Useful Explanation of Preference Utilitarianism

Hopefully this will be helpful to those of you revising Moral Philosophy when considering Peter Singer:

A related position rests on the claim that what is good is desire satisfaction or the fulfillment of preferences; and what is bad is the frustration of desires or preferences. What is desired or preferred is usually not a sensation but is, rather, a state of affairs, such as having a friend or accomplishing a goal. If a person desires or prefers to have true friends and true accomplishments and not to be deluded, then hooking this person up to the experience machine need not maximize desire satisfaction. Utilitarians who adopt this theory of value can then claim that an agent morally ought to do an act if and only if that act maximizes desire satisfaction or preference fulfillment, regardless of whether the act causes sensations of pleasure. This position is usually described as preference utilitarianism.

Preference utilitarianism is often criticized on the grounds that some preferences are misinformed, crazy, horrendous, or trivial. I might prefer to drink the liquid in a glass because I think that it is beer, though it really is acid. Or I might prefer to die merely because I am clinically depressed. Or I might prefer to torture children. Or I might prefer to spend my life learning to write as small as possible. In all such cases, opponents of preference utilitarianism can deny that what I prefer is really good. Preference utilitarians can respond by limiting the preferences that make something good, such as by referring to informed desires that do not disappear after therapy (Brandt 1979). However, it is not clear that such qualifications can solve all of the problems for a preference theory of value without making the theory circular by depending on substantive assumptions about which preferences are for good things.

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Moral Dilemmas – S3 Int 2 Buddhism

You are now all experts on how Buddhists try to make moral decisions. I have left a dvd and handout for you to have a look at. With the teacher watch one of the clips (of your choice) and spend the rest of the first period using the handout to work out whether a Buddhist would (in your opinion) approve of the action portrayed.

In the second period collect a laptop and type up your response and post it below. Remember first names only. You will need to consider everything on the handout.

skilful actions handout

Buddhism Refresher Questions

This is mostly for those of you who haven’t come across Buddhism before, but the rest of you may wish to use it for prelim and final exam revision. The BBC video “Life of The Buddha” is available on youtube here:

It is conveniently broken up into 5 short chapters and will hopefully make a change to working from your books…

To download the sheet click the picture above or int 2 life of buddha questions.

S3 Int2 ‘Human Condition’ Task

The age of man is over
A darkness comes at dawn
These lessons that we’ve learned here
Have only just begun”

‘The Human Condition’ is a phrase that is used widely in the study of Religion & Philosophy. Today we will have a think about what it means and try to work out what 30 seconds to mars are suggesting about it.

For homework you will need to find another song which offers something in this area as well as an answer unpacking what you think the writer is saying. Best of luck.

Remember ‘prove it from the text’ just like you would in English.

Keown on Buddhist attitudes to Euthanasia

I was just reading a journal article from 1995 which referenced to two occurrences in the Buddhist tradition of which I was previously unaware. Both of which are valuable in outlining how the tradition arrives at its opinions on the validity (or more accurately non-validity) of helping someone to die. This will be of more use to students sitting the exam at Higher and Advanced Higher Levels.

The first case was recorded by Buddhaghosa where some members of the sangha had recommended, it seems out of compassion or at least benevolence, that  it may have been better for a dying monk to end his life prematurely. Of course this argument, that death may be preferable to suffering, is still common (sense?) today. Buddhaghosa records that these Buddhists were found to be guilty of breaking the first precept as they ‘made death their aim‘ in speaking. This idea when further developed clearly prizes the sanctity of life over personal autonomy.

The second case is even older and found in the Vinaya where the origins of the monastic precepts are explained. It appears that the Buddha himself included a further precept explicitly excluding the taking of human life after an ascetic community was discovered where monks had committed suicide or ‘sought help’ from the laity.

Again here we can see that the principle of autonomy is thought of as secondary to the sanctity of life. This idea has nuances in Buddhism that set it apart from the formulations with which we are perhaps more familiar. Belief in samsara involves a recognition that there is something special about being human, not least as it it the only realm from which one may attain enlightenment. For many of us, this may not impact our ethical outlook but it is nonetheless a valuable warning. Today, explicitly in Singer and Warnock, sanctity (though they might not use this word) is often understood as being underpinned by one’s autonomy, not the reverse.

‘Killing, Karma and Caring’ in Journal of Medical Ethics Vol. 21 No.5 (Oct 1995), pp 265-269.