Justice/Harvard: Episode 2


  • Utilitarianism / Jeremy Bentham
    • Greatest good for the greatest number
    • Cost-benefit analysis is a type of utilitarian philosophy
      • Smoking study (by the manufacturers) concluded that the cost savings to the Czech govt. due to early deaths made up for the deaths themselves.
      • Ford pintos were an economy car whose fuel tanks blew up when rear ended. Ford knew but didn’t make this public because the cost to repair was greater than the cost of lives lost. Ford notably set $200k for the value of a single life.
    • One issue is that minorities don’t really have a say because “greatest number” (by definition) is only concerned about the majority.
    • Ditto for individual rights.
    • Are abstract concepts like a life even possible to value with a $ figure? One psychologist in the 1930s tried to make this case by surveying people, asking how much money they’d need to be paid to do various unpleasant things. Spend the rest of your life on a Kansas farm won, with $300k.
    • Are all forms of pleasure/utility identical? Should they all be valued the same?
  • John Stewart Mills attempted to answer for these failings
    • Higher and lower pleasures exist, but no judgements/presumptions are made.
    • Test: If a person tries two things and always prefers one (or knows that the pleasure they experience in that case will be greater), that one is a higher pleasure.
    • Experiment. The Simpsons is more entertaining than Shakespeare, but the latter is considered high art. Ditto for comic books vs. Rembrandt. Is this a cultural norm? Do the seemingly-higher pleasures stimulate higher-order facilities in the brain?
    • Higher pleasures might require education to appreciate, but with that education in place, the test applies.

    It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

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