Critique Of Utilitarianism

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Off the Precipice into the Gorge: Why Utilitarianism Can’t Save Us Introduction In his article, “A Critique of Utilitarianism” Bernard Williams is concerned that consequentialism has found plausibility in people’s minds due to a misunderstanding of and negative reaction to non-consequentialist theories.[1] Though he does not offer an alternative ethical theory, Williams successfully takes on the project of exploring how utilitarianism and those who uncritically embrace it have accepted an unworkable standard for defining right actions. Williams offers a unique and penetrating thesis: to define right action only by reference to whether it produces a good “state of affairs” necessitates a fundamental clash between an agent’s moral character and that allegedly right action.[2] In its attempt to compensate and maintain viability as a moral theory, utilitarianism smuggles into its calculus the agent’s non-utilitarian-based moral feelings. For a conscientious observer, this double standard should seriously cause him to question the ability of a consequentialist perspective to prescribe satisfactory moral understanding and guidance. By accommodating an agent’s moral feelings only when they are in accord with utility is indicative of a deeper failure to recognize that such feelings are often expressions of the agent’s own projects and commitments. Thus, to achieve an objective standard of right action, utilitarianism ultimately sacrifices the agent’s integrity by making right action irrelevant to those projects and commitments. The first part of my exposition focuses on what Williams sees as the reason for the popularity of consequentialist ethical theories, which is rooted in an illicit jump from thinking about moral kinds of actions to thinking about moral degrees of outcomes. The rest of my exposition explains how this jump directly leads to the
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