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Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 10, 2008

Ethics

Joon Ho Kang
Pages 221-228

Utilitarianism
A Standard of Rightness or a Decision Procedure

Exploiting the apparent paradox that utility maximization will not be achieved by adopting the strategy of maximizing utility, Indirect Utilitarianism denies that the right decision which maximizes the probable good can always be identified by the direct application of the criterion of rightness. In this view, generally speaking, Utility is characterized as providing merely a standard of evaluation or an “esoteric” criterion of right conduct, and not a substantive decision procedure in practical situations. This characterization of utilitarianism as an esoteric morality may have certain advantages for avoiding central objections to utilitarianism that arise when the Principle of Utility becomes a decision procedure which governs the moral deliberation of most people, i.e., when it becomes an “exoteric” morality. If a utilitarian takes seriously the “publicity condition” or being the “public moral basis of society” which Rawls has held to be a conceptual condition for a plausible moral theory, however, the indirect view of utilitarianism may not be seen as so attractive to the utilitarian. For the damage to utilitarianism as a whole inflicted by giving up on being a public moral basis of society, from a strategic point of view, may be greater than the protection the indirect view has hopefully promised.

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