Preference utilitarianism


Problem for utilitarianism

Bentham and Mill are hedonists and argue that only happiness is valuble. They beleive that happiness, interest and pleasure are all one and the same. Is this right, or can something be in my interest without taking pleasure in it? Bentham and Mill also beleive morality to produce pleasure and decrease pain, but are these morally equal, it it not more important not to cause pain than to produce pleasure? 

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Virtual reality machine Objection

Robert Nozick asks us to imagine a virtual reality machine where all are experiences are happy. If we were asked to sign up for this for life or not at all ( not knowing we were in the machine) most of us would say no, as we value being in touch with reality even if it makes us less happy.We cant understand this in terms of the 'pleasure' of being in touch with reality, because if we were in the machine we would still be expeirence this pleasure (belieivng we were in touch with reality) 

Thus we cannot argue with mill that being in touch with reality is a 'higher pleasure' as it is not a pleasure at all, it is a relation to to something outside our minds, 

Thusssssssssss.....     Nozick concludes that that pleasure cannot be the only thing we value. 

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Preference Utilitarianism

A different form of utilitarianism claims to be able to avoid these problems. Preference utilitarianism argues that what we should maximise is not pleasure, but the satisfaction of people's preferences.

  • 1 The satisfaction of many of these preferences will bring us pleasure, but many will not. E.g if people more strongly prefer not suffer pain than to be brought pleasure, then that would explain the thought that it is more important not to cause harm. 
  • 2 If Nozick is right, we prefer to be in touch with reality, but not because it brings us pleasure. Having this preference satisfied is valuble.
  • 3 We can also argue that people have preferences about what happens after their death, e.g to their possession, and it is important to satify them as wel, although this cannot bring them any pleasure. 
  • 4We can also appeal to preference to explain Mills higher and lower pleasures. He defends this distinction in terms of what people prefer. However, rather than talk about the value of types of pleasure, we could argue that whatever people prefer is of most value to them - whether or not most people would prefer pleasures related to thought, feeling ot imaginations. 
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In sum, preference utilitarians can argue they offer a more unified account of what is more valuble than hedonist utilitarianism. Pleasure is important, when it is, because it results from satifying peoples preferences.

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