What Moral/Ethical Philosophy Do You Follow?

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Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sat 19 Jan, 2008 05:32 pm
@Fido,
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Actually, the first text on utilitarianism that I've ever read was Utilitarianism, by JS Mill.

Only because his version of utilitarianism doesn't fit with libertarianism doesn't mean that all forms of utilitarianism don't fit with libertarianism.


Then you should know better. JS Mill presented the most complete form of utilitarianism, and the most significant. He is the preeminant utilitarian thinker.

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I actually reject taxation.

How does this make me a non-utilitarian?


Utilitarians, on principle, have no problem with taxation. If my memory serves me, JS Mill was famous for supporting taxes such as taxes on alcohol.

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Most libertarians and paleoconservatives will argue that most forms of taxation are not something that is beneficial to most of society.


Utilitarians favor taxes, especially on things that are considered harmful to society, ie, alcohol.

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My point was that many libertarians will concede to the fact that the lower classes won't benefit as much under libertarianism as they might under socialism.

Of course, libertarians counter that socialism is not beneficial for the vast majority of society, but only the poorest of the poor, while a libertarian society would benefit almost everyone, economically and socially.


Basically, yes, though I think most libertarians would suggest the lower classes are better off in libertarianism because of the freedom and ability to improve their lives.

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So could you please provide an example where libertarians argue against taxes on principle and not on the fact that they believe that abolishing certain taxes would be beneficial to society?


Sure. I dont have the text with me (in the middle of a move), but even Friedman argued that taxes were wrong in principle because people are forced, basically at gun point, by the government to pay those taxes. Rand also made this objection frequently.

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I think you're confusing this with the fact that libertarians believe in individual rights outside of economics. Either way, both are "utilitarian" in nature, in that they support the idea that individual liberty both inside and outside of economics would be beneficial.


That's the problem though - what a libertarian calls individual liberty and what a utilitarian calls individual liberty are quite different.

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And you do realize that all utilitarians are not machines that believe the exact same thing?


I never suggested they are. People can have all different kinds of views. I'm not arguing that anything is impossible, instead, I am arguing that libertarians and utilitarians do have some general, fundamental differences where you declare they are similar.

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Since you do make reference to Bentham, Mill, and Mill "Jr.," I suggest you take a long hard look at Ludwig von Mises. Von Mises was himself an economist and philosopher who was a libertarian and utilitarian.


I'm familiar with his name, I've not read his work, though. But even if he seeks to reconcile utilitarianism and libertarianism, that does not mean that both ideaologies generally share agreements on issues such as "what is happiness?" "what is individual liberty?" ect.

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To be fair, there are certain "schools of thought" of libertarians who argue that we should believe and protect individual rights for the sake of those rights.

However, many libertarians believe in their ideals not because "we should just have them," but because they believe that following these rights would create a much happier society.


I'm glad you decided to be fair.

As I've said, you can find all kinds of views among groups who label themselves this or that. The bottom line is, despite varying views amongst groups, we can still compare and contrast utilitarianism and libertarianism in a variety of ways - to say libertarians accept utilitarian principles is misleading and far from accurate.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Sun 20 Jan, 2008 04:45 pm
@krazy kaju,
OOOOOHHHHHHHHHH, I see where you're coming from.

You're coming from the perspective of utilitarianism being a political ideology as well as a moral theory whereas I'm coming from the perspective of utilitarianism being just an ethical theory.

The basic concept of utilitarianism is to create the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.

From this point on, we differ.

I'm saying that libertarians and others use this basic utilitarian concept, and go on to say that their system of government and economics fulfills this concept, while you're saying that libertarians can't be utilitarians since utilitarians favor taxation (meaning that you're considering utilitarianism to be more than an ethical theory).

Am I correct in assuming this?

So if what I just said is correct, this is where I think you're wrong:

Utilitarianism is purely an ethical/moral theory. It's goal is to create the greatest amount of happiness, good, utility, or whatever else you want to call it for the greatest amount of people. Its goal is to create the greatest amount of happiness and the least amount of pain and suffering possible.

Utilitarianism is not a political ideology. It is not a political movement.

It is true that the vast majority of utilitarians are in favor of taxes that would be rejected by most libertarians. However, this doesn't mean that utilitarianism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive.

Since utilitarianism's goal is to create the greatest amount of good possible, anyone who agrees with this mantra could be considered a utilitarian (of sorts). Utilitarians generally favor taxation because most utilitarians believe that that is the way to a better society. BUT THIS IS NOT PART OF UTILITARIAN DOGMA. This is simply what most utilitarians think is better for society. Other utilitarians might be at odds for them, because they might not think taxation is a policy that is good for humanity as a whole. As stated before, von Mises is an example of both a utilitarian and libertarian.

Utilitarianism and libertarianism are not at odds, simply because most utilitarians are in favor of taxation. It is a false analogy to state that since most utilitarians are in favor of taxation that therefore libertarianism and utilitarianism are irreconcilable. Utilitarianism is simply an ethical theory trying to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Many libertarians believe that their policies will achieve this goal.

They believe that observing basic rights all the time will create a much better and happier society. They believe that observing a free market will create a much better and happier society.

Both of these policies are perfectly reconcilable with rule utilitarianism.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 20 Jan, 2008 05:33 pm
@krazy kaju,
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You're coming from the perspective of utilitarianism being a political ideology as well as a moral theory whereas I'm coming from the perspective of utilitarianism being just an ethical theory.


Well, libertarianism has never developed a particular ethical theory from which to work from, unless you consider the non-violence pinciple to be just this, though I think the non-violence principle, from the libertarian perspective, is more concerned with rights than with physical violence.

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I'm saying that libertarians and others use this basic utilitarian concept, and go on to say that their system of government and economics fulfills this concept, while you're saying that libertarians can't be utilitarians since utilitarians favor taxation (meaning that you're considering utilitarianism to be more than an ethical theory).


Yes, a (political, as opposed to metaphysical) libertarian could be, ethically, a utilitarian. What I'm saying is that saying libertarians are utilitarians is misleading and inaccurate. This is especially misleading because utilitarianism, as a political ideaology (whether this is in the tradition of Bentham or JS Mill) is quite different than libertarianism.

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Utilitarianism is purely an ethical/moral theory. It's goal is to create the greatest amount of happiness, good, utility, or whatever else you want to call it for the greatest amount of people. Its goal is to create the greatest amount of happiness and the least amount of pain and suffering possible.

Utilitarianism is not a political ideology. It is not a political movement.


Utilitarianism was developed as a politcal ideaology by Bentham; he was particularly interested in prison reform. JS Mill was especially politically active, expanding his utilitarian moral thoughts into the realm of politics.

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It is true that the vast majority of utilitarians are in favor of taxes that would be rejected by most libertarians. However, this doesn't mean that utilitarianism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive.


They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though, if we take the general libertarian viewpoint, and the general utilitarian viewpoint, to reconcile them takes some effort.

You can reconcile almost any two perspectives. Despite this fact, we should be careful when we speak of them as being in agreement as they are not generally so.
 
Billy phil
 
Reply Mon 21 Jan, 2008 02:01 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
That's the problem though - what a libertarian calls individual liberty and what a utilitarian calls individual liberty are quite different.


and of course, what Didymos Thomas calls liberty is something else altogether, because he's neither a libertarian nor a utilitarian .
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Mon 21 Jan, 2008 02:34 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
Well, libertarianism has never developed a particular ethical theory from which to work from, unless you consider the non-violence pinciple to be just this, though I think the non-violence principle, from the libertarian perspective, is more concerned with rights than with physical violence.


True.

But nevertheless, many libertarians use utilitarian arguments to support their beliefs (i.e. a true free market would lead to great improvements for most people).

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Yes, a (political, as opposed to metaphysical) libertarian could be, ethically, a utilitarian. What I'm saying is that saying libertarians are utilitarians is misleading and inaccurate. This is especially misleading because utilitarianism, as a political ideaology (whether this is in the tradition of Bentham or JS Mill) is quite different than libertarianism.

Utilitarianism was developed as a politcal ideaology by Bentham; he was particularly interested in prison reform. JS Mill was especially politically active, expanding his utilitarian moral thoughts into the realm of politics.


What sources do you have saying utilitarianism was founded as a political ideology?

I was originally taught that utilitarianism was only an ethical theory.

I've looked all over the internet, but no where can I find a statement claiming that utilitarianism was founded as a political ideology.

It's obvious that Bentham argued for certain political ideas through a utilitarian viewpoint (such and such policy would increase the general utility of the nation), but never have I heard of utilitarianism being separate from philosophy as a political ideology.

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They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though, if we take the general libertarian viewpoint, and the general utilitarian viewpoint, to reconcile them takes some effort.


Libertarian viewpoint: Individual Freedom

Utilitarian viewpoint: The greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people

Reconciliation: Individual freedoms would cause the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.

It's not that hard. What is hard is trying to claim that utilitarianism is a political ideology in itself.

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You can reconcile almost any two perspectives. Despite this fact, we should be careful when we speak of them as being in agreement as they are not generally so.


You have consistently failed to show how they are not in agreement.

The only way that you could do this is to prove that utilitarianism is a political ideology, which it isn't. Many utilitarians, from Bentham to Mill to von Mises to Singer, have had differing viewpoints on diverse issues. You simply cannot lump all utilitarians into a cohesive ideology, when utilitarianism was meant to be a consequentialist moral theory.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Mon 21 Jan, 2008 03:00 pm
@krazy kaju,
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True.

But nevertheless, many libertarians use utilitarian arguments to support their beliefs (i.e. a true free market would lead to great improvements for most people).


Have I neglected to address this point?

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What sources do you have saying utilitarianism was founded as a political ideology?

I was originally taught that utilitarianism was only an ethical theory.

I've looked all over the internet, but no where can I find a statement claiming that utilitarianism was founded as a political ideology.

It's obvious that Bentham argued for certain political ideas through a utilitarian viewpoint (such and such policy would increase the general utility of the nation), but never have I heard of utilitarianism being separate from philosophy as a political ideology.


Utilitarianism is attributed to Bentham. He developed his thoughts while working on prison reform. Utilitarianism is primarily an ethical theory, one that is not necessarily shared by libertarians, and one that was used by Bentham and JS Mill in particular for political reasons. From their ethical background they made political arguments. JS Mill is especially famous for his politics - recall his efforts for women's rights?
I'm not suggesting utilitarianism is seperate as a politic from the ethics, never did. What I have suggested is that utlitarianism does have a strong political tradition that is often at odds with the libertarian political tradition.

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Libertarian viewpoint: Individual Freedom

Utilitarian viewpoint: The greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people

Reconciliation: Individual freedoms would cause the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people.

It's not that hard. What is hard is trying to claim that utilitarianism is a political ideology in itself.


Except you seem to only want to recall portions of my arguments at a time. Remember: Utilitarians in the tradition of JS Mill have fundamental differences when it comes to the use of the word "happiness" - libertarians would equate this to our amount of individual liberty, while JS Mill had a much more refined notion of "happiness" a la his higher pleasures doctrine. JS Mill is concerned with the proper exercise of our capacities, libertarians with being able to exercise those those capacities as we please so long as we do not disturb another's right to do the same. Remember he said "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"

The meaning of "liberty" in the libertarian tradition is different than the meaning of "liberty" in the utilitarian tradition. I think both have strengths and weaknesses, and my own position could be viewed as a sort of middle ground between them.

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You have consistently failed to show how they are not in agreement.

The only way that you could do this is to prove that utilitarianism is a political ideology, which it isn't. Many utilitarians, from Bentham to Mill to von Mises to Singer, have had differing viewpoints on diverse issues. You simply cannot lump all utilitarians into a cohesive ideology, when utilitarianism was meant to be a consequentialist moral theory.


You can pretend that I think whatever you would like to pretend I think. Reading what I have to say would be better, for your own posterity and for the thread. Utilitarianism, whether you like it or not, was the groundwork for JS Mill's political ideaology, which he used over and over to defend and promote his political views. Like it or not, Bentham did the same thing.

If you dont see the differences in utilitarianism and libertarianism, good luck!
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Mon 21 Jan, 2008 03:33 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
krazy kaju - My initial claim was this: "libertarianism has absolutely no interest in the well being of one class of people as compared to another. They do not seek "to increase the utility of the middle and upper classes". Libertarianism is concerned with the individual's rights, utilitarianism is concerned with the greatest happiness of all.

Under utilitarianism, it would be justified to ignore the rights of one individual, to make happier two individuals. Completely contrary to libertarianism."

Which certainly seems to be the case, despite your pleading. Despite the fact that one could try to reconcile utilitarianism and libertarianism, doing so requires compromises in the perspectives, some reconsideration about claims being made and how far those claims go. This is evident by looking at the preeminant utilitarian philosopher JS Mill who argued in favor of taxes on good which cause harm to society.
More significantly, we can look at what libertarians and utilitarians generally think of when they consider happiness. Libertarians, generally, argue for a 'do as you like so long as you do not compromise another's right to do the same' while utilitarians are concerned with the greatest happiness of all. We might say the libertarian position promotes the greatest happiness of all, and our claim might even be accurate. However, utilitarians do not traditionally accept this as utilitarians do not share the libertarian individualism, and if we again look at JS Mill, we find he rejects the hedonism accepted by his father and Bentham and instead introduced his higher pleasures doctrine to represent this more refined notion of happiness (and therefore, a concept of what it takes for man to be happy that is further from what libertarians think).

I have grown tired of this pointless debate over the history of philosophy. If you disagree with me and my slight correction, fine.

I'm not sure why you are so appauled by the fact that libertarianism and utilitarianism have fundamental differences, nor do I know why you have gone out of your way to hide that rather simple point. Whatever your reasons, your style (which amounts to perversions of other's claims and shifting claims of your own) has drained me of any motivation to further discuss this particular topic with you.
 
krazy kaju
 
Reply Wed 23 Jan, 2008 11:49 am
@krazy kaju,
I've already responded to your original statement adequately enough.

I said that although you are right that libertarians do not seek to improve the status of the middle/upper classes, they do realize that the lower classes wouldn't reap the same benefits under classical liberalism as they would under welfare capitalism or socialism.

As for your other 'original' statement, that utilitarians would favor breaking basic individual rights if an action called for it, I also responded to that. Rule utilitarians can respect individual rights, because one could argue that breaking rights generally causes less happiness, so we should avoid breaking these rights in all cases.

You seem to think that libertarians argue for their ideology like this:

"Libertarianism is the best, because, you know, individual rights."

The truth is that libertarians, like most other people, are consequentialists. This doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, because when you hear a libertarian make his argument for a free market or respect of individual rights, they never say, "you know, individual rights," but they might say, "we should respect individual rights because in those cases in which they haven't been respected, it has gradually led to tyranny, i.e. Nazi Germany, USSR, etc." Not only is this a consequentialist argument, it is rule utilitarian as well.

Your only other argument to this point was that both Bentham and JS Mill had different political views that were not libertarian. So what?

You've failed time and time again to explain why this matters. Bentham founded utilitarianism as a moral philosophy where you try to maximize the amount of good for the greatest amount of people. There's nothing political about utilitarianism. From there, utilitarianism split up to act and rule utilitarianism, and then into various other forms including preference and motive utilitarianism, etc.

Only because Bentham and JS Mill had views on various political issues that modern libertarians don't doesn't make utilitarianism and libertarianism at odds.

You also made another false analogy that while Bentham believed in various levels of pleasure, libertarians equate pleasure with individual rights. This again is wrong. Individual rights are viewed as a vessel to create more pleasure, and not as pleasure itself.

Libertarians believe their policies would cause the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. That certainly sounds (rule) utilitarian to me.

Didymos Thomas wrote:
I'm not sure why you are so appauled by the fact that libertarianism and utilitarianism have fundamental differences, nor do I know why you have gone out of your way to hide that rather simple point. Whatever your reasons, your style (which amounts to perversions of other's claims and shifting claims of your own) has drained me of any motivation to further discuss this particular topic with you.


I'm not hiding any simple facts.

You simply failed to prove how utilitarianism and libertarianism are at odds.

I even provided an example of a philosopher and economist who was both utilitarian and libertarian - Ludwig von Mises. You simply state in response about how you don't know how he could have "reconciled" their differences.

I've never perverted anyone's arguments, and if I did so I want you to go through all of my posts and quote exactly where I did.

Your posts have consisted of many insulting little comments, like ones claiming I don't know what I'm talking about and this one about me perverting people's claims. I've never done so.
 
 

 
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