medical matters. Halfway through the main course, Timo and John tried to convince me that my line of argument was skewed, and that it would inevitably lead to full-fledged ethical relativism, anarchy and chaos. I disagreed with them, of course, but did not quite know how to justify my position. It was not until the dessert had been served that the answer, and the idea of preparing this book, hit me.

I have been convinced that the main ideas of utilitarianism are sound since I read my very first book on moral philosophy, G.E. Moore’s Ethics, in April 1982. I could not see then, and still cannot see today, how it could be my duty to act in ways which do not produce the maximum of net good. I was forced to defend my view on several occasions during the academic year 1987-8, when Heta, I and a colleague of ours, Heikki Kannisto, frequenty sat up long nights discussing the pros and cons of various ethical theories. To keep the arguments flowing, we often assumed fixed roles. Usually Heta defended a liberal view, Heikki advocated virtue ethics and I upheld the utilitarian theory. In the course of these discussions I gradually learned that there are corollaries to the traditional utilitarian principles which make the doctrine intuitively unacceptable to

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