Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Updates to

Back in July, I mentioned our new introduction to population ethics.  Since then, I've also added a chapter on Theories of Well-being, and -- brand new as of today -- Arguments for Utilitarianism.

I'm inclined to think the best case for utilitarianism stems from simply reflecting on what fundamentally matters (and one who doesn't find the utilitarian answer here intuitively compelling is unlikely to be much moved by any other argument in support of the view).  But I'm also pretty moved by the charge against non-consequentialist views that they are steeped in status quo bias, so I was pleased to be able to make that case here.  (I don't recall seeing the point discussed so much elsewhere -- it strikes me as unduly neglected.)

The other big news today is that we're kicking off a new series of Guest Essays with an excellent article by Jeff Sebo on 'Utilitarianism and Nonhuman Animals':

This essay advances three broad claims about utilitarianism and nonhuman animals. First, utilitarianism plausibly implies that all vertebrates and many invertebrates morally matter, but that some of these animals might matter more than others. Second, utilitarianism plausibly implies that we should attempt to both promote animal welfare and respect animal rights in practice. Third, utilitarianism plausibly implies that we should prioritize farmed and wild animals at present, and that we should work to support them in a variety of ways.

Enjoy!  (And maybe consider adding the relevant articles to your syllabi if you teach on any of these topics...)


  1. The 3 part classification of theories of wellbeing (hedonism, desire, objective list) seems to have become very "standard" in the writing about this. Are people sure this is isn't missing any other types of theories or that there aren't important theories that blur the lines between these? At the moment, I don't have an example of another theory, but it tends to worry me when I see something in philosophy becoming super standard too quickly (though, of course, I want to get there eventually) because I worry people are just following the crowd without thinking. Reminds me of hearing some of the famous examples from Kripke or Putnam in metaphysics / phil-of-lang like water IS H20. If I recall (from years ago), these issues were a bit more complex than had been thought by many philosophers and students.

    1. See footnote three for a reference that questions the standard classification. There can certainly be blurring (see, e.g., the hybrid view discussed towards the end of our article), but I find it a helpful taxonomy nonetheless, for getting the basic lay of the land.

    2. The issue of the conceptual outershell of the notion of well-being itself might be quite contested too apart from the partially separate issue (to which the classification answers) of what fills in the inner shell--if that makes any sense; of course, there are issues of the paradox of analysis here. Might some people (e.g. Aristotelians or Confucians?) who talk in terms of "the good life"
      and "meaning" question whether there even is such a thing as well-being or at least suggest that our pretheoretic notions connected with the word "well-being" are better coalesced around a different conceptual cluster? I'd want to hear a discussion between a Eudaimonian utilitarian and an Aristotelian.


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